BERWICK, Maine — They fell short of breaking the world record, but that won’t stop them from trying again.
On Saturday, the expansive acreage of Tuckahoe Turf Farm in Berwick was the testing ground for improvements that have been made to a massive 120-foot long pneumatic cannon that was designed for a single purpose: launching a pumpkin the distance of a full mile.
The group that built it — American Chunker, based out of Merrimack, N.H. — descended upon the farm for a series of volleys that tested their machine’s capabilities. While breaking the Guinness world record for pumpkin launching remains a long-term goal for the outfit, the weekend’s tests served as practice for an annual “chunking” event that will take place later this year in Delaware.
“That’s the only real competition,” said American Chunker member Don Gross. “And you don’t go there to come in second place.”
For the New England-based band of chunking enthusiasts, this will be their fourth such competition in Bridgeville, Del. The group has placed second, third and fourth in the event — not too shabby, considering the field of more than 120 teams. They hope that 2013 will prove to be the breakout year.
The team was first assembled in 2008 by Brian Labrie, who cobbled together a team of friends and specialists with various areas of expertise, including computer science and metal fabricating.
“We worked on the cannon for just about a solid year, every weekend and one night during the week,” said American Chunker member Dave Bingham, whose garage served as the original workhouse for the towering launcher. “It’ll take a honeydew melon and put it through a car on both sides.”
Every year, the team makes small improvements to the machine to inch closer to their goal of breaking the record, which stands at just over 5,545 feet. This year, the group added a hydraulic power pack that makes the contraption a self-contained unit, making it easier to transport and assemble.
To facilitate their launch testing, they needed an open space that would allow for flying gourds. As it turns out, Berwick was the perfect spot.
“It’s nice to have a place where you can let this thing rip,” said Gross.
Team members were told Tuckahoe Farm would be a prime location to attempt a world record — which, to be official, needs to be verified by independent parties, such as the media, and licensed surveyors who calculate the pumpkin’s distance.
Normally, strong winds whip through the field in which Saturday’s test was held. That, said Bingham, would have been ideal, as it would have provided a boost to their 10-pound projectiles.
Mother Nature, however, had other plans. The record will have to wait … though perhaps not for long.
Later this fall, the World Pumpkin Chunking Association will host its 27th Bridgeville competition, which draws crowds that rival any at a major NASCAR event, said Bingham. Whether the team breaks the record there, or elsewhere during its test launches, Bingham feels confident in American Chunker’s chances.
“It’ll happen,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time.”
The Delaware event will be broadcast on the Science Channel the night before Thanksgiving. Those interested in learning more about American Chunker, and watching videos detailing the group’s process, can follow them at www.americanchunker.com.