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Punkin' Chunkin' brings crowd to Fiddler's Grove

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Receving the grand champion trophy from emcee Jeff Dickson at Saturday's Throwdown in the Grove punkin' chunkin' at Fidder's Grove is the "Hunk o' Junk a Punk" team captain, Lebanon builder Ricky Thompson.

 

Emcee and compeitor Jeff Dickson pushes the arm down on his trebucket catapult "Mullet Mayhem," preparing to chunk a pumkin. Watching behind Dickson at the camo-decorated trebuchet "Punkin Chunkin' Country Bumpkin" is Bumpkin team member Dalton Patterson.

JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post

By JOHN BUTWELLThe Wilson Post

To boldly go where no “punkin” has gone before.

That was the privilege of at least four Wilson County pumpkins Saturday afternoon at Fiddler’s Grove. The humble globe-shaped orange vegetables of autumn were catapulted further into the field than any other pumpkins had ever gone at any previous Throwdown in the Grove.

… Only to explode in a fountain of seeds and shell, providing a challenge to tell where they fell. Forget “Star Trek” – think “Smashing Pumpkins.”

Three times, a humble country pumpkin broke the 200-foot flight mark before being broken into pieces itself on impact with the ground at this year’s Throwdown, also known as the annual county “Punkin Chunkin’.” 

One punkin orbited the field for 204 feet. Another strained for escape velocity over a 206-foot distance. But the farthest fling was 225 feet, or more than 70 yards.

Lane Kiffin ought to sign that punkin up and let him pass for the Vols.

Or should the real credit go not to the catapulted punkins but to the punkin chunkers, a family-and-friends team from Lebanon calling themselves Hunk o’ Junk Chunk a Punk? After all, it was their “hunk o’ junk,” two-by-fours and counterweights and ropes and such, that sent all three valiant veggies vigorously venturing skyward hundreds of feet at a time.

The phrase “catapulting punkins” was not just a figure of speech. The teams were really launching pumpkins from pre-cannon devices whose history dates back to medieval warfare -- both spring-powered direct-action catapults and counter-weighted “trebuchets” that seemed to throw pumpkins the farthest distances Saturday afternoon, such as the trebuchet Hunk o’ Junk.

All were homebuilt in Wilson County or nearby Tennessee counties.

This year’s grand champion team worked hard for its 225-foot toss, Hunk o’ Junk team “mom” Peggy Jo Thompson admitted. “They worked on it throughout the year,” she said of her husband Ricky Thompson, a local builder; son Jacob Thompson, an eighth grader at Southside; and friend Rusty Thorne. “We watched it last year.”

This year, having taken the plunge into catapult competition, the team developed a few “trade secrets” which Peggy Jo shared.

“Feel that,” she urged, holding out a surrogate pumpkin – a basketball that was considerably more squishy and heavier than usual. “It’s a basketball filled with water to simulate a pumpkin.” With its help, Hunk o’ Junk was test-fired repeatedly before this year’s Throwdown.

Hunk o’ Junk was the only catapult to break 200 feet, but even this year’s winners of the Youth Division, firing a camo-decorated trebuchet dubbed the Punkin Chunkin’ Country Bumpkin, bested last year’s Adult Division record (184 feet and 4 inches) by chunkin’ a punkin 189 feet.

The Country Bumpkin team consists of captain Katie Dickson, who is a Watertown High School senior, and a pair of Wilson County cousins – Ethan Patterson, Watertown ’09, and Friendship junior Dalton Patterson. Katie’s dad, Jeff Dickson of the 15th Circuit Drug Court, emceed the event once again, this year wearing a silver-gray mullet wig streaming back from his safety hardhat.

He and his partner Scott Langford called their catapult Mullet Mayhem, too. So what was this “mullet” stuff all about? What did it have to do with punkin chunkin’?

“Anytime you start a project and have to say, ‘Do we have enough Duct Tape?’, it’s only fitting that you have a mullet,” Dickson explained. “It’s a Southern thing. They used to kid me about wearing a mullet in high school. That (wearing a mullet) was ‘cool.’”

The mayhem was supplied by Mullet Mayhem, too. After a hopeful 80-foot first lob, its second sling flung the punkin straight up in the air, to land right beside the errant catapult and the wary Dickson, who easily dodged the wayward veggie.

Mayhem’s third punkin mulleted itself backward an uncounted distance, over the spectator fence and into the gravel driveway, where its impact was measured by a spectator’s sniffing dog.

This was not Dickson’s year. Two years ago, at the first Throwdown in the Grove, Dickson’s catapult chunked a punkin the farthest, setting the first-year record at 139 feet. But last year, his tow-truck based catapult PUNK-N-ATOR, THE PUNKIN HATER (currently out of action) was beaten out by his brother Randall Dickson, a Smyrna fireman, whose Fireman’s Fury flung the 184-foot-plus lob that won the 2008 trophy.

But brother Randall didn’t fare so well this year, either. “We built a little too big, and the arm got a little strain on it,” he said about Fireman’s Fury. As a result, his catapult was pulled out of the flinging after two tries. “This year, 39 feet was my best. We fired twice and that was it.”

Pondering his 2009 championship loss to Hunk o’ Junk, Rutherford County’s Randall added, “It’s out of the family now.” Jeff replied, “It’s back in Wilson County, but it IS out of the family now. Can’t have everything.” 

Scott Langford’s son Cole Langford, a seventh grader at Tuckers Crossroads, won this year’s Youth Division for non-trebuchet catapults with his 30-foot punkin chunk fired from the General Lee, named after the Dukes of Hazzard’s infamous 1969 Dodge Charger. The General started out as Jeff Dickson’s catapult back in Throwdown I.The first-place non-trebuchet catapult in the Adult Division was Medieval Upheaval created and operated by Lebanon builder Cliff Eatherly, assisted by sons Benjamin, 17, and Jayden, 6, and Benjamin’s girlfriend Katie Rice.

“I just saw the ad in the paper, and thought I’d try to build something and come out,” Eatherly said. “All that (catapult material) was scrap that came out of my shop.”The catapult comes from Eatherly’s shop quite literally, in fact. “The spring was so tight, we couldn’t get it to pull down,” he explained, “so we just put the garage door spring from the shop on it.”

Last Chance, a Youth Division catapult entered by Watertown High School junior Kyle Robinson, his dad Tim Robinson, his granddad Crannie Webb and two friends, also received its finishing touches at the last moment.

It was a Last Chance, indeed. “We did this in 2½ hours this morning, and that was with a trip to Lowe’s, too,” dad Tim said.

“Tyler, Pork Chop and me worked all night on one that did work, but we just broke the spring,” son Kyle said. No problem. The team quickly rigged a new catapult, partly manufactured from barbells and work-out weights; named it Last Chance and mounted it on a 16-foot utility trailer to bring to the Throwdown.

But the important thing to bring, anyhow, was the punkins to chunk. Kyle comes out a winner no matter how his chunker throws, he said: “I actually supply the pumpkins. I grow pumpkins at Watertown.”

As usual, the Throwdown in the Grove drew spectators from all over, although unseasonably cool temperatures and cloudy skies may have kept a few away. Several dozens of fans attended the Throwdown and more than 100 visitors dropped by the Antiques Appraisal Fair that is held in conjunction with the Throwdown (since both events are benefits for Fiddler’s Grove).

“We just heard about it and thought we’d come over and check it out,” said Gallatin’s Ray Page, whose son Hunter, 3½, watched the punkin chunkin’ from his dad’s shoulder, behind the spectator fence. “His grandmother lives in Mt. Juliet, and we figured it’d be pretty interesting for him. He loves heavy equipment.”

Like a punkin chunkin’ catapult?

Page, a state childcare inspector and former Lebanon resident, commented that the Throwdown in the Grove could become a major draw to Wilson County. “This’ll probably become a pretty big event, if they keep this up,” he said.

Peter, Peter, Punkin Chunker:A smashing job by Hunk o’ Junker!Drew a crowd to Wilson’s shellBy chunkin’ punkins very well

Information for this story about the Antiques Appraisal Fair was provided by Connie Esh. John Butwell and Connie Esh can be reached at cewrites@yahoo.com.

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