NEW BETHLEHEM – New Bethlehem’s annual Pumpkin Chunkin’ took place last Saturday under rainy skies.

Held in the back parking lot of the Veterans of Foreign Wars beside Red Bank Creek, the event featured two compressed-air cannons and two wooden trebuchet-type catapults flinging large orange vegetables toward targets on the Armstrong County side of the stream.

Foul weather had little effect on attendance. An exact head count was not possible, but at about 1:30 p.m., perhaps 200 people endured drizzle and soggy grass to cheer on the pumpkin chunkers.

Sandy Adams, a VFW member, said, “It does not matter what the weather is like. People always show up for a good time on a fall weekend.”

Adams said that the cannon with the longer barrel is owned by Bill Ferris of New Bethlehem and Terry Yeany of Distant. Their unofficial competitor, a short-barrel implement, is owned by Barry Downs, Dan Hagan and Julie Hagan, all local residents.

Between the impressively loud air cannons stood two trebuchets owned by unidentified area people. Their simpler technology was no match for the range of the truck-mount launchers, but the timber catapults had their share of fans.

Shots fired from the Downs and Hagar cannon were announced by the sounding of a salvaged train horn, a memento of New Bethlehem’s railroading days, which ended in late 2007. With a puff of smoke and a thunderous report from the barrel, a lone pumpkin sailed across the creek, sometimes in a perfect arc but more often in a stone-like skip.

During the early stages of the pumpkin chunking, the competitors were still finding the correct ranges for their weapons. Most shots were not finding their targets at 2 p.m. Their efforts were hindered by a few misfires that sent shredded pumpkins skittering across the creek’s surface.

Despite the disappointing results, the crowd cheered at the demise of the pumpkins and a few gourds. The crowd cheered when a shot missed its target. It cheered when the train horn blew.

The pumpkin chunking brings out local residents from about 1 to 4 p.m. each year, Adams said, but the event is sometimes shortened if the weather turns too bad. Food was available throughout the event, beverages could be purchased inside the VFW.

All proceeds benefited the veterans’ club.

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