Laura and I used to love watching the World Championship Punkin Chunkin each year on the Science Channel. The show was hosted by Mythbusters Cari Byron and Grant Imahara and featured some amazing catapults and trebuchets. Sadly, the event has been cancelled because of an accident in 2016 involving one of the producers of the show.
Fast forward to this year…
We were delighted to see that a “Pumpkin Pitch” would be part of the 2017 Burlington Harvest Festival. We knew we HAD to see it, so last Saturday we headed over to the Skagit River Park in Burlington to watch the festivities.
We headed over to Burlington early. There would be opportunities to view the devices before the competition began. Plus, there were other activities that looked interesting. First, though, we stopped by Lafeen’s Donuts. Duff had raved about their fritters, so we had to give them a try. I got blueberry and Laura got apple. These things were huge and very sweet. It was a bit of a sugar OD.
We found the park on the banks of the Skagit River. Not knowing anything about the parking situation we wound up parking quite a ways from the event. As we got closer we could see that they were providing transportation from parking to the event via horse-drawn wagons. There was a line, and since had already walked halfway we decided to skip it.
Our first stop was at the zucchini races. We had seen ads in the local paper asking folks to donate zucchinis for the event. The festival provided everything needed to create a vegetable car, including zucchinis and squash for the car body, small round pumpkins and gourds for the wheels, and wooden dowels for axles. Parents were helping kids put together their racers using power drills.
There wasn’t a formal race, per se. A track had been set up with two lanes so two cars could ride side-by-side. The point was less about who won and more about whether or not your car could actually make it down the track. Several had to go back and tweak their designs. Many would just stack their cars off to the side after their run. I don’t know if they got them back or what.
We decided it was time to go visit the pumpkin pitchers. The area was open to the public for now, but would be cordoned off for safety when the event began. There were eight competitors in three different categories based on the size of the machine. These were lined up from lightest to heaviest.
First up was a metal trebuchet from a Canadian team called Ballistikraft.
Second in line was a group that grabbed Laura’s attention. It was a traditional wooden trebuchet designed by an all-girl team called the Gladiator Gourd Girls. They had entered the competition with their Girl Scout Troop. Laura chatted with them about their design process and how their launcher worked.
The third entry was another metal trebuchet that ran along a track. This team was called Skyward.
Number 4 was an homage to Doctor Who entitled Bad Wolf. It was another traditional trebuchet, but was made of metal.
The fifth entry was a very complex device called UFO. It was made of wood, but the armature rotated along a track to build up more momentum. It was the first of the mid-weight designs.
Next up a number 6 was the Mean Old Clown Chucker, a traditional wooden trebuchet complete with creepy clown.
Number 7 was a single-man operation called Log Craft. As much as we both admired the Gladiator Gourd Girls, this one was our personal favorite. It was a very traditional trebuchet design, and it just looked like a Medieval weapon of war. It even had a wooden box for the drop weights.
There was only one heavy-weight entry. The Gourdinator in the number 9 spot was mounted on a truck trailer and had a gas engine powered trebuchet. I’m not exactly sure how it worked, but it looks like the engines are only there to lift the massive metal weights, which then drop. It wasn’t an air cannon, but a tradition catapult. It certainly looked intimidating.
I found a YouTube video from the 2011 competition. Many of these folks were competitors back then, including Log Craft and Gourdinator.
We still had a bit of time before the competition began so we decided to head back to see how the zucchini races were going. The pile of cars was growing, and the supply of zucchinis was diminishing. All of the tables were busy with builders.
We chatted with one of the supervisors for the event, a local mechanical engineer. He commented that you probably couldn’t do an event like this in a larger city because of liability concerns. As we talked he pointed out one girl who was handling a power drill quite expertly. He said that other places probably wouldn’t let a kid use power tools. It looked to me like they were doing fine and I thought it was great that they were getting hands-on experience.
There were other booths set up. Most of these were community groups – Boy Scouts, a couple of churches, a karate school, etc. Many of them had their own activities where kids could win a small prize.
There was an antique John Deere Tractor show and a pony ride.
There were also food vendors of just about every variety.
We wanted good seats for the main event so we headed on over to the viewing stands. A large field had been marked off. There were markers on the field for each team. At first we thought these must be the result of practice runs. However, we later learned that these were targets based on the presumed range of the device. The teams would be competing for accuracy as well as distance.
The competition began with a flag team and singing of anthems. Yes, that’s plural. We began with the Canadian national anthem and proceeded with the US anthem.
Then the competition began. It was kind of hard to follow who was up next because they didn’t follow a logical sequence. I tried to get some action shots.
Spotters were out on the field with rangefinders to measure distance to launch and distance to target.
At one point it started raining a bit, but the competition didn’t let up. After awhile, though, Laura and I had seen enough. They had several more rounds to go. We made our way back to the car then back to the island. This had been a great community event, and we were glad we had the chance to attend. Now I’m wanting to build my own trebuchet.