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Pumpkin-chucking festivities fire up season

Members of team "PumpkinHammer" watch their trebuchet as it fires in the Punkin Chunkin' 2006 World Championship in Millsboro, Del. A similar pumpkin-hurling event is set for Oct. 27 in Moab, Utah.
Members of team "PumpkinHammer" watch their trebuchet as it fires in the Punkin Chunkin' 2006 World Championship in Millsboro, Del. A similar pumpkin-hurling event is set for Oct. 27 in Moab, Utah.
Jim Dietz, Associated Press

What can you do with pumpkins? The list is not all that long. You can make pumpkin pies and breads, carve jack o'lanterns or use them to decorate your front porch.

Or you can send them hurling into the autumn sky at 400 mph with a 30,000-pound cannon.

It's pumpkin-chucking season!

The World Championship Punkin Chunkin' contest — — takes place Nov. 2-4 in Bridgeville, Del., about 30 miles from Lewes and 90 miles from Washington. The event began in 1986 and bills itself as the oldest and largest competition of its type. Last year over 50,000 spectators turned out to watch 100 teams compete, organizers said.

Launching machines at the Delaware event will include air compressors, catapults, centrifugal machines that spin the pumpkins before hurling them, and trebuchets. (The trebuchet design dates to the Middle Ages, using a counterweight to power its missile.) There is also a "theatrical" category in which the rules state that "distance is not the goal; ability to ham it up is the goal."

"People start out thinking they have to see some idiot who's built a machine to throw a pumpkin a mile," said Frank Shade, president of the World Championship Punkin Chunkin' Association. "Then, after spending a weekend grilling and cooking out with 70,000 of their newest best friends, they find out this is really a good time."

The contest's record for distance was set in 2003, when a pumpkin went 4,434 feet.

Another well-known event, the Morton Punkin Chuckin' contest, takes place Oct. 20, 21 in Morton, Ill., where 85 percent of the world's canned pumpkin is manufactured.

The contest was nearly canceled this year when the town's Chamber of Commerce withdrew sponsorship, saying that there are now so many fling-and-smash events that Morton was no longer attracting the big air cannons and monster catapults needed to draw crowds.

But the Morton event got a reprieve when five organizations — the local Jaycees, Kiwanis and Knights of Columbus, along with the Morton Hospitality Association and the Morton Business Association — agreed to staff the event.

Over the years several of Morton's winners have landed on late-night television with David Letterman and Jay Leno. Morton's Punkin Chuckin' began in 1996 and typically attracts a few thousand visitors. The Morton contest is held at the Uhlman family farm on the corner of Springfield and Allentown roads, about 10 miles southeast of Peoria. Details at For those lacking the engineering skills to build a mighty pumpkin-throwing machine, there are also hand-tossing contests.

Other contests are held at pumpkin farms and fall festivals around the country. A few take place early in the season, but many are held the weekends before and after Halloween. They include:

Pumpkin Chuckin' in Moab, Utah, Oct. 27,, on Old Airport Runway, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

The Bristol Pumpkin Festival, Bristol, Conn., Oct. 28, noon-2 p.m., at Roberts Orchards on Hill Street.; Contestants are invited to power their pumpkins with "springs, rubber bands, air, muscle, centrifugal force, brute strength, power architecture and bicycles."

Pumpkin-chucking weekend, Nov. 3-4, in Ellicott City, Md., at Clark's Elioak Farm, 10500 Clarksville Pike,

Pumpkin Chuck, Nov. 3, in Cincinnati's Stanbery Park on Oxford Avenue, noon-5 p.m. Buy a pumpkin on site or bring one from home for the "Two Buck Chuck," where for $2 you can launch your gourd sky-high from a trebuchet.