Pumpkin lovers gathered at the Arapahoe Park racetrack in Aurora over the weekend for a celebration of the fall squash in all its glory. And although there were pumpkin pies, carved pumpkins and a pumpkin patch for the kids, the main attraction was Punkin Chunkin Colorado, an annual event that brings together builders of gourd-hurling machines to see who can achieve the longest toss. Teams spend years constructing and perfecting different types of devices — air cannons, trebuchets, catapults — to claim bragging rights every year.
This year, the Aurora event turned out to be the largest gathering of punkin chunkers in the country, since for the second year running, the World Championship Punkin Chunkin in Delaware was canceled due to insurance issues. That's definitely soul-squashing for teams that spent countless hours and dollars constructing their machines and practicing their pumpkin chucks. In fact, one competitor who was forced to sit at home for another year didn't take kindly to Colorado stealing the squash spotlight this year. Reader Sarah writes:
Hello, sir. My name is Sarah...and I am the captain of a Punkin Chunkin machine that was to compete down in Delaware this year. I have been attending the event since I was a baby (I am now 20) and have been competing with my family for about eight years. I would like to inform you that not only is your article tactless to those who love the Delaware chunk and were to attend, but you also have incorrect facts in it as well. To start, the fact that you wrote so quickly that the Delaware Chunk is dead and that Aurora is now the biggest chunk is just tactless. You could have at least added in the word "regretfully." Or spelled "cancelled" correctly! As to your incorrect facts, I sadly have to question if you did any research at all, or if you just went by what you were told. For starters, Inertia II is a CENTRIFUGAL machine, not an air cannon as you imply. If you look on the WCPCA website you will also see that trebuchets can and have thrown as far as the machines you mentioned. If you had looked farther, you would have seen that some torsion machines are getting very close to 4000'. That is farther than many air cannons have made it. Also, not all trebuchets have "medieval appeal" as you state. It is a great ear catching sentence, but you obviously haven't seen some of these structures! They can look right out of the middle ages, like Yankee Siege, or are vast modern engineering marvels, like the Launch-Ness Monster. As a final note, please remember the important thing about Punkin Chunkin that all true chunkers are very proud about. The prize money is donated to the charity of the winners choice. Upon registration, we are asked to choose a charity, it is required. Punkin Chunkin is a not-for-profit event. This requires there to be a charitable mean of giving back. It would have been nice if you had mentioned that among your advertisements of beer at a family event. I hope you attend the event and learn the true meaning of Punkin Chunkin this weekend. Sarah My credentials (So you know I am not pulling this information out my ass.): Life-time Chunker Captain- Merry-Go-Punkin.
We understand Sarah's frustration and would like to apologize for any lack of sensitivity displayed in our exuberence over the big event in Aurora, but we'd also like to refute her other points. First, "canceled" is the accepted American English spelling of the word. And even if it weren't, it's difficult to accept spelling criticism from those who disregard the spelling of P-U-M-P-K-I-N.
Second, we realize that different types of machines are used in the tossing of punkins — er, pumpkins. But the longest distances have, by far, been achieved by air cannons. This weekend's event yielded a new world record for a trebuchet toss: The Colossal Thunder Team sent its squash flying an amazing 3,279.62 feet. But that's still more than a thousand feet short of the air-cannon-winning distance of 4,787 feet launched by Big 10 Inch, a new range record for the location, according to tabulators at the City of Aurora.
Next, it's great to hear that winnings of the World Championship Punkin Chunkin are donated to charitable organizations. Punkin Chunkin Colorado, however, does not award cash prizes.
Finally, we in Colorado consider events where beer is served to be family events. Beer is part of the Colorado lifestyle, as is toting your toddlers everywhere. Head to any of Denver's many craft-brewery tap rooms and you'll often see baby carriers parked on bar tops, tables pushed aside to make way for strollers, and built-in play areas where youngsters make new friends while parents hoist a pint or two. And since there are so many beer bars here and the weather is almost always sunny, most folks just walk over for a beer rather than risking drinking and driving.
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So until next year, we just may have to agree to disagree on what constitutes a "medieval" device and where the world's best pumpkin-heaving competition is held. Let's hope the Delaware organizers can get it together in time for next October — or at least give competitors enough advance warning of another cancellation so that Sarah Strong and her teammates can come to Aurora for a round of chunkin'.
Team Colossal Thunder's impressive punkin chunkin' rig won this year's trebuchet division, shattering a world record in the process.
Courtesy of the City of Aurora