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Trebuchets hurl pumpkins 600+ feet in annual engineering contest

November 9th, 2015 Posted in Opinion

Story & Photos by Jaesea Gatherum

NORTH LOGAN — Last week, the oohs and awwws were for the creative pumpkin displays at North Logan’s Pumpkin Walk, but this week the cheers were for high-flying, smashing pumpkins.

That is what happens when pumpkins get launched hundreds of feet in the air by trebuchets during the 5th annual Pumpkin Toss.

READY, AIM . . . A trebuchet team readies its apparatus to fire off a pumpkin. (Jaesea Gatherum photo)

READY, AIM . . . A trebuchet team readies its apparatus to fire off a pumpkin. (Jaesea Gatherum photo)

A trebuchet is a kind of catapult that was used in medieval warfare to propel stones at enemies. Now they are used in North Logan to provide entertainment by hurling pumpkins lengths of football fields. A trebuchet uses a long pole powered by a “falling massive counterweight” to propel objects — pumpkins in this case — long distances, says the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Nine teams participated in the event this year, which was the biggest trebuchet turnout yet. The number of participants isn’t the only thing that has grown through the years; the number of spectators has also increased.

“The first year there were only three trebuchets,” said volunteer Britnay Chamberlain, who helped build a catapult for the first Pumpkin Toss back in 2011. “And there were only about 50 people who came, so it has definitely grown.”

Most teams consisted of Utah State University engineering students, who spent weeks to months building their trebuchets, which would be judged on both accuracy and distance.

“This is my first year,” said mechanical engineering major Landon Carter. “We built it for about five weeks.”

Building these catapults is not a simple feat. The teams are restricted to parameters set by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ 65-page outline, which also includes discussion of the science that goes into building a trebuchet.

Carter’s team, sponsored by Bear River Land Conservation, built a trebuchet that stood 29 feet tall, and hurled pumpkins more than 300 feet.

GANDALF’s BEARD! Mechanical engineering students Miguel Beal, Josh Kapp, Robert Berry, Parker Dahl and Spencer Mathis with their prize-winning trebuchet. (Jaesea Gatherum photo)

GANDALF’s BEARD! Mechanical engineering students Miguel Beal, Josh Kapp, Robert Berry, Parker Dahl and Spencer Mathis with their prize-winning trebuchet. (Jaesea Gatherum photo)

After watching for 20 minutes as the nine machines chucked pumpkins for accuracy, and then for another 20 minutes for distance, a panel of judges made up of USU professors tallied the points.

The winner was Gandalf’s Beard, a team that rocketed one of its pumpkins 625 feet, almost doubling last year’s distance, said Parker Dahl, one of the team’s members.

Dahl said the team used the same catapult they built last year, and spent the last three months making improvements to get it ready for Saturday.

“I’m surprised it’s not broken,” said Miguel Beal, another member of Gandalf’s Beard.

All of the preparations paid off, because the audience erupted when Gandalf’s Beard’s winning pumpkin exploded on the ground almost two football fields away.

Spectator Marion Bishop, a mother of two, said she had heard about this event from some of her friends who come each year.

“This is a great way to get kids excited about science,” she said. “Without a doubt this is going to be a new family tradition.”

The event was co-sponsored by the Bear River Land Conservancy and the City of North Logan.

TP

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