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Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times
  • Records blown, machines break at Punkin Chunkin 2013

  • Picture perfect weather made Punkin Chunkin 2013 a perfect weekend getaway for fans of the gourd-centric event that included cooking events, a beauty pageant and an air cannon salute for one of its own.
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  • For the second year in a row, Mother Nature seems to be taking a stance on destroying pumpkins, be it for pleasure or for science. Last year, it was freezing temperatures and more than 20 inches of rain. This year, the seemingly perfect weather presented its own hazards.
    On Saturday, unseasonably warm temperatures caused disqualifying launches. Heat causes the pumpkin to "pie" or come apart before hitting the ground. The pumpkin has to be intact when it hits the ground or the launch doesn't count. Gusty headwinds on Sunday were another problem with many teams not reaching the distance goals they set for themselves.
    Some of the best launches actually occurred on Friday when near-perfect conditions aligned for many teams. The best launch—and ultimately, the winning one—was made that day by Captain Brian Labrie and his American Chunker team, who hurled their first 2013 competition pumpkin a whopping 4,694 feet.
    Friday wasn't perfect for everyone, though. The Great Gourd Experiment out of Ellendale suffered a crushing blow when the arm of its trebuchet machine broke, sending its first launch 500 feet backwards. Like a lot of teams, though, they were determined to stay in the game.
    "Terry [Daleiden] stood on the machine, picked up an 80-pound weight and then dropped it, simulating the mechanics of the machine," said Terry's wife and team member Jess Daleiden. "Then, he ran to the end of the machine and threw it as hard as he could."
    As a result of Daleiden's efforts (and a 40-foot throw), they even found themselves one spot ahead of last place at the end of Saturday's competition.
    "It's happened to everybody," Jess said, referring to machine malfunctions. "You just have to make the best of it and continue if you can."
    Regardless of what happens with the machine, Jess added that the party alone is worth staying for. A home brewer, the Daleidens always have several beers on tap at their site. Other teams brought in moonshine and other home-made concoctions and it's not uncommon to see teams swapping drinks, treats and tips in between launches.
    As an official sponsor, Discovery Communications was also there with cast members of "Mythbusters," who were filming scenes for a Thanksgiving Day Science Channel special on the event. Crowds, though not a thick as in year's past, cheered for an opportunity to represent the state and the event on national television.
    This year's three-day competition and festival also included two cooking contests, a beauty pageant, a mass Air Force swearing-in ceremony and an air-cannon salute to one of its own.
    Joseph Thomas, known to most chunkers as "Wolfie," was noticeably absent this year following his unexpected death in August. A 65-year-old Georgetown resident, Wolfie, the Old Glory team captain, was loved and revered by many chunkers who considered him family.
    Page 2 of 2 - Team member Tom Hopkins said that he lived with Thomas for two years.
    "He took me in and was kind-of like a father to me. He was like that with a lot of people," he said, standing next to a portrait of Thomas that was positioned behind the machine. "He would help people and he was so generous. It makes the day a little more somber. I mean, it's fantastic. But, it's not the same."
    Hopkins added that Thomas was working on a new machine when he succumbed to his motorcycle injuries, saying that he's not sure the team is going to continue without him next year.
    Two of Thomas's adult children—Heather Jo and Joseph Jason— also attended this year, coming down from New Jersey.
    "It's emotional," Heather said while wearing a stuffed stole-like wolf. "All the cannons lined up and did a dry shot at 10 a.m. It was kind-of like a salute in his memory."
    Trying not to tear up as she talked about it, she said that right now, they are all just focusing on getting through this year. Once it's over, they'll begin to think about how, or if, they'll continue.
    As Old Glory tries to decide what to do, Witch's Flight enjoyed its first year of competition. The five-member, all female team was excited for each of its three competition launches and found itself being coached a bit by Susan Korweck's husband, a fellow chunker.
    "That's how it is," explained Jess. "Everybody just wants to see everybody have a good time. If something goes wrong, everybody around you will come over to help fix it. It's a real community."
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