Punkin' Chunkin'
Punkin' Chunkin'

On November 7, I became one of 20,000 people gathered to watch the spectacle of Punkiní Chunkiní, at the thirteenth annual 1998 World Championship Punkiní Chunkin festival. Bob discovered the Chunkin' contest in "The Big Damn Book of Sheer Manliness." I was there to watch a bunch of down-home guys and out-of-state rivals shoot, throw and fling pumpkins through the air for distances over a half mile. It was gonna be great. (Another great website is the Official Homepage of the Punkiní Chunk Association.)

We got stuck in traffic long before we arrived at the chunkiní site. The competition was moved from Lewes, DE, to a field in a town a few miles away. Seems last year`s competitors were so good, the pumpkins would overshoot the field (longer than 5 football fields) and land in the woods, never to be found or measured for distance.

We drove slowly to the field to park our car, stuck in a line of traffic over a mile long. We had no idea of the sheer enormity of the event. Over 20,000 people were in attendance. Some came from as far as Ohio and Indiana to witness the punkiní carnage. Parking, and very serious tailgaters - some even built makeshift viewing stands atop their old trailers and vans and mobile homes - covered serveral acres. The vendors took up another acre or two, selling food and t shirts.

Our entourage walked across the field and got our first glimpse of the punkiní chunkers. Contestants enter one of several categories. Centrifugal force machines look like big whirlygigs gone berserk. They basically spin vertically to launch the pumpkin skyward. Then there are the catapults or trebouchets - I called these the flingers. Basically a long throwing arm counterbalanced by a shorter, heavy weighted arm. Occasionally the throwing arm would also have a long rope, attached to the pumpkin further increasing the length of the throwing arm. The big trebouchets would draw loud "whoaís!" of apprecation from the crowd after a successful fling.

But by far, the most impressive machines of incredible punkiníchunkiní were the air cannons. No explosives are allowed to launch the punkinís, but the air cannons made me want to duck and cover from the noise alone. Huge cannons were mounted atop 10-wheel all-terrain vehicles and sometimes, entire full-length school buses. Cannons over 75 feet in length were common. When a pumpkin shot from one of those babies - BOOM! - this tiny dot of a punkiní could barely be seen flying across the sky.

One lone car was out, seemingly in a dangerous spot, in the target field. This was the measuring vehicle! No tape measure for this crowd, the punkins flew so far that they had to drive out the the landing site to measure the distance with a laser!

The Aludium Q36 Punkiní Modulator was the reigning champion, and a favorite air cannon among the crowd. Itís first shots were duds - hysterically funny. Apparently the pressure in the cannon was not calibrated correctly, and after a massive boom, guts and seeds from the disintegrated punkiní would fly out, often showering the crowd as the breeze carried it across the field.

The best shot of the day came from the Q36, and we were lucky enough to witness it. Once the pressure was properly calibrated, the Q36 shot a white punkin from its muzzle. Necks whipped upwards from left to right, eyes straining to follow the tiny white dot of a 10 pound punkiní. We watched as it flew up and up, and then just hovered, and hovered, and hovered, and it seem absolutely GLUED to the sky, as it had reached its apex and was now simply traveling. Finally, the sky seemed to release its hold on the punkin and it fell to the earth completely out of sight, over ĺ of a mile away.

The crowd screamed almost as loud as the cannon. Now we could finally go home, having experienced the phenomenon for ourselves. We came, we saw . . . we Chunked.

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