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2019 World Championships of Punkin Chunkin

The 2019 World Championships of Punkin Chunkin have come and gone. 2019 was the first year the event was held somewhere other than Delaware, and the move to Rantoul, IL brought numerous changes to the event. First and foremost only 20 teams were able to make it to the new location due to a combination of factors, but this had the benefit of leading to a smaller, more intimate event which had many benefits.

Format-wise the event was slated to have 6 competition rounds (3 each on Saturday and Sunday - with 3 of those being the "official" shots for standings), though we ended up doing only 2 rounds per day (and the last 3 were the "official" rounds), with a new-to-the-WCPC feature, open pits when spectators could enter the pits and check out the machines and meet the teams up close. The weather was cold (some snow on the ground when we arrived to setup, and the temperature never left the 40s), but we had no rain and even had a tailwind one day (and a crosswind the other day). New for this year were 2 different Trebuchet and Catapult (Torsion and Catapult classes also combined) divisions, a "regular" and a "championship" division. An "Under 1000 Foot" division was also added, and only one Air Cannon made the trip (largely due to new overly restrictive regulations stemming from the 2016 incident).

We only had 3 team members able to make the trip to Rantoul (Matt, Jason, and Nick), but we still brought both NASAW and Buffalo Wing Slinger as we have in years past. Thus we were a bit busy running around dealing with things, but we still had a good time and got to see other teams shoot. We finally replaced the throwing arm on NASAW that we built in 2013 and bent shortly before our appearance at the 2015 Extreme Chunkin in New Hampshire. Since then we have been running the original throwing arm we built for NASAW, and while it is strong and coming into 2019 had our longest recorded throws to its name (2316' and 2372' notably), the 2013 arm launched faster and this replacement arm should see similar launch speeds. Faster launch speeds should translate to longer distances. Otherwise not too much was done with NASAW this year, but Nick and Jason did manage to get a hydraulic motor mounted onto Buffalo Wing Slinger so it could compete under motor power (instead of human power) for the first time.

Friday was setup day for all teams as the field was wet from lots of rain prior to arrival and on Thursday it even snowed a little bit on the field. In the morning on Friday the field was still firm from freezing overnight, but as the day went on the snow melted and the ground thawed and the Association had some issues getting their rented telehandlers to move around without getting stuck. Luckily we loaded NASAW (which on its own weighs around 13,000 pounds!) into the pit before things got soft and thus we had no issues. We were also able to arrange beforehand to have NASAW and Buffalo Wing Slinger in adjoining pits so that we could share equipment (mainly the hydraulic power unit we use to power NASAW's winch and now Buffalo Wing Slinger's motor) easily. Setup of both machines went smoothly, and without a big rush (it was clear early on that there was not going to be any testing/tuning time as they were still getting the new site setup).

The only issue that arose appeared when we went to lift NASAW's counterweight onto the rails (our loading position) so we could attach the sling and do a few other things to the tip of the throwing arm on the ground instead of 25 feet in the air. The winch would not lift the weight all the way! Now we were running the same amount of counterweight as we have for 5-6 years now, and the winch was the same, so this was puzzling. During the fall leading up to this event we had done a few demo events with NASAW but we tend to remove around half of the counterweight for those both to control how far we shoot (which still often exceeds 2000 feet) and damage to the machine as the extra power tends to break more things. Thus, this was actually the first time we had tried lifting the full weight all season, and wouldn't you know it the winch wouldn't do it. We suspected the winch bearings as we've had issues with them before, and sure enough one bearing was cracked (they are a nylon sleeve bearing). We had replacement bearings that we ordered the last time we had trouble, but they got left behind in Buffalo, a 10 hour drive away. So after trying a few things we offloaded around 1000 pounds of counterweight and things seemed to run just fine. OK, apparently we were going to go at least one or two rounds like this while we waited for the bearings that were left behind to be shipped overnight to our hotel room.

Saturday we were all set for round 1, which would be measured but not counted towards the standings; the WCPCA bylaws state that there are only 3 competition shots each year and it was decided for later rounds to be those counting shots and for this round to essentially be the test round that we didn't get the day before. The teams were excited as we had a stiff tailwind which was expected to help with the distances. With a new configuration (longer arm, longer sling, partial counterweight), we took a guess at the tuning for NASAW and ended up shooting a very flat shot that landed at only 1600'. Still, we had the video to go off of and knew what we probably needed to do from there to get the next shot out where it should go. Buffalo Wing Slinger took its first-ever motor-powered shot, and pegged one into the ground at 532'. OK, some tuning needed there as well.

Of note in round 1 was our friends with the trebuchet Colossal Thunder unleashing a 3076' shot. ACME Catapult, a machine that has been competing for well over 20 years (they've been to Delaware multiple times, and recently competed in Colorado a couple times) shot a personal best in this round at 2561'. Also, Chunk Norris, the World-Record holding catapult, smashed their own World Record with a 3973' shot, though due to this not being an "official" round, it wasn't recognized as a World Record. American Chucker arrived early Saturday morning, but got set up in time to take their first shot. Unfortunately for them something went wrong and the pumpkin ended up flying backwards ~750` and their arm over-rotated and broke off most of the arm and smashed several other parts of their machine pretty extensively. They would not take another shot in 2019. Round 1 took quite a while to get through due to the new location, spotting issues in the wet and very mucky field, time delays in needing to move a backstop through the mud (requiring shuffling sheets of plywood around underneath the telehandler wheels as they moved),and general rust from not having had this event since 2016. It was clear that there would only be 2 rounds on this day.

For round 2 we had made some tuning adjustments to NASAW and were ready to go on that front. Buffalo Wing Slinger also had been re-timed to hopfully shoot a better shot. As we waited our turn, we watched Colossal Thunder unleash a new, official, World Record shot for trebuchets at a colossal 3377', breaking the mark Pluto set in Colorado (3315') 6 weeks earlier. Well done guys! Chunk Norris couldn't quite match their first round shot, but still shot 3733', which is a terrific shot but not what they were looking for. With a pie shot from Pluto (1971' in round 1) and a shot within 2 feet of their first from Tired Iron (1585', 1587'), we were looking to climb into second place in the trebuchet division.

Unfortunately we had a particularly nasty misfire on shot #2. The pumpkin dropped onto the ground behind the machine and since the energy was not going into that pumpkin, NASAW proceeded to thrash about and damage itself extensively. We didn't immediately have a chance to look at the shot since Buffalo Wing Slinger was up next. Thankfully Nick's tweaks worked well and the pumpkin traveled a respectable 1342', though Smokin Lamas did top that with a 1533' shot. After the round was over, we took time to look over NASAW and take stock of the damage and see what repairs would entail. We had a broken main wheel (one of 4 10" diameter solid nylon wheels) which we actually had a replacement for, numerous sheared bolts in several places (which between spares and a trip to ACE Hardware was handled), a broken pumpkin box (it came off during the misfire and the arm smashed into it breaking it into many pieces) which we had an old spare for, a bent tower support strap (used to stiffen the towers after raising them), and one of our 4"x2"x8" solid steel gates was ripped off the track leaving a twisted piece of metal in its wake. Before darkness fell we fixed the tower strap and the sheared bolts on the towers, leaving the wheel replacement and gate repair for the morning.

Later that night at the hotel room we looked at the video and quickly found why the pumpkin fell out the way it did. When the counterweight had fallen less than 1 foot, the sling line came off of the release pin. Why is hard to say for certain, but our best guess is that the gusty tailwinds bounced it free as the arm started moving. This is an issue we have never seen before, but we took steps to make sure the sling stays on the release pin moving forward.

Sunday morning came and we arrived early to hopefully fix repairs before we had to take our first shot. Because of the firing line going back and forth instead of starting at pit #1 each time, we were going to be shooting early in the first round of the day (round #3 of competition and "counting" shot #2), so we had to work quickly. Thankfully things progressed fairly quickly other than fighting a bent bolt in the carriages that needed to be removed in order to replace the broken wheel. Through the assistance of several teams lending us tools (saws, grinders, and sledgehammers notably) we got everything back together and safely ready to attempt another shot. Today winds were mostly a crosswind with only a slight tailwind component, but that didn't affect our shot much. It was a beauty at 2263', not a personal best, but a very solid shot considering we were not running at full power and had the major issue the afternoon before.

Round 3 treated several other teams well as well, with 3263' from Colossal Thunder, 1129' from our new trebuchet friends OFC Knightmare, 3798' from the lone air cannon Big Ten Inch, and 1572' from Smokin Lamas with their 3rd-string cyclist pedaling the wheel. Things were set for a fun final round (as it was clear getting a 3rd round in on this day would be a bit tight with the end of Daylight Saving Time meaning an hour earlier sunset).

The final round saw some fireworks. First and foremost Chunk Norris finally did what they've only done in testing before: they became the first mechanical (non-air cannon) to shoot over 4000 feet in competition. Their shot easily cleared that mark in fact, going 4091'!!! Congratulations to them, and in the process they became the first non-air cannon to win the overall title since the early days of Punkin Chunkin. Congratulations to them! Further action in the final round saw Ethos set a new Torsion World Record with a 3792' shot, and Colossal Thunder had another magnificent shot, with it landing just a few feet short of their shot from the day before at 3354'. In all, Colossal Thunder had all 4 measured shots on the weekend clear 3000', well done to them as well! Tired Iron showed impressive consistency, shooting 1586' leaving them 3 shots within 2 feet of each other (and a short shot of 1499'). Pluto overcame a couple of pie shots to re-take second place at 2802'.

NASAW was one of the last machines to shoot in the competition. We put an extra 220 pounds of counterweight on which the winch was able to just handle, and we loaded up our best pumpkin. The shot left really well and flew tremendously. We were sure it was a new personal best (though likely not passing Pluto's 2802' so we were likely to stay in 3rd), but a small piece of nylon strap came off our sling during the shot and crossed the firing line. Under the rules of competition, this means the shot is disqualified. However, we did request the shot be measured anyway for our own data, and eventually we were informed the shot traveled a terrific 2573', which is a personal best by 201'! Again, this shot is officially disqualified (and would not have affected the standings anyway), but it was great to know the distance and learn that the new longer arm has some great potential, especially considering we did not have nearly all of our counterweight on the machine. Things are looking good for 2020!

So in the end we took 3rd place in the Championship Trebuchet, and Buffalo Wing Slinger took 2nd in Centrifugal. Full standings are at the Punkin Chunkin website. We had a good time at the event, though crowds were greatly diminished from prior years and there were a few issues with the site. Time will tell if the event returns to Rantoul, but regardless teams are still out there competing and there were 3 new World Records at this event (Trebuchet-3377', Torsion-3792', and Catapult-4091'). We will see what 2020 brings, we are looking forward to it!

More pictures can be seen in our 2019 World Championships of Punkin Chunkin gallery. We would like to thank all of our sponsors for their continued support (in 2019: Creative Hands Window Treatments, Great Lakes Pressed Steel Corp, SolidWorks, Wendel's Poultry Farm (and the various Wendel family enterprises), and Wickham Farms), as well as our families, friends, and fans for all of their support. Here's to 2020!

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Use "common sense" when operating trebuchets and catapults. Even little ones can be dangerous. Do not place anything you are not willing to lose in the plane of the arm rotation (this includes yourself, body parts, car windshields, cameras, etc). These catapults and trebuchets are capable of throwing just as far backwards as forwards, and the use of a backstop of some sort is recommended, though the use of one does not make the region behind it safe.

Also, just because the throw got away safely downrange does not mean the end of the danger. The arm is likely still swinging wildly along with the counterweight, and there is a sling whipping around. One thing many people fail to take into account is this sling; some people put a metal ring on the slip end of the sling and this ring can HURT when whipping around!

Have fun hurling, but please KEEP IT SAFE!!!