CLAYTON — The ongoing construction in town appeared to have little impact on attendance at the eighth annual Punkin Chunkin on Saturday, as the event generated at least $150,000 for Clayton and produced nearly 5,000 pounds of food for local pantries.
The pumpkin-launching event began at around 11 a.m., with seven youth teams competing ahead of the adult contest. Around a half-dozen K-12 students made up each team, however, not all the kids who participated were there. Hundreds of students in the area helped gather 4,876 pounds of food ahead of the event, to be distributed where it’s needed, from Cape Vincent to Alexandria Bay to Theresa.
The final score for the youth teams was based on how far they launched a pumpkin, multiplied by how much food their group gathered for the food bank.
“They send the food to the ones that need it the most,” said David Neuroth, an organizer with the Clayton Rotary Club. “It’s all for fun and it’s all for charity.”
Riverside Girl Scouts took first place in the first- through fifth-grade competition. The Scouts gathered around 3,000 pounds of food. Second place and “crowd pleaser” was 4-H Troop 5118. In the senior competition, grades 6 through 12, the Thousand Islands Science Olympiad took first, and the Canton Golden Bears took second.
In the adult competition, the Incredible Chunk, owned by Bach and Co. in Clayton, took first place in distance and in design. At one point, the Chunk team and Rusted Redemption, their closest competitor, launched at the same time. Chunk’s pumpkin launched roughly 40 yards further.
There was one group that used a machine unlike any other. “One Chance Fancy” is a group made up of employees with North Branch Farms, which is owned by Henderson Products. The group’s name came after their Watertown employer paid for them to build the machine. The team huddled and decided it was their one chance to seize the opportunity, and, in that moment, they said Reba McEntire’s “Fancy” came on the radio.
“It was like right at that moment, Reba came on,” said Derek Bennett, Fancy’s team captain. “We had one chance not to let them down, and she didn’t.”
The group built a Whipper Trebuchet, which has a seven-foot metal arm and rotates 360 degrees before launching the pumpkin, as opposed to the traditional model usually rotating at 180 degrees. The machine won best design in last year’s Punkin Chunkin. Bryan Rivers, the chief fabricator of the group, did all the welding.
“We get goosebumps when this time of year comes around,” Rivers said. “We take a lot of pride in what we do, and we’ve got a pretty awesome team of guys.”
“Fancy” is competing in its own category, as the other adult teams Saturday had bigger axles therefore more torque and further launches. But despite the shorter axle, the group still competes with the bigger machines.
“We’re averaging 1,100 feet every launch,” Rivers said. “For this size of a machine, it’s pretty wild.”
Team Moore Power is captained by 16-year-old Daniel Moore, of LaFargeville. Mr. Moore, interested in engineering, discovered Punkin Chunkin in fourth grade.
“I wasn’t quite old enough to do it,” he said, “but they let me.”
Moore Power, which took most improved on Saturday, has competed in the Clayton event each of the eight years. This year, their machine is named “Penny Power,” in honor of Moore’s grandmother, who died last year. She was instrumental in encouraging the teenager to design a trebuchet, but she was more interested in keeping the Moore family in touch.
“I don’t think she ever cared how far we threw the pumpkin,” said Jeff Moore, Daniel’s uncle and team member. “It was about all of us getting together.”
Bob Lamphere, who’s with the Clayton Chamber of Commerce and one of the lead organizers, said Punkin Chunkin helps generate $150,000 for the town every year.
“That would be conservative,” he said.
Mr. Lamphere led the $40,000 project to install a 350-foot-long, 50-foot-high mesh net to stop misfired-pumpkins from entering the crowd. Around $20,000 of that was donated.
There was little concern about the construction currently sweeping through Clayton. He and other chamber members said the work has not impacted this year’s attendance at all. Mr. Lamphere’s philosophy on why Punkin Chunkin is such a popular event is seeing the power and mechanics of the catapults. Around 7,000 were expected to attend, and the chamber believes there were more.
“It’s watching those machines fire, the pumpkin going through the air and landing in the water,” he said. “You see the splash, it’s very unique.”