Pumpkin Launching (from here)
Mark Robichaux Wall Street Journal
MORTON, Ill. --Ponder this: Will a pumpkin, as it nears the speed of sound, turn into pie in the sky?
In a machine shop in a sea of cornfields here in a place that calls itself the Pumpkin Capital of the World, this is not a theoretical question. For months now, a team of volunteers has worked earnestly on an effort to send a gourd soaring at Mach I.
Their invention is an 18-ton, 100-foot cannon made of 10-inch-diameter plastic pipe, powered by compressed air and mounted on an old cement mixer. Dubbed the Aludium Q36 Pumpkin Modulator, it has already set a world distance record, flinging a pumpkin 2,710 feet -- at a velocity of more than 600 miles per hour, literally faster than some speeding bullets.
At the speed of sound, minimally about 750 mph, the distance record could easily be shattered, assuming the pumpkin doesn't shatter first. For this team of self-described "high-tech rednecks," this is a matter of some urgency and pride, says Matt Parker, a Morton businessman and a team leader. For the team is, at the moment, the undisputed champion of the arcane sport known colloquially to its practitioners as "punkin' chunkin'."
On Nov. 1, all eyes will be on the Q36 when it defends its title as World Champion Punkin' Chunker in Lewes, a small town on the Delaware coast.
For the past 11 years, pumpkin tossers, dragging all manner of contraptions, have converged there to vie for bragging rights in a variety of pumpkin-tossing categories -- human powered, centrifugal, catapult and air cannons. Sponsored by the Roadhouse Steak Joint, a Lewes restaurant, the contest derives from an anvil-throwing game once played here; how the anvil evolved into a pumpkin seems to be lost to history.
The modern contest's rules are clear, however: Pumpkins must weigh 8 to 10 pounds, leave the machine intact and not be propelled by explosives.
Like the rapid advance in, say, computer technology, pumpkin-tossing prowess has improved exponentially since the first contest in 1986 produced a throw of 50 feet. By 1989, large-scale centrifugals, essentially giant slings, were launching pumpkins more than 600 feet, a mark that had doubled by 1993. In 1994, the first serious air cannon appeared and shot a pumpkin more than 2,500 feet. A Delaware-made air cannon named the "Mello Yello" beat that mark with a 2,655-foot shot in 1995, only to be bested by the Q36 last year.
Of course the cannons, though they have the longest range, don't attract all the attention. Last year, a catapult competitor rigged up two telephone poles planted in the ground, fitted huge rubber bands to them and fired a pumpkin from this Paul Bunyanesque slingshot -- pulled taut by a power winch -- 493 feet.Somewhere, I read that some of the contests had been cancelled. Possibly they were concerned with talking out a GPS-locator satellite, and not getting their corn rows straight.
As best I can tell from the town's Pumpkin Festival website, they seem to downplay the contest. But of course, good fun will not be denied, the contest has a facebook page, and weather not withstanding, there will be a 2013 contest. Here are the rules. And here is a registration form. It looks like they have restricted the propulsive methods to compressed air, no fancy ignitable cocktails.
|An example of a rail gun-like pumpkin chunkin air cannon (from here)|