Extreme Chunkin: Pumpkins launched over Loudon

Sunday News Correspondent
October 15. 2017 12:44AM
Doreen Adams of Greenfield is dressed for pumpkin chunkin' success while she works with the Yankee Siege II trebuchet and Yankee Doodle air cannon Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

LOUDON - A pre-Halloween showdown Saturday featuring medieval war machines repurposed to launch pumpkins heavenward attracted thousands to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The Extreme Chunkin event - which continues Sunday - drew 18 teams from across the country to participate in an autumn duel that celebrates ingenuity, vision, wit, behemoth armaments and flying foodstuffs.

Yankee Siege II was among the giant hurlers modeled after the siege engines that once defended the Roman Empire. It wasn't there to compete, but rather to entertain the crowd by throwing pianos, a snowmobile, and a refrigerator among other extreme items.

While the giant trebuchet was being loaded, the crowd was entertained by watching a variety of items hoisted aloft by a 104-foot-tall crane and then dropped. A fiberglass boat, complete with outboard motor, remained seaworthy for two drops before it finally shattered.

"It's pretty cool to see a piano flying through the air," said Don Marston of Lynn, Mass., who came to the event with his girlfriend, Kim Reid.

Competing in youth and adult divisions, participants vied for a trophy and the right to brag that they crafted and operated a device that could make an eight- to ten-pound gourd fly the farthest. Each team gets to make three shots over the two-day event with the longest combined distance being named the winner.

Some competitors spend a small fortune and thousands of hours fine- tuning their homemade slings, catapults, centrifugal force launchers and pneumatic cannons for a chance to make pie in the sky.

The sport evolved from a backyard challenge to a tournament with a cult-like following. First held in Delaware in 2007, the World Championships drew over 20,000 attendees and had been televised on the Science Channel.

"There is just something about airborne pumpkins that brings out the kid in you," said Mike Greene of Weare, who brought his family to the event.

American Chunker is a $200,000 air-cannon with a 60-foot barrel. It shot a pumpkin 4694.68 feet - the closet ever to reaching the coveted mile mark. On Saturday, the American Chunker team entertained the crowd by attempting to make a long-distance precision shot at a fixed target.

After two blasts from an air horn, and the warning call of "fire in the hole," the trigger is pulled, and a pumpkin slightly larger than a softball rocketed from the barrel at 409 mph.

Smooth-skinned and smelling of earth, the pumpkin is not just an oversized vegetable, but both an object of true affection as well as ammunition for competitors.

There were a variety of devices on the firing line with names like Chunk Norris, Launch-Ness Monster and Chunkinator that hurled pumpkins that upon impact left orange shards and sinewy guts.

"There is just something about pumpkins. They have an innate structure that proves irresistible to the human tendency towards destruction," said Frank Warren of Rochester.

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