The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 16, 2013

Battle cry: On-gourd!

Prof, collegians put final touches on medieval pumpkin launcher

By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item

SUNBURY — LEWISBURG — A Bucknell University mechanical engineering professor, 10 of his students and a friend from Mifflinburg are making the coolest, biggest pumpkin-launcher you’ll ever see. And it’s all aimed squarely at a friendly competition with Lewisburg Cub Scout Pack 3509 in the first Susquehanna Valley Pumpkin Challenge.

The launcher, made from wood donated by Mifflinburg Lumber Co., is a modern trebuchet, a sophisticated variation of a medieval catapult used for hurling heavy stones in battle.

Professor Nate Siegel led the construction team, which worked 18 hours over two days to build the trebuchet.

“This is the second time I’ve tried to do this,” Siegel said minutes before test-firing at Bucknell’s Art Barn Tuesday afternoon.

“If it works like it should,” Siegel said, “it will launch a pumpkin a good 150 yards.”

A trebuchet works by using the energy of a falling, and hinged, counterweight to launch a projectile — in this case, a pumpkin — and by using mechanical advantage to achieve a high speed, Siegel said.

For maximum launch speed, he said, the counterweight must be much heavier than the payload.

“We could use up to 400 pounds of weight on this trebuchet,” he said, “but for purposes of this event, 200 pounds will probably suffice.”

The Pumpkin Challenge is made up of two events, The Great Pumpkin Launch and the Buffalo Valley Pumpkin Pitch.

The Great Pumpkin Launch will be held Oct. 26 at Whitenight’s Farm Market in Riverside as part of Pumpkin Palooza, where the catapults will fire for distance.

The Buffalo Valley Pumpkin Pitch will be held Nov. 2 at Ard’s Farm Market near Lewisburg, where competitors will fire at targets.

Teams will accumulate points at each event and the squad that has the most points after the Pumpkin Pitch will grab the Susquehanna Valley Pumpkin Cup.

The tribuchet test run didn’t go as planned.

“We have some problems with the trigger mechanism,” Siegel said.

But he felt sure he and his team could figure out how to fix the problem.

Meanwhile, a few minutes after 4, Siegel took off to watch and help out the Cub Scouts, who were also testing their tribuchet a half mile away.

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