NEW BETHLEHEM — The origins of the annual New Bethlehem-area pumpkin chunkin’ contest are lost in the mists of time. But even in a year when so many small regional events have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, organizers found a way to bring off the quirky competition.

Denny Rearick, one of the originators of the event, said that flinging pumpkins from air cannons and trebuchets began as nothing more than a group of friends looking for a way to amuse themselves during the waning months of the year.

“I do not even know who first came up with the idea,” he said. “We started messing around with a trebuchet, a type of catapult, and then decided to build air cannons.”

Rearick fabricated his own weapon of choice, a process that took two or three months. The late Gary “Fud” Snyder bought a pre-made version, a piece of equipment that has ended up in the hands of his daughter, Julie Hagan.

“When we started, our only reason for doing it was to have fun,” Rearick said. “After a few years, we started holding a contest in the back parking lot of the VFW in New Bethlehem. It turned out to be a good fundraiser for homeless veterans and wounded warriors.”

Air cannons are single-purpose, hauled out once a year to fire large orange fruits across Red Bank Creek. The rest of the year, owners stash them in garages and outbuildings, dashing hopes of Easter-egg and snowball battles for interested bystanders.

“Other than test-firing them before the pumpkin chunkin’ contest, there is not much maintenance involved,” Rearick said. “I have mine mounted on a trailer that I can haul with my truck. Other guys mount them straight onto trucks that can be driven into place.”

He said that organizers decided to move the contest site to the Redbank Valley Municipal Park in Alcola this year because the VFW is closed due to the pandemic.

“But people love it and we wanted to make sure that the show went on,” Rearick said.

This year’s event will take place near the park’s horse ring on Saturday, Oct. 31, beginning at 1 p.m. Owners of trebuchets and air cannons are invited to bring their equipment and compete.

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