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Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007 05:37 pm

Power to the pumpkin people

After outcry, Morton punkin-chuckin’ contest to continue after all

Untitled Document The people have spoken — and they want their flying pumpkins. Earlier this summer, the Morton Chamber of Commerce, which has coordinated an annual punkin-chuckin’ contest since the mid-’90s, dropped a bomb by announcing that the contest would be suspended indefinitely. Despite the popularity of the sport, the number of entrants, who design and build the impressive-looking pumpkin-firing contraptions, had experienced no growth. Organizing the contest also strained the chamber’s staff, volunteers, and resources at the expense of other events throughout the year. “We were real disappointed, because we’ve been participating since the beginning,” says Doug Diefenbach, a member of the Tremont-based team that operates the ACME Catapult, which holds Morton’s record catapult and is often hired to chuck appliances and light machinery (but not people) for charity events. Diefenbach contends that the event could have been profitable if more food vendors participated and there were more activities for kids. He got his wish. After a chorus of disapproval from chuckin’ fans, Morton Mayor Norman Durflinger proclaimed last week that the village, which boasts of processing all but 15 percent of the nation’s pumpkins, would hold the event after all. Susan Pyles, Morton’s director of tourism, says that the event was made possible by the help of several groups. The Morton Business Association, the Morton Hospitality Association, the Morton Jaycees, the Morton Kiwanis, and the Morton Knights of Columbus will work with the Chamber to host the punkin-chuckin’ contest, now in its 11th year. The sport of punkin chuckin’ involves hurling beta-carotene-rich gourds from a catapult, air cannon, ballista (which resembles a large crossbow), slingshot, or the medieval trebuchet. ACME’s 7,000-pound steel catapult uses 40 springs and stands 32 feet tall when fired. Several short documentaries on punkin chuckin’ can be found on the Web. This year, activities have been added that, Pyles says, should make the punkin-chuckin’ festival “the perfect family outing.”
Punkin Chuckin’ 2007 will be held Oct. 20 and 21 at the Uhlman family farm in Tazewll County (corner of Springfield and Allentown roads; $5 for parking; 309-266-5135). If melons traveling at speeds up to 300 mph aren’t your speed, here’s the scoop on some more pumpkin-related stuff going on in central Illinois: Allerton Park Diversified Farm (515 Old Timber Rd., 217-244-1035) will host its annual Pumpkinpalooza 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14. Admission is free, but fees may be charged for some events such as games and hayrides.
Besides pumpkins, Curtis Orchard (3902 S. Duncan Rd., Champaign, 217-359-5565) offers pick-your-own apples, fresh homemade doughnuts, pony rides, a corn maze, kettle corn, and gem mining. Pumpkin-picking season at the family-owned farm begins in mid-September. Hours of operation are 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. The Great Pumpkin Patch, in Arthur, offers more than 400 varieties of pumpkin, which belong to the same family as watermelons, cucumbers, butternut squash, and zucchinis. Opening on Sept. 14 and lasting appropriately through Halloween, the Great Pumpkin Patch is also the site of a one-room schoolhouse built in 1912, farm animals, and mazes. Sitting on the line between Douglas and Moultrie counties, Arthur is home to the largest Amish community in Illinois. The farm is open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Admission for giant pumpkins, ages 13 and up, costs $3. Pumpkin heads, ages 6 and 12, pay $1. Jack-B-Littles, under age 6, get in free. Visit www.thegreatpumpkinpatch.biz or call 217-543-2394 for information.
Gail’s Pumpkin Patch opens on Sept. 15. In addition to pumpkins, the farm sells mums, ornamental, straw bales, and homemade honey. On Sunday, Sept. 23, the farm, located in Beason, hosts Fall Farm Day, 1-5 p.m. with pumpkin and face painting, beeswax-candle-making, and a honey-extraction demonstration. Gail’s Pumpkin Patch is open daily until 5:30 p.m. For more information call 217-447-3409 (1709 2000th Ave., Beason, www.gailspumpkinpatch.com). As headquarters to Libby’s pumpkin canning plant, Morton, the self-proclaimed global capital of globular gourds, also hosts the largest pumpkin celebration in Illinois. The 41st Annual Morton Pumpkin Festival, taking place Sept. 12-15, offers a Big Wheel race for children under the age of 11, as well as a softball tourney, a 10K run/walk, daily concerts, and art, photography, quilting, and craft shows. Visit www.pumpkincapital.com for a complete list of events and attractions.
Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com.
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