HILLSDALE—“It’s almost drop time,” said Robert Bradway standing on his lawn on Saturday, October 18. “Three o’clock, we’ll see some pumpkins fly.”
Mr. Bradway—bearded, wearing a red-tartan kilt and backwards baseball cap—greeted his guests with a smile. His annual party normally features cider made using his grandfather’s restored apple press. “This year my orchard didn’t produce many apples,” he said. Instead, he built a trebuchet to launch pumpkins. It was his wife Rachael’s idea.
Mrs. Bradway said she saw one of the catapults at the Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool Festival and proposed the project to her husband when they realized that they would not have enough apples to do a large-scale cider pressing. The small apple harvest has affected several other small non-commercial orchards in the county.
Mr. Bradway built the trebuchet with help from Kaspar Meier and Alex Keyser. D.J. Dobert was also at the event to oversee the seven pork butts that sat in a large smoker. The Bradways and several of their friends wore matching orange t-shirts that had been made for the occasion. The shirts read “Bradway’s Pumpkin Chunkin” above a diagram of the trebuchet.
Mr. Bradway’s version of the medieval siege weapon was 20-to-25-feet tall and constructed out of white oak. It was an imposing sight set against the mountains mottled with maroon and ochre fall leaves. “It was just something entertaining and fun… something a little different, something people will remember,” he said. He had been testing the trebuchet by launching a 14-pound bowling ball, which he said consistently flew 170 feet.
“I’ve always like building things,” said Mr. Bradway, who owns Robert Bradway Plumbing and Heating Inc.
“He’s been going above and beyond since he was a baby,” said Meghan McCann, a family friend. “We used to get in trouble for doing things like this.”
The Bradways said they expected about 80 guests this year instead of the usual 30. “Everybody knows about it,” said Mr. Dobert.
Mr. Bradway said that people had stopped on his road to ask him what the trebuchet was. One person guessed that it was some sort of oil derrick. But, he said, “A lot of the kids knew exactly what it was.”
“Everybody brings their own pumpkin,” said Mr. Bradway. Some of the pumpkins were decorated with white, purple or red paint. A black dry erase board stood at a tent near the trebuchet to record the weight and distance covered for each pumpkin. The owner of the pumpkin that flew farthest received one of the orange t-shirts.
Large grey clouds filtered the sun as the first pumpkin was nestled into the trebuchet’s sling. Caution tape fenced partygoers a safe distance away from the trebuchet. Yellow flags were set out every 50 feet down a hill out to a distance of 250 feet. Someone in a plastic horned Viking helmet stood at the bottom of the hill to record distances. A few people tossed a football in the background. “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey played from the tents where food would be served later.
Mr. Bradway appeared on a yellow utility four-wheeler. His two-year-old son rode in tandem. After sending his son to the safe side of the caution tape, Mr. Bradway used the four-wheeler to pull the top of the trebuchet to the ground where it was secured, heaving the weighted end into the air.
An air horn sounded and Mr. Bradway pulled a rope releasing the sling end of the trebuchet. The pumpkin—a large one at over 20 pounds—flew into the air in a high arc and exploded as it landed 97 feet away. It had gone out of sight as it went down the hill, but chunks of pumpkin bounced back into view on impact.
High winds blew leaves across the lawn, and the first drops of rain sent some to their cars for raincoats and umbrellas. As the next pumpkin was weighed and brought to the catapult, one kid—the apparent owner of the pumpkin—said, “I really don’t want it to break.”
“The world’s first of many disappointments,” someone replied. The pumpkin flew 167 feet.