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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: September 16, 2015

Apple slingshots, corn cannons and pumpkin catapults: Smash some fruit this fall

Written by: Ray Routhier
Pumpkins are hoisted by a crane and dropped in Damariscotta.

Pumpkins are hoisted by a crane and dropped in Damariscotta.

There is definitely something in the Maine air this fall.

Be careful it doesn’t hit you in the head.

Specifically, apples, corn and pumpkins will be blasted out of air cannons, flung out of slingshots, vaulted from catapults and dropped from cranes at farms and festivals around the state in the coming months.

These fantastical flying produce productions are a completely different way to experience the bounty of a Maine fall harvest. For farms trying to persuade people to come pick their apples, an apple slingshot is an added attraction. For a festival specializing in pumpkins, notably the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest and Regatta, dropping 700-pound pumpkins onto a car from a height of 200 feet is, well, something to see.

“We just try to offer people something you can’t see somewhere else, you can’t see at an amusement park,” said Keith Harris, a third-generation farmer at Pumpkin Valley Farm in Dayton. “Who doesn’t like to see corn go flying through the air?”

Here then are some of the places where you can see, and experience, the magic of flying fruit (pumpkins are fruit!) and vegetables.

A dollar buys three shots on the Apple Blaster at Apple Acres Farm.

A dollar buys three shots on the Apple Blaster at Apple Acres Farm.

Apple Acres Farm
363 Durgintown Road, South Hiram. 207-625-4777. appleacresfarm.com
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

This pick-your-own apple orchard is on a hill in southwestern Maine, west of Cornish. There is a store full of apple and other Maine products besides all the trees. When the kids get tired of picking apples, let them try their luck at the Apple Blaster. One dollar buys you three shots at various targets in the farm’s pond.

The Apple Blaster is so popular that by Labor Day weekend people were already asking to use it, though it hadn’t been set up yet. So staff hurried to set up the apple slingshot, using a wood frame and the kind of heavy duty rubber bands some people use for exercising or physical therapy.

“The other bands we used wore out, so now we use these therapy bands. The kids love it,” said Mindy Pistachio (her real name) at Apple Acres.

Pumpkin Valley Farm, 100 Union Falls Road, Dayton. pumpkinvalleyfarm.com; 929-4088. Season starts Saturday. Hours: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Cost: $7 on Fridays, $9 on Saturdays and Sundays, free for 2 and under

This York County farm has a pumpkin patch where you can pick and buy your own, plus a corn maze, a playground and the Corn Cannon. It’s a steel pipe, hollowed out and powered by compressed air. It even has a sight on it so you can take aim at targets.

The cannon is filled with an ear of corn, then the shooter takes aim and pulls the trigger. To avoid potential problems, a corps of “corn cops” patrols the shooting area and loads the cannons for everyone.

People who master the art of firing corn can win prizes. If someone manages to get an ear of corn into a hole cutout of a cow, they win $5. That feature is known as “the cash cow.”

With the price of admission to Pumpkin Valley Farm, everyone gets two tries at the Corn Cannon. Additional shots are $1 for two.

At the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest and Regatta, pumpkins weighing hundreds of pounds are hoisted by a crane and dropped – on a car – from 200 feet. Splat!

At the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest and Regatta, pumpkins weighing hundreds of pounds are hoisted by a crane and dropped – on a car – from 200 feet. Splat!

Pumpkin Drop at Damariscotta Pumpkinfest and Regatta
2 p.m. Oct. 11, Damariscotta River Association Farm, Route 1-B, Damariscotta. Free. damariscottapumpkinfest.com

The pumpkin drop is just one of the wacky ways pumpkins are used at Damariscotta Pumpkinfest and Regatta, scheduled for Oct. 3-12, but it’s probably the most dramatic. Giant pumpkins, some 700 pounds, are hoisted by crane about 200 feet in the air. Then they are dropped onto junked cars and other vehicles, giving the term “smash-up derby” a whole new meaning. The cars get crushed and the pumpkins turn into flying bits of mush. Part of the fun is the suspense, watching the giant pumpkin suspended as it is hauled into the air, and not knowing for sure when it might drop.

And the pumpkins will be dropping to live rock music performed by The Nikki Hunt Band.

Other moving pumpkin events at the Pumpkinfest include the Pumpkin Derby on Oct. 11 and the Pumpkinboat Regatta on Oct. 12. For the derby, kids put wheels on pumpkins and watch them race down a course. The regatta features boats, both motorized and paddled, made out of giant pumpkins. For information on all the Pumpkinfest events, go to damariscottapumpkinfest.com

Trebuchet Pumpkin Launch at Ghostport
11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 17, Flag Point, off Main St., Bucksport. $2 per pumpkin. ghostportme.com

A trebuchet is a type of catapult that was favored during armed sieges of cities in the Middle Ages. So it doesn’t look that out of place on the waterfront of Bucksport, just across the Penobscot River from the 171-year-old Fort Knox.

The wooden trebuchet in question is only about seven years old and will be in use for the Halloween-themed Ghostport celebration. For $2, people can pick out a pumpkin and have volunteers place it on the catapult’s rope sling. Then volunteers use their strength to pull the catapult’s 400-pound counter weight into place.

The person who picked the pumpkin then pulls a rope to release a pin, which drops the counter-weight – thump. The catapult arm springs into action and the pumpkin flies as far as 70 yards out into the river where various floating wood targets await.

“Before somebody pulls the pin, everyone chants for them and waits for the pumpkin to fly,” said Leslie Wombacher, director of Bucksport Bay Area Chamber of Commerce. “Watching the kids do it is pretty cute.”

 

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