On Saturday, the Andelin Family Farm hosted Washoe County School District’s fifth annual Punkin’ Chunkin’ event where students from across all grade levels came out and showed off their pumpkin-chucking trebuchets.
The idea for the Punkin’ Chunkin’ originally came about when Reed High School metalwork and engineering teacher Tim Conley was driving with his wife one night when they started brainstorming events that they could bring to the Washoe County School District. They had recently watched a national pumpkin chucking event on TV and thought, why don’t we do that?
Therefore, he started talking to the district about how a pumpkin chucking contest could encourage students to use their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) knowledge in a fun, practical way. Then after getting approval, Conley’s students built two big pumpkin throwing machines that they designed and built for pumpkin throwing purposes. Getting the pumpkins donated from Andelin, WCSD students then come out and show off their stellar engineering during a free family-friendly competition.
“We make new machines every year and it’s about a 2-month process if you have a good design,” Conley says. They partnered with Andelin four years ago, and he appreciates that they keep the farm open an extra weekend and donate pumpkins to support the Punkin’ Chunkin’.
“I’ve seen kids who graduated from Reed a couple of years ago come back for this; it’s starting to become a tradition,” he adds.
Thirty teams of students competed in the 2019 Punkin’ Chunkin’ with many from Kate Smith Elementary School, Sparks High School, Reed High School, North Valleys High School, Wooster, Galena, and Hug. The purpose of the Punkin’ Chunkin’ is to build a machine that catapults the pumpkin the farthest distance, and the teams are split up into different weight classes including the mini pumpkins, 4-5 lb. pumpkins, 6-7 lb. pumpkins, and 8-10 lb. pumpkins.
“I enjoy the build up to the event. I worry about something breaking or going wrong- I’ve had lots of sleepless nights- but I like seeing the ingenuity with the younger kids and seeing them working with their hands. After they get exposed to something like this and excited about it, they’re so gung-ho when they get to high school,” Conley says about his favorite part of the event.
Not only do teams get awards for the farthest pumpkin chucked, students receive rewards for best sportsmanship, best design, and the engineering wonder.
“It’s more of an exhibition than anything,” Conley says. “It’s an engineering competition; these guys have put some real time into it. They’re not coming out here just to smash pumpkins,” he adds.
Each team gets three throws, and the smaller kids can usually toss a few more mini ones. The smaller machines can toss pumpkins up to 100 feet and the farthest Conley has seen one go is 750 feet.
About a half-hour before the competition starts, judges went around and talked to teams about their pumpkin tossing contraptions. Reed High School students/Career & Technical Education Enterprise Project team stood by their pumpkin tossing machine and shared a presentation board/ the engineering process of their “Houston, We Have a Pumpkin” trebuchet. Student Chloe Reese said that her team thought about what they could improve on from previous years’ designs, then sketched out the blueprints using a software program and then built the massive machine.
“Last year we had trouble with the trap doors so this year we eliminated them completely. We spent a lot of time on the parts, using a CNC Plasma cutter and a 3D printer to make them,” she adds. When the judge asks how far they think the pumpkin will go, Reese laughs, “We plan to throw it farther than last year”. Another member of Reed’s punkin’ chunkin’ team, Brady McEvers, says that they started the framework for their machine soon after the 2019-20 school year started.
“I’ve been devoted to the metalwork (of “Houston, We Have a Pumpkin”). We took safety classes the first few weeks of school and then got to work on building this,” McEvers says. The judge adds that they keep detailed engineering notebooks and incorporate OSHA safety practices in their design and uses this event to prepare for a big SkillsUSA national competition.
“It’s really fun to do the testing, that’s probably the most exciting part. And working in a team, seeing how everyone uses their individual skill sets to bring it together,” Reese says about her favorite part of the pumpkin throwing machine process.
Outside the field, bleachers are set up for friends and family to watch the competition. Hundreds of attendees filter in as the elementary schools show off their pumpkin tossing skills. Some mini pumpkins fall out of their buckets and bounce through the grass while other pumpkins sail an impressive 71-128 feet. People gasp and clap when a pumpkin goes farther than expected.
“I love to come out to this event. It’s a great time to see how kids work together as a team and have so much fun doing it. I saw kids from Sparks High School welding their machine the other day and they were so into it; it was impressive to see how they used their education to create something like this,” says WCSD Board President Katy Simon-Holland.
“This is STEM education at its finest,” WCSD Interim Superintendent Kristen McNeill says. “People bring their entire families out and have fun doing this. Those little girls over there that shot that pumpkin 128 feet…they were hugging each other and were so excited that their pumpkin went so far,” she adds