A Whopper!

BARNESVILLE – Where are all the pumpkins? The crowd of spectators were asking just that as they looked down Route 800 and noticed that it was nearly 6 p.m. and the usual line up of contestants had not materialized.

Several of the long-time King Pumpkin contest competitors did not have pumpkins to enter this year, according to weigh-off chairman Darren Miller, and when the initial weigh in was over after just 10 short minutes, the 29-year veteran of the pumpkin competition was asking the same question.

“We have just four entries and the largest so far is under 100 pounds, and we have never spent less than an hour weighing in entries at 6 o’clock since I have been here,” Miller said. “It was a difficult year for growers, and we have many of our growers who reported that they lost their pumpkins to disease or in the storm. This is the slowest it has ever been and I am afraid there just aren’t any more coming.”

The pumpkin lifting crew stood idle for 45 minutes before a trailer with two large pumpkins backed into the scales and everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief. Dwayne Powell of Barnesville weighed in at 675.5 pounds and hope was renewed.

Just a few minutes later, Tom White of New Matamoras arrived with an 875-pound pumpkin to boost the total entries over a ton.

Erik Gunstrom of Monongahela, Pa. weighed in at 956.5 to top the previous king contender.

Then a pickup truck rounded the corner with a pumpkin that got the crowd buzzing, as guesses of 1,400 pounds began to raise the level of excitement. The crowd fell silent as the crane lowered the huge orange gourd gently onto the scale.

“Will this be a new record?” Miller asked the crowd then revealed that it was just 2.5 pounds shy of topping the 2009 record holder of Bill Neptune of New Concord with 1,503 pounds, “1,500 and one half,” Miller said.

King Pumpkin had arrived; it would be the final entry and a personal best for Ray Johnson of Kimbolton. It was the first title for Johnson, who has been competitively growing for nine seasons.

How had Johnson’s pumpkin survived when so many had failed this season?

“I live near Cambridge where the tornado touched down,” said King Pumpkin 2012. “I have four-foot barriers up around the patch to help protect them and when we heard the storm was coming we parked all of our vehicles around them to help protect them.”

“The leaves on the pumpkin vines are like little sails, and it does not take much to damage them,” Johnson explained. “We were fortunate this year. Last year we had all of our plants wiped out by a hail storm when they were right around 500 pounds.”

Johnson will receive a cash prize of $1 per pound for his giant pumpkin, a $100 locally grown prize and the King Pumpkin trophy.

Winner of the 400-pound category was Brandon Powell of Barnesville with a pumpkin that weighed 370 pounds. The winner of both the 200- and 300-pound categories were the Schenerlein entries at 265-pound and 141 pound entries. David Brown won the 100-pound category with a nice orange pumpkin that weighed in at 94.5 pounds that held the title of King Pumpkin for the first 45 minutes of weigh ins.

With only 12 pumpkins weighing a little more than 5,000 pounds, no fifth or sixth place King Pumpkin ribbons were awarded, and it was a bit disappointing for Miller but he remained positive. “The weigh-ins are always very popular. The crowd was nice and the rain held off, so with a 1,500-pound entry to close the night, I would have to say we did pretty well considering the slow start.”

Palmer may be reached at mpalmer@timesleaderonline.com