“Who wants to destroy some pumpkins?!”
Oregon State University mechanical engineering student Justin Rowe evoked cheers from participants and spectators as he announced the beginning of OSU’s fifth annual Pumpkin Chunkin’ Competition on Friday afternoon.
Rowe, event organizer and co-chair of the OSU chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, stood on the grassy field at Northwest Monroe Avenue and 11th Street in front of a line of machines engineered to accurately launch pumpkins — the goal to hit the blue tarp bull’s eye 35 yards away.
Participants included 10 teams from four area schools — Nestucca High School of Cloverdale, ACE Academy of Portland, Churchill High School of Eugene and Centennial High School of Gresham — as well as OSU’s team, which didn’t actually compete.
Six Centennial High School metal shop class students said they began discussing design ideas a little more than a month ago.
“But a lot of that time was just spent arguing about what would work,” 18-year-old Jordan Johnson recalled.
Fabrication began three weeks ago and they tweaked their metal slingshot design for accuracy in the school parking lot in the final week. The competition bars the use of hydraulics, pneumatics, explosives or engines.
They launched a baseball-sized pumpkin on the test run Saturday, and nearly hit their target.
“Get five of the exact same size (for the competition). This is important,” their metal shop teacher, Mark Watts, told his students. “Just dump the bucket out!”
As each team took a turn in the five-round competition, Nestucca and Centennial were neck-and-neck. Some teams’ pumpkins arced up and toward the tarp, some rolled on the ground and a couple were thrown backwards.
Nestucca’s sleek metal catapult-style design hurled 8-pounders that splattered upon impact, while Centennial stuck with the palm-sized variety that bounced off the ground. Size of pumpkin was only important in the case of a tie.
Before the last round, Johnson was nervous.
“This tubing, it’s kind of in bad shape,” he said. “We just need them to last for one more (round).”
Nestucca and Centennial were the only two teams that hit within the 10-yard ring of the tarp all five rounds.
Centennial took home the award for best design and accuracy, Rowe said, because the students could best answer questions like how they built it, why they went with a certain design and what safety mechanisms they put in place.
The cash prize was just about enough to buy gas for the trip home, but the real prize was bragging rights as top pumpkin’ chunker, 2013.