Pumpkin Chunkers throw support toward St. Jude

Pumpkin Chunkers throw support toward St. Jude

Have you ever seen a 10-pound pumpkin flung one mile through the air before landing in a splat of seeds and goo? Neither have the officials of the World Championship Punkin Chunkin. They have only seen one travel 4,434.28 feet.

But whether the pumpkin travels a mile, or a little less than that, it still means support for the research going on at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

The World Championship Punkin Chunkin has been happening in Sussex County, Delaware, since 1986 and for the past few years it has been a proud supporter of St. Jude, according to Frank Shade, president of the Punkin Chunkin Association. This year's event is scheduled to take place November 3-5.

"The protocols and the work being done in Memphis affect us right here," Shade said. "It affects our families, our grandchildren, our children, our loved ones, our neighbors' children. We know that should one of them be sick, St. Jude is there."

During the three-day event, which will be held in an corn field (after harvest, of course), teams of participants set up their elaborately constructed pumpkin chunkers in a quest to be the first to reach the (as yet) untouchable mark of one mile.

The teams compete in 12 different categories, from the Adult Air Cannons to the Youth 10 and Under category. Compressed air is the only propellant that teams can use other than a catapult design.

"If the total knowledge of Punkin Chunkers could be harnessed," Shade said, "all the world's problems would be solved. These guys are real geniuses. They take junk and fabricate something to complete a task of throwing a pumpkin almost a mile. And to see these machines, they are elaborate military weapons," Shade said.

Each category has a first, second and third place winner. The distances of all three winners from each category are added together and 15 cents per foot is then donated to St. Jude. The event also makes donations to the charities chosen by the winners of each division. In the past four years, the Punkin Chunkin has raised $50,000 for St. Jude, Shade said.

The Punkin Chunkin event began when friends John Ellsworth, Bill Thompson, Donald "Doc" Pepper and Trey Melson were in a blacksmith shop in Lewes, Delaware, discussing an article they had seen in the paper about pumpkin tossing. One friend said he could throw a pumpkin farther than that. At that point, Ellsworth threw his hat on the ground (no one had a gauntlet) and the other friends stomped on it, accepting the challenge. Since the four original competitors, nearly 100 machines are now entered annually in the competition, and the event has grown to attract crowds of up to 35,000. It has also piqued the interest of other countries. The United Kingdom version of the television show Junkyard Wars filmed a segment during last year’s event. Stations from Russia and Switzerland have also filmed parts of the event. Even ABC’s Good Morning American has broadcast live from the Punkin Chunkin. 

The popularity of the event has taken officials aback. "The public interest is phenomenal," Shade said. "I equate it to 50 years ago when the old farm boys down in North Carolina were racing their daddies' cars around the cow pasture. Those boys had no idea that 50 years later, people would be running million dollar cars on billion dollar race tracks."

The Governor of Delaware has attended the event in previous years as has U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Delaware) and a few celebrities including Lynda Carter and The Charlie Daniels Band. This year’s musical guests are The Marshall Tucker Band and Danielle Peck.

"This is a great outdoor event," Shade said. "You can come out with your family and spend a great day tailgating in the fresh air, enjoying a festival-type atmosphere with 18 to 20,000 of your best friends you just met on any given day."

October 2006