Smithfield Herald

Clayton man catapults pumpkin 3,000 feet

Bob Carbo and his team with the Onager.
Bob Carbo and his team with the Onager.

Wearing Medieval chain mail, Bob Carbo watched a pumpkin fly more than 3,000 feet, catapulted by a machine he built at his home in Clayton.

Carbo has competed in Delaware’s Punkin Chunkin contest annually since 1995. His machine, called the Onager, helped him and his team win “best throw” in their division at this year’s event, held Nov. 1-3.

The machine catapulted a pumpkin 3,105 feet.

The Onager, named for a style of catapult in ancient Rome, was one of the smallest and simplest machines at the competition. The Roman weapon took its name from a donkey with a powerful kick, and the catapult has a kick when it fires, Carbo said.

“I’ve always preferred the Medieval, traditional machines compared to the monster ones,” he said.

Hence his Medieval attire at the competition.

Only a hobby

Carbo’s team competed against six others to win the Adult Torsion division.

Torsion machines are powered by a twisted rope. A team member winds the rope, pulls down a wooden arm with a sling at the end, hooks the rope on the end of the arm, then releases the arm, which flings forward.

By day, Carbo is a psychologist at the state prison in Lillington. Engineering is his hobby, one that he picked up from his father, who was an engineer.

“I enjoyed building things, and the idea of building a contraption that could throw something really far was really intriguing to me,” Carbo said.

He built his first catapult in 1995 to compete in Delaware. Carbo chose the Torsion style of catapult because it was smaller, which meant he could carry it in the bed of a pickup.

“I wanted something small and compact but also very powerful,” Carbo said.

But his machine has grown since then, to 8,000 pounds. Carbo now pulls it behind a Ford F-250 pickup.

At the Punkin Chunkin’ contest, Carbo is known as the “grandfather of Torsion.”

Last year, his best throw was 2,458 feet. He made significant distance strides this year, tweaking his catapult by making the sling lighter and better anchoring the machine to the ground.

And Carbo said this year’s fair weather conditions worked in his favor.

Too far for a practice shot

Carbo said he was surprised his team won; the outcome is seldom predictable.

It doesn’t help that Clayton has few places where he and his teammates can practice throwing a pumpkin that far. They used to practice at a farm in Apex.

“We outgrew that,” Carbo said.

Two weeks before this year’s competition, Team Carbo – made up of Carbo, his brother and a friend – traveled to Pennsylvania just for practice. They catapulted pumpkins across a lake at a smaller competition there.

Now, the Onager is parked outside the workshop at his house. Pretty soon, Carbo will start gearing it up for next year.

The Punkin Chunkin began in 1986 with a casual challenge among friends in a small field near Georgetown, Del. The longest shot measured 126 feet. The event now has an audience topping 20,000 and contributes money to several charities. This year’s competition drew 115 teams in 15 categories, with competitors coming from as far away as Australia.