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Pumpkins go flying in Howard

by on October 17, 2019 9:08 AM

HOWARD — The ninth annual Punkin’ Chunkin’ Fall Festival, sponsored by the Howard Volunteer Fire Company was held on Oct. 12 at Bald Eagle State Park. This event is a fundraiser for the firefighters and has attracted ever-growing numbers of spectators each year. A crowd estimated to be over 20,000 people enjoyed 10 chunkers lobbing pumpkins as far as 1,800 feet into the lake, using catapult, trebuchet-type machines and compressed air cannons.

New to the event this year was the Howard Fire Company’s compressed air cannon named “Chunk’n-ology,” which fires a pumpkin through a long barrel that looks like it came from a battleship. The air tank can be pumped up to 200 pounds per square inch pressure by an industrial-size air compressor to propel a pumpkin far into the lake. Howard Fire Company chief Colin Alterio said they only use about 50 PSI at this event, and that is sufficient to shoot a pumpkin about 2,000 feet.

Firing the cannon is an impressive sight. Train horns on the cannon sound, followed by a loud hiss, as the pumpkin and a cloud of water vapor exit the barrel. A second later the pumpkin is a barely visible speck in the sky over the lake. After a nearly nine-second parabolic flight, it hits the lake with a huge splash, which elicits cheers, applause and laughter from the crowd.

The Smokin’ Lamas team, from Chester County, brought an unusual designed chunker to the event. In its machine, a pumpkin is placed in a sling wound around a five foot diameter drum. The drum is spun by a geared down bicycle, then a rope is pulled which opens a trap door in the drum, allowing the pumpkin to escape. The centrifugal force of the rotation flings the pumpkin high in the air.

The Lamas machine set the world record for human-powered centrifugal chunkers with a throw of 1,776.37 feet, set at the national championship competition held in Bridgeville, Del. in 2013.

The chunkin’ machines will accelerate a pumpkin to 150 miles per hour in a fraction of a second. Sometimes the sheer force of the acceleration disintegrates the pumpkin before it leaves the machine. The chunkers call this “pie-ing.”

The Punkin’ Chunkin’ event was inspired by fire company member George Demchak, who was vacationing in Delaware while planning a fundraising festival for the fire company when he learned about a national Punkin’ Chunkin’ competition. He believed that holding a similar event here would create a unique fall festival that would draw crowds to Howard. When approached by Demchak, the fire company members were skeptical of his idea — some even laughed at him, but went along with it.

A longtime member told Demchak to expect a turnout of about 300 people the first year, but nearly 30 times that number showed up and the company knew they had a hit on their hands.

The festival has grown steadily, and now features, along with the chunkers, live music and about 100 craft and merchandise vendors and about 30 food vendors lined up along the park beach. Large crowds kept the vendors busy all day.


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