Bald Eagle

Punkin’ Chunkin’ raises money for the Howard Fire Company

Team Bellum lets a pumpkin fly into the lake at Bald Eagle State Park Saturday in Howard from their classic trebuchet during the annual Howard Fire Company Fall Punkin’ Chunkin’ Festival.
Team Bellum lets a pumpkin fly into the lake at Bald Eagle State Park Saturday in Howard from their classic trebuchet during the annual Howard Fire Company Fall Punkin’ Chunkin’ Festival. For the CDT

An annual fall fest with a main attraction that’s normally teams of people who launch pumpkins into Bald Eagle Creek with catapults or trebuchets while raising money for a local fire company found a new attraction Saturday.

A sense of community.

Howard Fire Company President Mark Ott said camaraderie was something that was always part of the annual Punkin’ Chunkin’ Fall Festival, but not more than this year.

When the Howard Area Lions Club trailer was destroyed by a fire Friday night while stationed near the Bald Eagle State Park beach area, other vendors came to help.

“Everyone stepped up to help and they didn’t even have to,” said Lions Club President Dick Rhoades.

Snyder Concessions donated a trailer to the Lions Club with some equipment so they could sell carnival-like food at the fifth annual event.

“Other than the fact the trailer is all roped off and burnt, you’d never know we were in a bind,” Rhoades said. “The line has been steady and we’re going about business like nothing happened. We have good membership and a great community who stepped up when we needed it the most.”

Rhoades said the group will meet in about a week to discuss options on buying a new trailer.

Ott said the fire started at about 9:30 p.m. Friday by a grill that was unattended and running on low most of the night. No injuries were reported.

The Lions Club was one of a couple of dozen food and craft vendors at the Punkin’ Chunkin’ fest, along with children’s activities, live entertainment and six teams of pumpkin launchers.

Jim “Fat Jimmy” Fuller, of Dover, made it back to the fest for the third year with Team High X, which has placed in the World Championships of Punkin Chunkin held annually in Delaware. The past two world championships were canceled.

Team High X has a pumpkin-launching apparatus that operates on manpower.

Fuller said a team member has up to two minutes to use a pedal bicycle to create enough energy to launch the pumpkin.

The machine Fuller called “half a bubble off” was made about four years ago and can throw a pumpkin up to about 1,000 feet. He estimated that during the event Saturday, the device launched the pumpkins 500 to 700 feet.

Ott said about 120 pumpkins were donated by an Amish family who owns Hilltop Farms in Marion Township.

The team that shot pumpkins the farthest walked away with bragging rights.

“It’s all about having fun and giving back to a good cause,” Fuller said.

The event raises about a quarter of the Howard Fire Company’s annual budget, Ott said.

“It’s a lifesaver for us,” Ott said.

The department serves communities in Curtin, Howard and Walker townships, and Howard borough, with about 35 active members, Ott said.

The goal each year is to raise $25,000 or more, and that money is put toward the department’s general fund to help pay gas and electric, and heat and air conditioning for the facility; diesel fuel for the trucks; and new equipment.

Ott said the company hopes to raise enough money to purchase a new apparatus in five to seven years.

“That’s about how long it will take us to raise the money needed to get that kind of equipment,” Ott said.

The Punkin’ Chunkin’ Fall Fest took about 180 volunteers from the fire company and Lock Haven University students who needed to log in community service hours to graduate.

Ott said organizers are starting to plan for the event that will be held Oct. 22, 2016.

“I’m not sure what we’ll bring that’s new, but we’re always looking for feedback from the public on what they liked or didn’t like,” Ott said. “It’s a long, busy process, especially the last month, but it makes it worthwhile.”

The event attracted about 18,000 people Saturday but hit its plateau.

Ott said the event grew in popularity the first few years but hasn’t seen a spike in attendance since.

The fire company is in year five of a 10-year agreement with Bald Eagle State Park to host the event.

A cleanup crew will be at the park Sunday. The goal is to leave the park cleaner than when they arrived, Ott said.