Milo's City Cafe

Skogland Bros Mancation aka Punkin Chunkin

You’ve all read our story about our last Skogland Mancation.  The trip to Kentucky to tour the bourbon country was manly and adventurous.  Brother Neil has come up with a way to top that…Punkin Chunkin!  When explaining this upcoming adventure to people he says that 90% of men react with some envy, while 90% of women just ask…why?

Punkin Chunkin is an annual event in Delaware what claims to be the World Championship. Some of you may have seen the TV special that is produced and aired annually on the Discovery-Science channel about this event.  Through brother Neil’s hard work and persistence the Skog Brothers have scored an entry in the human powered division.  We’re building a human powered trebuchet intending to compete at that world class level.

We found out that they cancelled the event for the second consecutive year!  Bummer!  Neil has been in contact with a couple of the teams that would have competed at the Dover event and we’re getting together in Elkton, Virgina to have our own event the weekend of November 7-8.  Watch this page and our Facebook page for news and videos of the tosses.

The following posts are brother Neil’s recollection of our trip.  He tells a story much better than I can!

After making the 2900 mile trip from Walden Island to Elkton, step one was to unpack the minivan and tiny trailer and set up the machine!  Neil waited for the team to arrive and all be a part of “unwrapping the present”, first taking the legs, beams and other large pieces out of the van.

Then the 8-foot sections of leg were spliced together to become 16-footers, while the foundation was surveyed and leveled, then machinery pulled out of the trailer and installed on the structure.  One leg was used as a “gin pole”, initially erected by hand and tied off to ground anchors.


A chain hoist was rigged to the top of the gin pole, used to pull the counterweight gantry up.  Then that frame was guyed to the ground and used to pull the opposite gantry assembly up, with the aluminum scroll and throwing arm.  With everything then in the air, the top beam sections were spliced together via ladder and our hosts’ manlift, at the end of the day. Did all of that really fit in the van?

It’s a big job, but we had an enthusiastic team of Daddy Toby, four brothers Marc, Ian, Neil and Loren, plus Cousin Donna from Ontario.  With all the tools and rigging on-hand (collected via prior practice, dontchaknow) all was completed on a warm and sunny Thursday, Marc’s birthday!  It would have been an unpleasant job if it was cold, windy and raining, but we’d had some practice with that as well!

On Friday morning the Big Crank machinery was installed, chains and ropes attached and tensioned, and our initial pile of counterweight (1255 pounds) stacked.  Let the Chunkin begin, coming next!

Regular readers will recall that the Chunk Brothers’ original intent was to meet at the World Championships in Delaware, and be a part of a big event where over 100 machines would be gathered.  We’d get to see, talk, ask, point, duck and otherwise check out the scene. And oh, we’d want to show off our unique design to good effect — it would be embarrassing if our machine threw backwards, or dribbled out only a few feet.

So, skipping directly to the bottom line, we did VERY well in Virginia!  Neil had predicted (or maybe wished for) 1500 feet range at the start of the project, and most of our VA flings beat that. Our best throw was 1913 feet!  There’s some fine print associated with that (light pumpkin, not timing our human power, not a precise survey instrument, blah, blah) but 1913 ft would have been the 1st Place World Record result in all Delaware competitions up to 2012, and would have been 2nd to our hosts in 2013, when they set the current “official” world record at 2048 feet!  For our first event, using a machine delivered via minivan, even a highly-unofficial 1913 ain’t bad. Here’s an annotated photo that captures the split-second before the pumpkin is released.  We have video but the file sizes are large; let us know if you’d like to see more and we’ll send a Dropbox link.
Some more detail for the interested:
Our first throw in Virginia went very high, but instead of landing on our heads it flew 1040 feet downrange, a worthy attempt.  We subsequently made a subtle adjustment to the pumpkin cradle, and then tossed 1513, 1575 and 1446 feet, very consistent. Because our prior throws were into the lake we hadn’t previously measured, but we’re sure that the 1575 foot fling was our best ever.  These four Friday attempts were all with 1255 pounds of counterweight, less than we normally used on Walden Island.
Then on Saturday we started to add counterweight and pumpkin weight, trying to find the “sweet spot” combinations and work our way up to our 2000 pound weight limit. 1528 feet. 1743. 1714.  That 1913-footer, using 1660 pounds of counterweight, was straight and true with a great trajectory.  Our experienced hosts knew that it was a long one the instant it was released, “There’s a good toss!”  This is some great fun, while getting to watch the world record holders also post personal bests between our throws.  2500-foot throws are now a disappointment for them!  More about the ShoodaNoedBeter team and their amazing work in a coming message.

On Sunday we planned to increase counterweight some more and hopefully try an 8.3 pound bowling ball that the Shooda team was having fun with.  But disaster on our first throw, a broken carbon fiber throwing arm!  It seems that a splice that we made in September didn’t bond well, bummer!

But Chunkers adapt, improvise and overcome!  With the support and encouragement of our hosts, and Ian’s driving (Neil was resigned to start packing!) in a little over three hours the team threw together an 8 foot plywood heel section, bent a piece of aluminum to act as a splint, and screwed it to the cut-off tip of the original arm.  We reduced our counterweight below 800 pounds, shortened our sling as much as possible, and gave it a try while warning that the pumpkin was likely to go backwards.  With the throwing arm now hugely heavy, there’s NO WAY this could possibly work!1556 feet.  1356 feet.  Also with very light pumpkins at 5 and 6 pounds, but Crazy. Inconceivable!  Not your classic storybook ending, but satisfying nevertheless.

Here are the Brothers after making it happen but before hitting the brown liquor in celebration.  Sadly, brother #5 Keith had an unavoidable conflict but was with us in spirit,

You know about the Walden Island motto, Where Every Day is an Adventure?  Well, we knew that we would become friends with our Virginia Punkin Chunkin hosts just because of their team name:  Shooda Noed Beter.  Sorta like “What Were We Thinking?”, which you’ve read on this Blog before!

Interested readers can learn much more about the Shooda (or SNB) team at their substantial web site, but here’s our perspective on our friendly competitors:

1.  Island neighbor Wayne asked, “These people in Virginia; how do you know them?”  The answer:  “Well, we don’t, really.  We’ve been corresponding by email, and we’ll meet for the first time when we roll up with our machine.”  Neil initially sent messages to Shooda asking questions about the 2014 Delaware competition, and showed photos of the Chunk Brothers’ machine.  They very kindly responded and gave us advice, and we ended up exchanging emails often.  We sent video of our practice throws, and Captain Kenny says that he told his son Chad after seeing our photos and videos, “These people are not stupid!”  High praise from the Champs!

2.  When the 2015 Delaware competition was also cancelled at the last minute, Neil asked if SNB were making other plans for that weekend, and if we could join in.  “It’s crazy that you’ve been closed out twice in a row!  Why don’t you come on down to our place and throw with us?”  (Maybe we actually invited ourselves, but…)  Although we had hoped to see a bunch of machines, how could we resist throwing with the World Champs?  Sold!  We’ll be there!

3.  Captain Kenny Kite and his Donna (above) have a machining jobshop, K&K Machine, adjacent to the Kite farm land and neighbors’ plots.  They set up a level concrete pad for their machine right next to their buildings, and make their practice throws out into the fields.  Team Ramrods Billy and Amanda Boatright (Amanda is Donna’s daughter) live right next door, and the whole family is into it Big Time! Kenny’s son Chad is in the US Army and stationed at Fort Bragg, able to drive up and make it happen for competitions and practices.  Friends and neighbors are on the extended team, and a crowd from around Elkton showed up to watch both teams throw on Sunday.

4.  They would and did all say that “We’re just Virginia Hicks playing around.”  Yeahyeah, even though they’re obviously Farm Raised, we have the evidence of more than chewin’ gum and balin’ wire because…

4a.  Their machine, first built in 2011 and continually improved since then?  Fantastic!  Double our height.  Two to three times our Human Power energy input.  Ten times the overall size and weight.   Finely finished, hugely impressive.  This photo is a bit misleading because our green machine is in the background, but only slightly so — the aluminum rotary ladder (the Hamster Wheel) would barely fit under our gantry. They’ve obviously spent far more time, effort and money than sanity should allow, meaning SuperCool!  Moving their machine involves a semi truck and lowboy combo, plus two full-size pickups hauling substantial trailers.  Even though we warned them, Donna particularly was HIGHLY amused when seeing our minivan roll up with its tiny trailer, “Where’s the rig that’s hauling your machine?  This is IT??”

5.  Neil helped with some of the assembly of the SNB machine before the weekend throws, and got an up-close look at its sophisticated guts, a learning opportunity.  And Kenny showed the evidence of that continuous improvement in the form of five different throwing arms and a pile of other parts from re-designs and alternate setups.  Wow!  Neil got to show our hosts some tips and tricks with both wire rope and synthetic ropes, and we imagine those will be incorporated into future advances, which would the highest praise ever!

6.  The bottom line:  They threw an “official” pumpkin over 2700 feet at a 2014 event, widely eclipsing their 2013 Delaware world record of 2048 feet.  They are the only members of the 2000 Foot Club in the Punkin Chunkin Human Power Division, and they showed us that they could set the bar even higher by consistently throwing a heavy bowling ball over 3000 feet.  You have to see and hear those throws in person to believe it, truly incredible!  Kenny is planning to make it possible for them to reach 3000 feet at an event in Human Power using a pumpkin (they grow their own in a big patch, but of course.)  And maybe turn up the volume to 11 and compete at over 3500 feet outside of Human Power, replacing his Hamster with an engine or electric motor!

7.  About that Hamster and the wheel:  We attempt to compete with its direct-drive efficiency in a much smaller package via our Big Crank, but we fat old guys can’t measure up to Joshes, Army Special Forces, able to input a tremendous amount of energy in two minutes.  In this photo he’s tied down via a harness so that he can push down with more than his body weight!  The old guys would consider added training, but it wouldn’t get us there — we’ll have to get our own Ringer to truly compete.  Trenton might hold up Navy’s honor?

8.  Will we be competing in the future?  Well, the Chunk Brothers’ little machine can’t measure up to SNB, but it would be great fun to throw together again in 2016 and try for 2nd Place at 2000 feet.  And Neil says he has a strong mental vision of a larger machine that might be able to join the 3000 Foot Club, but he wants to stay married so that will probably remain a mere dream.  “But don’t think we couldn’t, Kenny — start looking over your shoulder!”

8a.  We think that Shooda dug it when we walked around their yard and shop after seeing a 3000-foot fling, chanting “SNB Sucks!  We hate those guys and their wimpy machine!”  They know that we meant the exact opposite, and we hope that our newly-extended family will come West soon and visit us here on Walden Island,