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Thursday, September 27, 2012

By LORETTA JACKSON l Correspondent

Flying pumpkins are sure to be a spectacular sight during Trombly Gardens’ third annual Chunkin’ in the Gardens event, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7, at 150 N. River Road.

The event at the farm coincides with the town’s annual Pumpkin Festival, to be held around Town Hall and Middle Street on Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 6-7. The festivities will be preceded with a Custom and Vintage Motorcycle Show, 5:30-9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5.

At Trombly Gardens, there will be live music all day and local food such as burgers made from the farm’s pasture-raised, grass-fed beef; home-made apple crisp; and tangy foccacia pizza. There will be kids’ games and family activities, including pumpkin painting, plus hay rides that will give visitors a close-up view of the 150-acre farm.

In addition, a convoluted corn maze featuring footpaths lined with walls made of tall, rustling corn stalks is sure to draw the daring, as less-adventuresome visitors settle for other pursuits. There will be much to see and do at Trombly Gardens, a farm established in 1950 and well known for its fruits and vegetables, eggs and dairy products, beef, pork, honey, and bakery items.

The flying objects seen during the farm’s third annual Chunkin’ in the Gardens will be easily identified as round, ripe pumpkins – hefty orbs booming at 400 mph out of the barrel of an air cannon. The massive, 24,000-pound machine, some 135 feet long, uses compressed air as a propellant.

Farmer Sean Trombly, preparing for the coming event, recalled evidence of the air cannon’s power as seen at last year’s gathering. Aimed at an old camper, the cannon didn’t take long to demolish the donated vehicle. Successive blasts sent shards of pumpkin slamming into the sacrificial target. Fragments of aluminum siding and wads of upholstery soon littered the ground. Rumor has it that something similarly awesome may happen this year.

The air cannon is manned by the American Chunker, team, a local group of about 40 men and women inclined to pursue humankind’s ancient yearning for speed and distance.

American Chunker is one of 115 nationally competitive pumpkin-chucking teams comprising the all-volunteer World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association. The enterprise was founded in 1986 by a handful of Delaware guys – friends determined to see who could throw a pumpkin the farthest.

American Chunker’s Brian Labrie, a Nashua resident and the team’s captain, is the owner and the primary builder of the air cannon. He estimates that its completion took about 2,300 hours. The machine is made of metal, mostly carbon steel, and thus far has racked up a long shot measuring 4,325 feet. The distance the pumpkin was propelled during that attempt is roughly the equivalent of three-fourths of a mile, Labrie said.

Labrie and his assistant, Jim Moreau, led a series of American Chunker practices held on the outskirts of Bingham Lumber on Route 13 in Brookline throughout the summer. A recent practice drew quite a crowd of teammates, all of whom enjoyed an impromptu corn roast after the day’s attempts at new records were completed.

Trombly, on site at the lumber yard for one of the recent practices, said it wasn’t long ago that Labrie stopped by the farm and asked about the availability of pumpkins for practices. The globes are a special variety, with thicker walls than traditional jack-o’-lanterns. Pumpkins used throughout the American Chunker practice season are contributed by various area farms, including Trombly Gardens.

“Brian came out and told me about the cannon and the kind of pumpkins that are best for shooting,” Trombly said. “I said I’d grow some, and the idea for the team to bring American Chunker here followed pretty quickly. Chunkin’ Punkins is good family fun.”

Labrie, polishing the silver barrel of the American Chunker air cannon, said teams across the nation are in high gear, practicing for the WCPCA’s annual pumpkin-launching event, which will be held Nov. 2-4 in a cornfield in Bridgeville, Del. He added that American Chunker has been featured on the Discovery Channel and has quite a following on blogs and YouTube.

Numerous charities benefit from the nonprofit Punkin Chunkin Association’s events, which last year drew 20,000 people to Delaware and raised $70,000 for scholarships and charities. Attractions in Delaware include a cooking contest, a chili contest and a pageant. The chunkin’ competition includes categories and classes for an array of differently configured machines – catapults, air cannons, centrifugal human-powered machines and medieval-looking trebuchets.

Labrie said there are some unusual sports in the world, and when it comes to pumpkin chunking, a sport can be “an awful lot of fun.” He said the event at Trombly Gardens is sure to be highlighted by lots of smashed pumpkins.

“Our sights are set at breaking a mile down in Delaware,” Labrie said. “I think our visit to Trombly Gardens will be a really fun preview. We look to see a lot of our fans there and lots of newcomers, too.”

For more details on Chunkin’ in the Gardens, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7, call Trombly Gardens at 673-0647.

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