Rival engineering groups in the United States are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars pursuing a bizarre dream: to be first in the world to hurl a 10-pound pumpkin one mile (5,280 feet).
A few party-poopers say it can't be done, because they believe no pumpkin can stand up to the G-forces involved. But horticulturists have now developed pumpkins with extra-thick skins -- not recommended for pies, but great as projectiles.
At least two groups have come close to reaching the one-mile barrier. According to a You-Tube video, Guinness World Record Pumpkin Chucker, Matt Parker's Aludium Q-36 Pumpkin Modulator, described elsewhere as "a giant peashooter with an 80ft. long tube," propelled a pumpkin 4,860 feet at Morton, Illinois, in 2001, setting a world record.
But the Delaware-based World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association (and that's not a typo) maintains that the world record is slightly less - 4,434.28 feet - achieved by a 14-ton air cannon named Second Amendment.
"The World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association does not recognise any shots other than those at the Association event" says WCPCA President Frank E. Shade.
"Vary factors such as weather, elevation and propellant used could drastically affect the distance. Example, a shot in Denver's thin air would go infinitely farther than one at sea level. We only allow compressed air by our rules and elsewhere they could use anything including rockets or explosives.
"Matt [Parker] competed here [Nassau, Delaware] with us but he never made that distance with us."
Parker's epic performance took place in his hometown, Morton, Illinois. (In 1978, the State Governor proclaimed Morton to be The Pumpkin Capital of the World.)
"Whoosh... A giant blast of air expels a pumpkin from an 80 foot-long tube. Traveling at nearly the speed of sound, the pumpkin follows a graceful arc towards the horizon. It will land with a splat nearly a mile away.," the Morton Times-News reported in 2001, adding:
The chuck that shook up the Morton Pumpkin Festival was made by the Aludium Q-36 Pumpkin Modulator, a giant contraption that looks like the results of cross breeding a howitzer with parts borrowed from the International Space Station.Towering over most contestants was the Big Ten-Inch air cannon , with an aluminum barrel 10 inches in diameter and 100 feet long. You can read about it at http://www.geocities.com/zbig10inch/
One hundred feet long and tipping the scale at 36,000 pounds, the Q-36 is really a giant pea shooter. An 80-foot long tube is connected to a 1,800-gallon compressed air tank. "We can run up to a maximum pressure of 125 PSI," says Matt Parker, one of the designers of the Q-36. Matt punches numbers into a calculator and announces, "At atmospheric pressure that would be 18,000 cubic feet of air." That is the amount of air in a 2,250-square-foot house - all of it just to blow a 10 pound pumpkin out of an 80-foot tube. "Muzzle velocity is 1,000 feet per second," says Matt. Again the calculator springs into action. "It's traveling 681 miles per hour when it leaves the tube, but it loses velocity quickly."
Matt Parker is co-owner of Parker Fabrication, a family-owned machine shop in Morton's new industrial park. In addition to Parker, the crew of the Q-36 consists of Chuck Heerde, James Knepp, Rod Litwiller and Steve Young.
"The guys have had a lot of fun with it," says Bonnie Parker, Matt's mother. Bonnie is the office staff of the family business. She also is the chief cheerleader for the pumpkin-chuckers and serves as the archivist of the Q-36's exploits. Framed newspaper articles detailing the Q-36's world record shot adorn her office wall. In addition to the local papers, her collection includes a picture from the front page of the Wall Street Journal and an article from the London Times.
The entire Parker family takes their punkin' chuckin' seriously. "We don't have grandchildren, so this pumpkin chucker is our baby," explains Bonnie. When asked about the cost to build such a contraption, Pat Parker, Matt's father, is quick to point out, "It's not about sponsorship or advertising or money. It's about people putting their ideas together to solve a problem. A lot more people contributed to this than the five who have their names on the official entry form."
[Above extracts courtesy Morton Times-News.]
Q-36's main rival, the air cannon Second Amendment is owned by S & G Erectors, of Howell, Michigan. Last November it took part in the Punkin Chonkin contest for the fourth time.
"We were in competition with 106 machines, each utilizing various methods of propelling a pumpkin, such as centrifugal force, torsion, human powered, catapults, trebuchets and the ultimate, air cannons," says its website.
"The event had some 40,000 to 50,000 spectators and was covered by CNN, AT&T Dish, The History Channel, Costa Mantis, a documentary film producer from California, and several local TV channels...
"Our world record of 4,434 feet is still intact and we will work out the bugs, trying for that ultimate shot of one mile. Numerous times in practice, we achieved shots over 5,000 feet, just short of the 5,280 that we need to be the first to shoot the mile."
FOOTNOTE. Pumpkin throwing is a popular sport in many US cities and small towns. Pumpkin festivals are held wherever these vegetables are grown and eaten, and that goes for most of the world. In Goomeri, Queensland, Australia, instead of being hurled by gigantic air guns, pumpkins are treated more gently, by being rolled down a hill. For more details and photos of the Goomeri festival, see http://www.goomeri.org.au/pumpkinfest/