As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

Flying pumpkins

After my amusing encounter with faux pumpkin patches in California, I took a spin to pick up pumpkins closer to home, and do a little early leaf peeping (the colors are late this year, seems to me).  The Sunday drive turned out to be a pumpkin field day.

First off, check out the stems on these babies in the back of our car: they’re called Wolf Pumpkins.  Apparently it’s a newer varietal sporting mondo stalks.    These are very big pumpkins…the huge jack-o-lantern size, so the stems are positively outrageous–almost four inches in diameter.

Next off, the adorable “live” marketing campaign, below,  had us stopping to buy yet another pumpkin, just as a show of support for this enterprising lad.

He was standing right in front of his house in Peterborough, NH, with a very small inventory for sale.  He either grew them himself in his space-constrained yard (I was afraid to ask, fearing he was reselling some pumpkins he got cheap at Home Depot or something), or he had a wildfire business success on his hands, being almost cleaned out.

But the pumpkin creme-de-la-creme was NOT the Pumpkin Festival in Milford, NH (lovely though it was).  No, the piece-de-resistance was one of the events at the festival:   the awe-inspiring American Pumpkin Chunker exposition going on at a nearby farm.  (In other words, catapaulting pumpkins.)  Here’s the story.  Way back last Thanksgiving, Nashua native and landscaper Brian Labrie caught a Discovery channel show about a national pumpkin shooting competition, The Punkin Chunkin in Delaware.   Winters are long in New Hampshire and the competition really caught Brian’s imagination.  He’s also apparently a guy with a lot of vision and determination.  He organized five buddies (including a couple of talented machinists among them) to conceive and build the world’s first air cannon that can shoot a pumpkin a mile.  Yes folks, a mile.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Some additional information:

  • Smuttynose Brewery is a modest sponsor–I think providing just shirts and beer–thus the photo of the guy in the logo shirt.
  • A team supporter told me they use white pumpkins because their rind is twice as thick as regular pumpkins.  She said, “Use an orange one and all you’re going to have is pumpkin pie.”
  • The Chunker was not shooting its full powered capacity this weekend…sending a pumpkin a mile was going to put a lot of houses and businesses at risk.  The team saves those shots for their practice sessions at the Brookline airport.
  • The Chunker was built at the Bingham Lumber, where the guys showed up two nights a week and many Saturdays.  It was, they admit, a labor-intensive effort.
    “I say, ‘I’m going to stop by the mill for a minute,’ and four or five hours later, I’m finally home,” team member Mark McCalvey said.  Brian Labrie says, with a grimace, that the recession contributed to his efforts: there has been less landscaping business to draw him away from the machine shop.
  • The Chunker, at 10,000 pounds had to be engineered for disassembly and transport, and built to DOT safety standards.

What I loved even more than the odd thrill of watching supersonic pumpkins hurtling through the air, was seeing this crazy dream come true.  I enjoy that we live in a time that these guys could do something so sophisticated and beautifully engineered in a tiny town in New Hampshire.  Surely they have a lot of native smarts, and this $100K project was no amateur job.  But the sheer availability of information and access to tools is the other half of the story.  It reminded me, on a MUCH grander scale, of when my oldest son decided to convert an old junk yard ten-speed bike into a single gear bicycle.  He just hopped on the internet, read some posts, watched some helpful how-to videos, learned where to source the parts and finesse the engineering, and he was off and cycling.

Check out the American Chunker blog to find out their next appearances and just let yourself get caught up in the project.  The blog itself is a fabulous piece of work.  Go American Chunker….our only New England team competing in Delaware!


10 Responses to “Flying pumpkins”

  1. Dan Weinreb

    The Chunker stuff has been widely discussed in the geek mailing lists and blogs, which you aren’t on because you are not a geek (meant neither as good nor bad, just true).

  2. Claire

    Funny…reading Dan Pink’s “Drive” on what motivates people…this ties right in… not money, but the challenge of doing something novel…instrinsic satisfaction…

    • julespieri

      Great conceptual connection Claire…I should read that. I loved his “Whole New Mind” book. (‘Course I did. He said designers and storytellers will rule the world!)

      • Julia

        Let us know if you head over there and make any new friends on Friday, Dan! 😛 I bet the costumes and the pumpkins both will be quite entertaining…

  3. jen_clark

    It’s inspiring for me to read stories like this ~ when creative imaginations run wild and then actually implemented!

    The idea of an air cannon shooting a pumpkin out a mile sounds like something my 13-year old stepson ~ who has a super imagination like no other kid I know! ~ would dream up. I can almost hear he and his friends laughing about this concept and about all of the what-if scenarios that could/would occur IF there really was such a machine.

    So hats off to Brian and bringing his ideas to life.

    p.s. Am very curious to hear about the other objects he finds to put in the American Chunker to shoot out! I feel certain the pumpkin is just the beginning!

    • julespieri

      You are so right Jen…very inspirational. And I am guessing all manner of semi-solid objects have traveled that cannon barrel.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: