Let's Go Punkin' Chunkin'
MALE ANNOUNCER: "There she goes, drifting to the left. Way, way, still flying, still flying. I can see it's coming down, coming down. We lost it. It's in the trees."
Lewes is home to the annual Punkin' Chunkin' Festival, where every year for the past twelve years, self-proclaimed "high-tech rednecks" fire, hurl, sling and heave their gourds to glory.
It began in 1986 as a group of men sat in a local blacksmith shop arguing over who could throw an anvil farthest. Anvils turned to pumpkins and Punkin' Chunkin' was born. Three teams competed at that first event, where only a handful of onlookers watched as the victory throw measured an impressive 50 feet. Over the years, the event evolved from human chunkin' into oversized slingshots, venerated catapults and air cannons with names such as Bad to the Bone, The Terminator, Mellow Yellow, Poor & Hungry and The Aludium Q36 Pumpkin Modulator, named after a weapon used by Marvin the Martian, the pint-sized, high-strung alien from the Warner Brothers cartoon.
Today, more than 25,000 spectators from all over the world attend the Punkin' Chunkin' Festival to find out who will be the next "high-tech redneck" to claim the $1500 grand prize. And last November, I too joined in the fun.
Once settled in my room at the New Devon Inn, a local B&B, I walked downstairs to the adjoining restaurant called the Buttery, where I did what every person who dines alone does. I eavesdropped.
The next morning brought storm clouds and sheets of rain, typically the type of day I like to avoid. But I did manage to tear myself away from the warm bed and slog through acres of mud in bright yellow golashes--fresh from the local Kmart--to watch as Trey Melson and his teammates piloted the Universal Soldier into Punkin' Chunkin' history.
Worshipers at the nearby Church of Christ have to cover their ears too. But noise pollution isn't the only factor. The church, festooned with a banner that reads 'Aim Here for God,' stands directly in the line of fire. And although the front door is a few thousand feet away, that's not much comfort when you consider the Universal Soldier's winning chunk measured a staggering 3700 feet and that every year, these machines get larger and more powerful.
But the pumpkin did clear and the church was spared yet again. I then asked what I considered to be the most important question of my career: Did I really want to be standing here on the side of the church that's in the line of fire?
Six hundred miles an hour--literally faster than some speeding bullets. My tour guide and one of the event's original "high-tech rednecks" was Reggie Jackson (not the baseball player).
At the end of the day, covered in mud and proud of the bravery I'd sort of shown, I headed back to the parking lot with Reggie to collect my rented vehicle from the mud pit that had become its home. I bid farewell to my new friends and asked Reggie about his plans for the future.
For More Information:
World Champion Punkin' Chunkin' with links to other sites, world records and info on the competition in Deleware
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