Praise the Gourd
Punkin Chunkin’ turns 25. It’s time to get your orange on.
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On the Saturday after every Halloween of the past 25 years, men and machines have gathered on an open field to throw perfectly good pumpkins as far as possible—a phenomenon we know as Punkin Chunkin’. What started as a few characters of questionable sobriety spending a fall afternoon hurling gourds into the woods beyond Lewes has evolved into a three-day festival and “sport” that involves some pretty serious engineering of pneumatic cannons, catapults, trebuchets and more. There’s also a serious philanthropic effort, and very serious fun. As the event’s notoriety has grown, so has attention focused on Sussex, with film crews from around the world recording the spectacle and a few of the most colorful chunkers appearing on shows like “Late Night with David Letterman.” Yet the basic spirit of the original chunk—with the trash talkin’ and the braggin’ rights—remains the same. Sure, it’s a “redneck thing,” as some chunkers say, but isn’t it human nature to want to throw things? On the Chunk’s silver anniversary, we introduce you to some key figures. Keep your eye on the sky.
14-time Centrifugal Champion
With pirate flag flying, Donny Jefferson has led his Bad to the Bone team to victory 14 years in a row. Winning throws from his centrifugal machine often fly more than 2,700 feet, and though there are engineers who could calculate arc and release points, he builds and throws by feel. Not that there’s any need to tweak the machine, which is built of old parts from the farms of friends and neighbors. “It’s a crowd-pleaser,” Jefferson said in an interview for the Science Channel in 2008. “It’s loud, it spins fast, and it makes a lot of smoke.” And though competitors come gunning for him year after year, Jefferson, a 40-year-old diesel mechanic from Milton, says the biggest challenge isn’t competition—it’s keeping the pumpkin intact. Jefferson has earned the right to swagger. “I’d like somebody to try to beat me,” he says with a laugh. But there’s more to it than the glory. Jefferson likes the teamwork and camaraderie of seeing old friends. “It’s almost like Christmas.”
Frank Shade, 61, of Lewes, sincerely believes that if one harnessed all the knowledge and energy put into designing punkin chunkin’ machines, all the world’s problems would be solved. That helps make him a perfect example of the Punkin Chunkin’ addiction. He first attended in 1992 as a county paramedic and quickly became involved. “What’s not to like about it?” says Shade, now the director of purchasing and fleet management for Sussex County. Besides the uniqueness of Punkin Chunkin’, it’s a chance to hang out with 70,000 of his newest best friends. As association president for eight years, he expanded the event from one day to three, worked to keep it in Delaware, and made sure it remained financially solvent. He stepped down as president last year, but still does “grunt work” for Bad to the Bone. “The centrifugals hold a very dear place in my heart,” says Shade. “Every year someone new comes gunning for us.”
Page 2: Jake Burton | World Record Chunk holder