RANTOUL — They’ll shoot a pumpkin into the air. Where it lands, they’ll know exactly where.
Tape measures or grids and guides won’t be used to gauge how far the pumpkins travel when the World Punkin Chunkin Championships are held Nov. 2 and 3 on the grounds of the Rantoul National Aviation Center. It will be a lot more sophisticated.
Construction management and land-surveying students at Parkland College will be in charge of the measurements. They will use high-accuracy survey-grade GPS that is accurate to within an eighth of an inch.
That’s according to Kory Allred, instructor in land surveying and ag/engineering science and technologies at Parkland.
Allred said the GPS measurements are reliant on satellite and the coordinate system established onsite.
Fifteen of his students will be on hand, working in four-hour shifts to help with the calibrations during the competition.
On Oct. 30, three days before competition begins, they will head to the aviation center to set things up.
“The first thing we will be doing is laying out each point to mark each team’s designated area,” he said, figuring that process will take all day.
The work that day will be to set up the areas for each team competing. The day before competition, Friday, they will return to establish the point at which they are going to be measuring from, such as the edge of the cannon or the middle of the trebuchet — whatever device is used. And then on Saturday and Sunday, they will be doing the measuring.
Allred said his students didn’t need any coaxing to be involved.
“The students themselves are really excited to be a part of this,” he said. “They said they wanted to go to this event anyway.”
Students will get extra credit for their work.
Allred said his department is doing the work as a community outreach.
“It will give us a chance to be in front of the community,” he said.
They won’t be the only ones interested to see how it all works. The Punkin Chunkin event is new to central Illinois. It is moving from its former home in Delaware, where it had been held for years.
The number of competitors will be down dramatically from its Delaware days when up to 120 machines were entered. The Rantoul event will have 30, Punkin Chunkin association president Frank Payton said. That’s disappointing to organizers, but he said many of the competitors are east coast-based and don’t want to stand the cost to bring their equipment close to 900 miles to Illinois.
Still, the smaller numbers will have advantages. Payton said contestants will be able to shoot at least three times a day rather than just one. And the public will be able to visit “the pits” from 9 to 10 a.m. each day where it all takes place and meet the chunkers.
It won’t be just pumpkin propelling on the airport grounds. Both days, a beer garden will open at 9 a.m., and a kids zone sponsored by Rantoul City Schools will also be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. There will be vendors, games and entertainment. Rantoul Public Library and St. Malachy School will also be on hand. Rantoul Area Chamber of Commerce organized the kids zone.
Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer said just like it took time for local residents to get used to the Half Century of Progress farm show in Rantoul, it will take a little while for them to get acquainted with Punkin Chunkin, an event that was announced in May.
“What’s interesting is there are a lot of people who are very familiar with it,” Eisenhauer said. “They couldn’t be more excited about Rantoul hosting the event. Mark Hardy, for example, at Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch has been a huge advocate for this event.
“Many other residents haven’t heard of the event, and I think are very curious about what it is and what it’s like.”
Village officials and organizers are hoping this will be the first of many Punkin Chunkin championships in Rantoul. To be determined is whether competitor numbers increase in future years plus the costs for the Delaware-based organizers to head to Rantoul each year.
“We think that in the next three to five years we can build (the numbers) up in a way that will exceed the numbers they have been able to do in the past,” Eisenhauer said.
Organizers and village officials know there will be growing pains.
“It’s been a little bit of a challenge for us to determine exactly the logistics that are necessary to make it successful,” Eisenhauer said.
David Quigley, Punkin Chunkin association vice president, said moving equipment from the east coast to the Midwest requires some planning and no little bit of expense —for competitors and organizers alike.
Some of the prep work involves “coordinating getting stuff out there like the nets and some of the equipment,” Quigley said. “It’s coordination with the different teams to make sure that they show up. When they show up (to start) making sure we have places to stay — campers. (Payton) has been online with camper sales and coordinating with the people in Rantoul for the different things that we need.”
Quigley said the airport has everything they need for the competition.
Regardless of logistics, the main goal of the competitors is how their machines work and how much distance they can generate.
Any number of mechanical devices can be used in the competition. In addition to trebuchets and pneumatic cannons, there can be slingshots, catapults and centriguals.
As engineering improves, pumpkin chunkin distances increase.
Velocity projecting the pumpkins can’t be too great or the pumpkin turns into “pie.” The pumpkin can’t handle the velocity and it shatters into pieces. For children’s competition, a 2-pound pumpkin is used, while a human-powered device uses an 8-pounder. Maximum weight is 10 pounds.
Quigley hopes a good crowd turns out, and he believes that since Rantoul is centrally located near Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis, a lot of people will show up.
Rantoul Airport Manager Eric Vences said the layout of the competition site was determined by him, Payton and chamber of commerce Executive Director Amanda Vickery.
“We’ve been helping Frank Payton, the event organizer,” Vences said. “He’s been handling vendor applications and registering equipment, who goes where as far as the firing pit line. Since he’s from Delaware and has been doing a lot of this by phone, social media and email, we’ve been giving him a lot of information.”
Gates open at 9 a.m. both days and close at 9 p.m. Saturday and 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15 at the gate or $10 online.