Frivolous but not fruitless, pumpkin launch has its day 10th annual contest crowns ex-teacher the boss of the toss

November 06, 1995|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

LEWES,DEL. — LEWES, Del. -- They came with catapults, cannons and centrifugal-force machines to a Punkin Chunkin field of dreams in Delaware.

Cheered by a crowd of 15,000, eight entrants took their best shots in the 10th annual Punkin Chunkin contest yesterday.

When the last gourd had hit the ground, the day belonged to Harry Lackhove, the self-styled "Captain Speed." His "Mellow Yellow Number Eight New-Matik Punkin Planter," an air-powered cannon, lobbed a pumpkin 2,655 feet -- a half-mile -- to take the championship.

"It feels better than a lot of things that feel good," said the triumphant Mr. Lackhove, who climbed astride the cannon's barrel after his victory was official.

Mr. Lackhove, a retired teacher, has competed for eight years in the contest begun as a friendly rivalry by Trey Melson and John Ellsworth in 1986.

The crowds have gotten bigger, and the machinery more Rube Goldbergesque every year, but the contest retains its "good ol' boy" roots.

The two originators were both competitors this year, and Mr. Melson's "Universal Soldier" was the defending champion. But his 1994 record fell in the first round of competition, when Mellow Yellow Number Eight fired what proved to be the winning shot.

Mr. Melson was quick to join the impromptu winner's circle that formed around Mr. Lackhove, offering a hug and challenge for next year.

"I'll be here waiting for you," said Mr. Lackhove. "This was just a prototype for Mellow Yellow Number Nine."

The contest drew people from Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey for the two-day event, which included food tents, bands and fireworks.

"I don't want to say it's redneck -- just small-town," said Frank Husfelt of Newark, Del., who has been attending the Punkin Chunkin for eight years. Like many devotees, Mr. Husfelt was peeved at talk show host David Letterman.

Mr. Ellsworth, contest co-founder, took his "Under Pressure" catapult to New York for the Halloween show and chunked one on national television -- without recognition from the show.

"They never mentioned the guy's name or that he was from Delaware," said Mr. Husfelt. "Everyone in Delaware hates Letterman now."

A mid-field target bore the name "David Letterman" on it, and the famous gap-toothed one's picture appeared on targets in Saturday's events.

As machines with such names as "Top Secret" and "De-Terminator" hurled their pumpkins, the crowd cheered.

A particular favorite was the entry of the New Bethel Assembly of God Marching Tabernacle Choir and Motorcycle Club (motto: "Will Go Almost Anywhere, Will Do Almost Anything.")

Presided over by Steve Huett, the group from Hollywood in southern Maryland drove its wildly painted bus, with a wooden boat built on the roof, onto the field to drop a pumpkin for posterity.

They did not win, but the group was pleased nonetheless at besting last year's performance, which Mr. Huett described as "minus 17 feet." Last year's pumpkin flew backward and hit a truck; this year it went in the right direction at least.

"It's pretty much a lot of fun," he said.

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