From balloons to pumpkins
Posted: October 12, 2012
The Winchester Star
Millwood — A new kind of round flying object will be the big attraction this weekend at the Shenandoah Valley Wine and Music Festival.
For the 16th year of its annual fall event, Long Branch Historic House and Farm in Millwood has transitioned away from its traditional hot air balloons and adopted a new event — pumpkin chunking, Executive Director Nicholas Redding said.
The activity will feature four teams wielding giant “trebuchets,” a type of catapult from the Middle Ages, that will hurl pumpkins as much as three-quarters of a mile, he said.
“This is an opportunity to switch it up a little and provide the public with something new,” said Redding, who began work at the historic home in August.
Pumpkin chunking is only one activity going on at the three-day festival, he said. The weekend will also feature wine and beer, music, hayrides, children’s activities, kites and tours of the historic home at 830 Long Branch Lane.
The event will run from 4 to 8 p.m. today and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets at the gate will be $10 Friday, $20 Saturday or Sunday, and $20 for the wine tasting event. Children 12 and under are free.
Part of the proceeds will go to support Habitat for Humanity and to the preservation of Long Branch’s 1811 mansion.
The weekend starts today with a night of wine tasting, music and a Pumpkin and Kite Glow.
The wine tasting tent, which will be held all weekend, will feature more than 12 regional Virginia wineries, “which is exciting, because this falls right in the middle of Virginia Wine Month,” he said. “We have a philosophy of supporting local agriculture and small businesses, and this is an opportunity to do both.”
There also will be a beer tent selling one glass for $5 or three glasses for $10.
Today’s activities also will include the Dixie Rhythm Band playing from 5 to 7 p.m. and, at dusk, Wings Over Washington Kite Club will send lighted kites up, weather permitting.
People may also bring carved pumpkins to the information tent by 6 p.m. to participate in the Pumpkin Glow and carving demonstrations put on by Nalls Farm Market.
Pumpkin chunking will be the main attraction throughout Saturday and Sunday, Redding said. They will do demonstrations in the morning and afternoon and be on hand to answer questions in between.
“On the surface, it seems like something silly, but in reality, it takes a lot of engineering,” he said. “All of the machines are highly engineered. These weren’t thrown together in a garage.”
It took a great deal of research and trial and error for Chris Gerow of Leesburg to build and perfect King Arthur, the trebuchet he will use this weekend. At its peak performance, the machine can throw a pumpkin 1,350 feet, though that is “certainly not enough to win these days,” he said.
“I take King Arthur around because it is easy to move. I have another machine called Merlin,” said Gerow, who started building trebuchets in 1996. “Merlin will throw a pumpkin over 2,000 feet, but it is difficult to move and set up.”
Engineers and children love seeing the engineering involved in building the big machines because they are unusual and imaginative, he said. There also is the fact that they get to watch something go “splat.”
“It stays airborne for about 14 seconds before it finally hits, and when it does, it absolutely explodes,” he said.
The teams will use calabasa pumpkins, which have super thick skins that can withstand the pressure of being thrown. The pressure on the release pin is “upwards of 2,000 pounds” and just before it is released, the pumpkin is “going about 168 mph.” A regular pumpkin would be crushed and never go anywhere.
The other pumpkin chunkers will be the Onager, which is 14 feet long, 12 feet wide, 11 feet high, and weighs 7,000 pounds and throws 2,000 feet; Shenanigans 3, which uses 1,000 pounds of tractor weights to throw more than 1,600 feet, and First in Fright, which drops a 5,000-pound counterweight 5 feet to hurl a pumpkin more than 1,800 feet.
The pumpkin chunking event replaces the hot air balloons, which often were grounded due to poor weather, Redding said.
Music for the festival will be provided by three bands Saturday and Sunday, he said. On Saturday will be The Hot Seats at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., Shenandoah Sheiks at noon and 3 p.m. and Dirty Bourbon River Show at 1 and 4 p.m. Sunday’s lineup will have Drymill Road at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., The Woodshedders at noon and 3 p.m., and Lethal Matter at 1 and 4 p.m.
Clark County High School cheerleaders will staff the children’s area, which will feature a stage for entertainment, pumpkin carving, kites and other activities.
Other events include a display of antique firetrucks, lawn mower races and hayrides over part of the 400-acre property.
A tour of the mansion is included with admission. The event will be held rain or shine.
Tickets at the gate will be $10 Friday, $20 Saturday or Sunday and $20 for the wine tasting event. Children 12 and under are free. For more information, call 540-837-1856 or visit historiclongbranch.com.
— Contact Laura McFarland at firstname.lastname@example.org