Yankee Siege Trebuchet
Greenfield, New Hampshire
The farms of New Hampshire are golden in Autumn. Frost gilds the fields. Summer's toil has yielded to harvest's reward: food for the kitchens of America.
And pumpkins for Steve Seigars to catapult into the heavens.
Steve runs The Yankee Farmer, a nursery and farm stand in rural Greenfield. For years he tried to figure out how to get people to drive past his business and buy his vegetables. Then one day he watched a PBS special on medieval trebuchets: giant catapults used to knock down castle walls. "I said to myself, 'Jeez, that'd be a fun thing to build. And I bet it would draw a crowd.'"
Steve had no experience in giant medieval weapon construction. But he was handy, and he was able to infect his family and neighbors with his enthusiasm. They threw themselves into the project with Granite State determination, and a year later their work was complete: Yankee Siege.
It's impressive. The machine stands on wheels ten feet tall, and weighs 26 tons. The tip of its throwing arm is almost seven stories high. Its counterweight, filled with ten tons of rocks, can hurl a 300-pound projectile a quarter-mile or more.
Steve's favorite missiles are pumpkins from his farm. His assumption -- that people would come to see what he had built -- proved correct. A thousand people a day now flock to Yankee Farmer during the peak Fall season to watch Steve hurl pumpkins. He sells 12 to 15 times more of them than he did before they became ammunition.
Yankee Siege is a surprisingly quick and silent weapon for its size. Built mostly of steel, there are no groaning timbers to emit horrible creaks when it fires -- just a simple, soft "clunk" from the counterweight. Before you realize what's happened, a 40 pound pumpkin is 100 feet in the air and 300 yards downrange.
When Steve doesn't have pumpkins to hurl, Yankee Siege is not necessarily idle. On the day that we visited, Steve had already tossed a couch, a TV set, and a refrigerator. They were strewn like Civil War dead across his pumpkin field. A stove soon followed, and Steve said it was a shame that we couldn't stay longer, because he planned to use his giant, spiked mace -- attached to a construction crane -- to crush his father's car. "The bottom's all rusted out," Steve explained. "He doesn't want it."
Steve and his team have built an elaborate firing range across the road from the farm stand. A wide driveway leads to a mighty metal gate topped by dragon heads and flanked by turreted towers. Beyond stands Yankee Siege and the giant mace, and beyond that, on a distant hilltop, sits a scaled-down castle. Steve built it as a target for the pumpkins, "but the castle's only 600 feet away, and now we're throwing them over 2,000 feet." Steve has had to build a second turreted tower, way, way back by the tree line, which is manned by a brave volunteer with a range finder -- the only way that Steve can figure out how far his pumpkins are flying.
Odd as it may sound, Steve was catapulting pumpkins for years before he found out about Punkin Chunkin, the annual hi-tech pumpkin hurling contest held every November in Delaware. "So we looked up the record for chunkin a pumpkin," he recalled. "1,150 feet for an eight-to-ten pounder. Eight-to-ten pounder! We were throwing 50-pounders further than that." Inspired, Steve and his crew spent two days disassembling Yankee Siege, drove it to Delaware, and used it to throw a pumpkin further than any trebuchet ever had before. That was in 2004. Yankee Siege has returned every year since, and it remains undefeated. (Its current Punkin Chunkin world record is 1,897 feet.)
Steve will probably never lose his love of hurling pumpkins for distance, but he's also learned to appreciate the finer art of throwing things with a trebuchet. As we left, he stood beside one of his neighbors, proudly recapping his refrigerator toss from earlier in the day. "That thing came straight down, Whoot!, into the ground," Steve said with satisfaction. "Like those gymnasts at the Olympics. No bounce. It didn't even break the little light bulb."
(Note: We were fortunate to visit on a day that Steve was throwing things, but he's usually busy elsewhere. The best chance to see Yankee Siege in action is on weekend afternoons in October, during pumpkin season -- although it's an impressive sight by itself at any time.)