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The trebuchet: chunkin’ pumpkins for a cause

by Tom Chillemi and Mike Kucera

Last fall, a local group of enthusiasts built their own version of the trebuchet as a fund raiser for Kingston Parish Episcopal Church in Mathews.

The trebuchet was an ancient siege machine used to launch projectiles at one’s enemy. The design, supposedly implemented by the French in the twelfth century, was an improvement on the basic catapult because it used counterweights and a sling to increase both speed and distance.

The simple yet devastating machine was used to hurl heavy stones at fortifications or over their walls. Occasionally, disease-infected corpses were projected over city walls in an attempt to infect the enemy’s population.

Though there exist innumerable adaptations to the design, the basic structure consists of a lever with weight attached to one end and a sling or “bucket” to the other. When the weight drops, usually several hundred pounds, it pulls down on the lever and sends the projectile flying hundreds of feet.

The popularity of the trebuchet has made a comeback in recent years, though for more humorous reasons. Local and national competitions invite the public to build their own trebuchet and fling any number of items, often a pumpkin, to see which design carries it the furthest.

Last fall, a local group of enthusiasts built their own version of the trebuchet to toss pumpkins at a fund raiser for Kingston Parish Episcopal Church in Mathews. It was held at Belmont Farm, also in Mathews, and Sentinel reporter Tom Chillemi got a first-hand look at the machine. It is capable of flinging a 10 pound pumpkin approximately 300 feet. Click on the video above to see the action.

Builders or contributors include John Machen Sr. and John Machen Jr., and his sons Leland, 16, and Phillip, 12, Doug Miles and his Boy Scout Troop. Fleet Brothers in Hartfield loaned 600 pounds of tractor weights. Camie Flanigan of Belmont Farm hosted the site for the demonstration and Nina Buzby coordinated the event. Another pumpkin chunkin is being planned for the fall.

posted 01.21.2009

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