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Archives Chunkin’ pumpkins and sharing fellowship

October 27, 2021

By Darcy Fargo
Editor

CLAYTON – “Punkin Chunkin,” attempting to launch pumpkins through the air and into the St. Lawrence River, provided an opportunity to unite college students, Potsdam area parishioners and complete strangers.

Punkin Chunkin is an annual event hosted by the Clayton Chamber of Commerce. As part of the event, teams build air cannons and trebuchets to launch pumpkins as far as possible and into the St. Lawrence River.

“I grew up in Alex Bay, and I knew this was an event they do every year,” said Conner Cummings, campus minister in Potsdam. “I was trying to think of good events to get Clarkson students involved. A lot of them are studying engineering. I brought up the idea at a Friday dinner, and the group sounded super interested.”
Cummings noted, though, that the idea to participate came to him rather late.

“We did the whole thing in like a week and a half,” he said. “More time would’ve been good, but we were able to get it done. It would’ve been nice to be able to get in more test shots, but it all came together and worked out well.”

The Newman Club team used a garage space and tools belonging to the Cragg family, parishioners at St. Mary’s in Potsdam.

“It was stressful,” Cummings said. “We had a lot of long nights trying to conquer problems we ran across in the design. It’s a big jump from looking at the design the students put together and actually building it. It was a lot of problem solving and a lot of late night at the Craggs’ house, and we were doing it all working around schedules and the students’ midterms and other obligations.”

The team hit another challenge, one typical of the times, as well.

“Two team members got COVID,” said Abby White, 22, of Duanesburg, a civil structural engineering major at Clarkson. “They were working the opposite shift, so we hadn’t been near them while they were sick, but we lost pretty much half the team. The rest of us really had to pull together. It was a really great group of people.”

“When we lost them, progress got pretty slow,” added Paulo Constantino, 19, of Brewster, an aeronautical engineering major at Clarkson.

Once the basic trebuchet was constructed, the campus ministry team had very little time to test it and deliver it to Clayton.

“The main part of the trebuchet broke during testing,” Cummings said. “We weren’t sure what we were going to do. We had to deliver it to Clayton that night.”

Arriving on the Punkin Chunkin site on event day, the team immediately began attempting to repair their trebuchet.

“Grindstone Fabrication gave us a nice steel rod to hold the weight of our counterweight – the part that had failed,” Cummings said. “They gave it to us free of charge. Everyone was very generous and supportive. A team took a piece off their trebuchet and gave it to us.”

Despite the repairs, the team’s first launch wasn’t exactly successful.

“The first pumpkin launched straight into the ground,” Cummings said. “We put the ‘chunk’ in punkin chunkin.”
The group was aided by other teams in the event to get their trebuchet firing.

“We made last minute changes, and people from other teams came over to help and give us tips,” Cummings said. “In the end, we launched about 50 feet. We were underdogs for sure. When we were finally able to launch, the whole crowd blew up.”

The participating students said they enjoyed the opportunity to work with people who share their faith.

“Projects like this are a good way to get a group closer,” said Constantino. “This was a new experience for me. I had a lot of friends I’d do projects with growing up, but they weren’t part of a church or anything. Having this common thing was very special. It was very rewarding. I hope we do it again next year. The hard work is over. Now, we could work on the little details.”

“It was a good way to build community and friendship,” added White. “I would absolutely do it again.”

In addition to Cummings, White and Constantino, the Potsdam Campus Ministry Punkin Chunkin team included Lucas Roberts Williams (Clarkson), Alex Koberda (local young adult), Jaeide Jawahill (Clarkson), Joshua Fontana (Clarkson), Kevin McCullouch (SUNY Potsdam), Salvator Valeriano (U.S. Army) and Charles Hatch (local young adult). In addition to the Craggs, the team was also aided by Milt Snell, who transported the trebuchet from Potsdam to Clayton.

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