Saturday, November 15, 2008

Reflections on 2008 Punkin Chunkin!

This year's Punkin Chunkin, once again, proved to be a very exciting event. Weather conditions were very favorable for setting new world records. Winds were calm and temps were mild, making for very pleasant surroundings. Good weather and good people make for good times.

Now is the time for thanks and reflection of another season gone by. Thanks that nobody got hurt, thanks to good neighbors, thanks to good sportsmanship, thanks to charity, thanks to all those good people that had a hand in putting on and participating in such an event. Thanks to all my team members who worked so hard over this past year to help set a new world record. Thanks to my wife (aka, Trebuchet Widow) who puts up with this odd hobby. Yankee Siege would not survive, if not for her.

Winter and spring are a time for reflection and a time to recharge the batteries (six weeks of public demos at the farm stand can be quite draining, mentally. One is always a little on edge, concerned that something will break or an errant pumpkin will land somewhere it shouldn't). It's nice to have some "free" time to read about physics and plan for the next season.

It never ceases to amaze me the good sportsmanship I have seen at Punkin Chunkin. Teams are so willing to help out one another, to repair a broken machine, to give suggestions as how to improve performance or to just give encouragement.

What is encouragement? Think about the word for a minute. What does it mean?
Encouragement-TO GIVE COURAGE. To give the courage to not be afraid to try. To give courage to not be afraid to fail. Failure is difficult for everyone. It's very difficult for anyone to see their machine fail, especially in front of a crowd. But fail all of us must. Failure makes success all the more sweet. We should expect failure. Failure is good, as long as we don't give up. We should be encouraged by failure. Failure is how we find out what doesn't work. Failure is a path to learning. Failure builds character and can either break you or make you dig deep into your inner being and find a strength you didn't know existed.

In talking about encouragement, I have to share with the rest of the world one of the most touching moments I have witnessed at Punkin Chunkin. Matt (I don't know his last name) the captain of Medieval Postal Service had just finished throwing with his machine (floating axle trebuchet). This is a very well designed FAT. Matt had the courage to compete this year and did exceptionally well as a first time competitor and finished in 5th place. He is a mechanical engineering student and he is obviously quite bright and has a great attitude. He is one of those people you meet and instantly you know that this "kid" is "going places". He has a very positive outlook and is very open. On the last throw, his throwing arm jumped past the stops on the slider and ended up in a heap in front of the machine. Matt handled the breakage in stride and with grace and you could see the wheels turning in his mind as to how to solve the problem in the future. Matt, I think, was a bit disappointed and perhaps needed some encouragement at that moment. Rich Foley (team Pumpkin Hammer) then did something that I will never forget. He calmly went over to Matt and congratulated him for his success and "encouraged" him, saying to him that designs always have to be changed. Flaws and weaknesses in design always show up and this was a normal process that Pumpkin Hammer and other teams have to work through. Rich acted very paternally towards Matt, giving encouragement and congratulations and reassurance. Encouragement from a Punkin Chunkin veteran must have meant a lot.

Rich Foley and the whole Pumpkin Hammer team know very well that if you keep on trying, keep on redesigning, keep on failing, keep on succeeding, that sooner or later they will the winners (or perhaps Matt will beat us all).

This is an example of great sportsmanship. It's not so important if you win or lose, it's how you play the game. Don't get me wrong, Yankee Siege, wants to win but we realize that we have been very lucky the past five years. Winning is only a temporary condition. The friendship and camaraderie will last longer and are far more important.

My hat is off to Rich Foley and the whole Pumpkin Hammer team for the leadership that they have shown. Great leaders don't only think about themselves but the whole division. The trebuchet scoreboard was a great idea (except for Friday if your in last place). I know that one day that Pumpkin Hammer will be on the top of the scoreboard. But right now they are already in first place in leadership.


Who would have thought a year ago that a 1589 foot throw would only get you third place? Both Pumpkin Hammer and Merlin have made great improvements in their machines this year. Both have doubled the distance of their last year throws. If this improvement continues, Yankee Siege will end up in third place or worse next year. Medieval Postal Service is the new "kid" on the block and may surprise us all.

I can't help but notice a parallel with giant pumpkin growers. It was just a few years ago that they broke 1000 lbs for the biggest pumpkin. Now 1000 lbs is only a mediocre size. The largest pumpkin is now over 1600 lbs. How things change. Records were meant to be broken. Competition focuses the mind and leads to innovative designs such as Merlin.

It's interesting to see what happens after the last throw of the season. The mind starts to think, what change can I make to the machine to make it throw a greater distance? How do I keep first place? How do I stay ahead of the competition. How do I beat Yankee Siege? What will Yankee Siege do? Will they sit on their laurels? How much will modifications cost? Will my machine be able to take additional stress? Will I have to totally redesign? Can I do just a little more to keep ahead of the competition. How much more can the competition improve? How radical do I want to be? Do I need to know more about the physics of a treb? Do I need to know more about materials? Where does it end? How much time do I spend? How bad do I want it? Is it worth it? Do I try something totally off the wall? Will I have a "EUREKA" moment!

Winter is a time for learning, reflection, and most of all planning. Most people don't realize that to be one of the top three competitors requires thousands of hours of work every year. You can't expect to practice a week before the competition and win. All machines require maintenance and modifications to stay competitive! I can only image how many hours Chris Gerow has into Merlin. It's a good thing he's retired, it's a full time job.

I hear through the grapevine that Rich Foley, team Pumpkin Hammer is going to retire soon (not from Punkin Chunkin but from his real job). That will give him more time to think and play (not a good thing for Yankee Siege, 1700 feet is too close, Great Job).

The Yankee Siege team has been batting around different ideas for modification for next year. We really want to break the 2000 foot barrier. If conditions are favorable the 2000 foot barrier will probably be broken this coming year by one of the big three or somebody else- I don't want to forget about Trebarbaric with their 1866 foot shot in 2007. I wish they could bring their machine East. Image the big four all in a row! Wes Frank, Trebarbaric may be building a more portable machine that can travel to Punkin Chunkin.

Enough said! Hope everybody's winter planning goes well, stay in touch.

Remember- Gravity is the most far reaching force in the Universe and keeps us all grounded!

Steve Seigars, YS

P.S. I will be posting monthly updates on our new plans.

P.S.S. A special thanks to John Huber and Hypertension for their help in donating a hydraulic hose that was torn in practice.

P.S.S.S. A special thank you to BSA Troop 672 for pulling the trigger on our first world record breaking throw of the 2008 competition. To see BSA Troop 672 slide show of this world record throw click here Punkin Chunkin World Record Slide show via Boy Scout Troop 672 from Severn, MD.

P.S.S.S.S. Also, another special thank you must go out to team Sister Slinger and company for pulling our 1st place and final world record throw on Sunday of the 2008 competition.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Yankee Siege Wins Trebuchet Division for 2008 at the Punkin Chunk in Bridgeville, Delaware U.S.A.

Results of 3 day World Championship Punkin Chunkin Competition.

Yankee Siege results;

Friday 10/31/08 - 0 - Pumpkin Pie, pumpkin fell out of the sling.

During our free throw we tore out a hydraulic hose from hydraulic motor after the whole machine fell off our planks. We are in last place, some of the smaller trebs were bragging that they were beating Yankee Siege!

1st Place - Pumpkin Hammer - 1596.
2nd Place - Merlin - 1589.

Saturday 11/01/08 - New World Record throw - 1894 feet!

We made the decision to eliminate our new trough after another pumpkin fell out of the sling during our practice throws in the A.M. before competition. We feel that the pumpkin is contacting one edge of the trough and spinning out of the pouch!

Merlin bent their throwing arm and had to replace it with a spare arm that they brought with them.

Pumpkin Hammer added an undisclosed amount of weight to their counterweight. It looks like it helped.

2nd Place - Pumpkin Hammer - 1640
3rd Place - Merlin - 1564

Sunday 11/02/08 - New World Record throw - 1897 feet!

The 2 previous days had a slight headwind but today we had a strong tailwind in the A.M. that slightly calmed down by the time we fired in the afternoon.

2nd Place - Pumpkin Hammer (Welcome to the 1700 foot club) - 1700 feet!
3rd Place - Merlin (Highest shot of the trebuchet class) - 1260 feet!

Steve Seigars, YS

PS We promised the Trebuchet Widow (Kathy Seigars) that if we reached 2000 feet we would retire from competition!
See you next year at the World Championship Punkin Chunkin Competition.