October 25, 2010


McGraw launches fall festival, pumpkins

Catapult contest draws cheers as organizers dub event a success

PumpkinsBob Ellis/staff photographer
Gary Preston yanks the cord, launching the first pumpkin 64 feet Saturday at the McGraw Harvest Festival. Preston, who built the catapult, eventually launched a pumpkin over 100 feet. His catapult used 220 pounds of weight to drop a wooden beam, which had a sling made of nylon cords and a denim pouch that held the pumpkin — still horizontal here.

Staff Reporter

McGRAW — Gary Preston named his catapult “Anybody’s Guess” because he had not tested it prior to Saturday’s inaugural pumpkin launch and fall celebration at Village Park.
“For all I know, the pumpkin will go straight up and come down on me,” he said as he prepared his wooden structure, which was 10 feet high as it sat on a trailer. “I’m not an engineer. I just made it the best I could, kind of the way people ages ago made theirs out of whatever was at hand, as they stormed a castle.”
Preston need not have worried. His catapult launched nine pumpkins, to cheers from a crowd of about 120 people.
The first one arced high and traveled 64 feet before landing in the Little League field’s grass and shattering. The longest effort was 133 feet. The last one misfired and fell after only 5 feet.
There was only one other catapult, built by middle and high school students in the Baptist Church’s Sunday school. Dubbed “A-Bomb,” it fired one pumpkin about 12 feet and another about 2 feet.
The pumpkins weighed between 5 and 10 pounds. Some were donated by children who wanted to see them fly through the air and break.
The launch was the festival’s centerpiece event. Everything else was set up on the basketball courts.
It included a pumpkin painting contest, games sponsored by Girl Scouts, a display by the McGraw Historical Society, a display of McGraw Fire Department trucks, a sale of Halloween items by Tastefully Simple, and a chicken barbecue by the McGraw Lions Club.
The village Planning Board created the festival because the village does not have any sort of festival and as a way to give people something to feel good about, after some houses and streets were damaged by flooding on Sept. 30.
Preston had felt some pressure to build a catapult, because his wife, Carol, is the Planning Board member who dreamed up the pumpkin launch after seeing images of similar events online and on TV.
Gary’s catapult was made of wood and metal remains from a construction site. It had a nylon sling with a pocket made of denim, and was weighted with 220 pounds of cinder blocks and gym weights.
He operated it with the help of his brother Larry and the students who built the church’s catapult.
The church group’s catapult was designed mainly by McGraw High School senior Adam Williams and seventh-grader Nathon Bush. The rules said no machinery could be used.
“Do you like this? Do you want to see this happen again next year?” Carol Preston asked the crowd via microphone. A chorus of “yes” came back.
Danny Ross, one of the organizers and the pumpkin launch’s coordinator, said he had hoped for more catapults but thought this was a good start. He said next year, he will ask colleges and high schools in the region if they want to enter student-built catapults.
“You’ve got engineering students at some colleges, and they might like to compete,” Ross said.
Jim Dempsey, county Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director, watched the pumpkin launches and said the event looked promising.
The pumpkin painting contest received about 15 entries. Ingrid Aagaard, 2, focused intently as she brushed red, yellow, blue and green paint on a pumpkin, watched by her parents, Meghan and Pete.
“She loves to draw,” Pete Aagaard said of his daughter. Asked about the festival’s purpose of fun after recent local flooding, he said he was lucky that his house was on a ridge and was not affected.
“This whole field was underwater,” he said, nodding to the park’s main grassy expanse.
Flood waters also removed the wood chips around the park’s playground.


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