Pumpkins sail through the air with the greatest of ease

Known as "Delaware's homegrown insanity" or "the world's largest tailgate party," it is the first and biggest of America's pumpkin-hurling festivals. The contest, which kicked off in 1986, began as a wager among four men: How far can you chuck a pumpkin?

The contraptions they used that first year - cobbled together from auto springs, garage doors, car frames, and wooden poles - set a record of 126 feet, says Frank Shade, president of the Punkin Chunkin Association. Now crowds of more than 25,000 watch machines with names such as Second Amendment Gun, Bad to the Bone, and Punkinator launch pumpkins more than 4,000 feet.

Besides human power, competition categories include air cannons, centrifugal machines, catapults, trebuchets, and theatrical. There are two youth divisions, too: ages 11 to 17, and 10 and under.

The current record is 4,200 to 4,400 feet, Mr. Shade says. "There's a guy in Denver who says he's shot a pumpkin a mile, but we say it's got to be [at] sea level in Delaware, and measured, to count."

Shade, who's been chunkin' for 11 years, is part of the team that operates Bad to the Bone, the eight-time world champion in the centrifugal class. His machine uses a combination of spring arm, truck axle, and driveshaft, and and shoots the pumpkin off a 40-foot tower. Like a car, it shifts through the gears.

His hope for this year's contest? "We still have three gears we haven't shifted into yet."

• The 18th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin Competition will be held Oct. 31-Nov. 2 in Millsboro, Del. For details and photos, visit the website: www.punkinchunkin.com.

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