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Reflections From Topsfield 1994 By Don Langevin

Orginally published in the N.E.P.G.A. Newsletter - December, 1994

I still feel numb the day after, and I suspect that anyone who witnessed the All New England Giant Pumpkin Championship at Topsfield Fair yesterday feels likewise. The day seemed punctuated by astonishing visions, profound emotions and the reassurance that God has a hand even in the sport of giant pumpkin growing. The day could not have started or ended any better for me, because as the day unfolded, my own personal disappointment in growing a token entry of 200 pounds evaporated, yet at the end of it I felt somehow fortunate to be alive and still striving.

The news of Craig Weir's pumpkin had been heard several weeks before the competition, and on this morning of the big weigh-off there was a buzz of excitement because several growers had already witnessed it. To add to the excitement, Craig and his pumpkin were nowhere to be found - the choreography could not have been better. As we stood in restless anticipation of its arrival, Craig wrestled with the gridlock of a Route 1 traffic snarl. Wiberg and the Topsfield Fair people seemed nervous and on edge because of the absence. The clock slowly ticked past 10 a.m., the official weigh-off time, and still no Craig Weir. You could say that Weir was nowhere to be found.

But suddenly on the horizon it appeared, and as it entered the Arena through the narrow doors, the crowd's excitement was bristling. I could only describe it as the feeling one would get when a championship football team emerges from the dark tunnel onto the brilliance of the field. It was absolutely electric. Craig was perched on his trailer with the pumpkin, and one got the feeling that Weir had weathered a lot the last month. His face was one of calm but one could see that it also showed relief that the responsibility of this pumpkin was now gone, and all that remained was the tell-tale of the scale. The toss and turn nights, the nervous paranoia and the uncertainty and anticipation had been lifted from him. Now he seemed calm in knowing that he had done all he could, and now it was in the hands of a Higher Authority.

We all stood in utter astonishment, as the media pushed their way to the front of the crowd to shoot hundreds of pictures. The pumpkin was disguised by bales of hay and a covering, but the mound it made in the trailer was unbelievable. All eyes were on Craig and his pumpkin. As we carefully removed it from the trailer to the ground, it became quite evident that we all were witnessing an historic event - perhaps a new world record - but in any event we were witnessing a milestone in New England pumpkin growing. I was fortunate that I could help remove it from the trailer. My hands stood white, drained of their blood, after only 30 seconds of lifting. In all, ten men were needed, and everyone gave his maximum effort. When the pumpkin settled to the ground, and the crowd was sufficiently cleared to make viewing possible, it stood like a giant orange boulder. Not only was it large, it was also beautiful. Its symmetry was defined by its immense over-the-top measurements of 204 inches (102 inches equally in both directions), and its breathtaking circumference of 160 inches. These combined measurements equaled 364 inches, and soon anyone who remembered Donnie Black's world record achievement of 884 pounds (and 352 inches) were sure that we had a world record contender.

As order was very slowly restored, the pumpkin became more visible to all. Even in the low light of the Arena, it was golden-bright. One grower said that it was as if God had merely dropped it there for our delight and wonderment. It did not seem to be the making of a mere mortal man. Another said that it would make a man with a glass eye, cry. I, for one, felt totally astonished, and as one grower irreverently put it, "There are only two words to describe this pumpkin - "Holy S---!"

When the weigh-off finally started, the anticipation of Craig's pumpkin escalated. There was not one person in that Arena who really felt concern over their own pumpkin's weight. Everyone had pulled together to show their respect for this historic moment. The embarrassment I had felt at bringing a 200 pound pumpkin to the premier weigh-off in New England was gone. The frustrations of the season were gone. The poor pollination in early July, the vine borers, woodchucks, disease, hail, premature ripening and rotting had all been put to rest by the mere sight of this pumpkin. There was a feeling that we would see something today that we may never see again in our lifetimes.

When it finally came time to weigh Craig's pumpkin, it was announced that the Fairbanks scale would be reset to zero, and Craig's pumpkin would be lifted to the scale with a tarp, and then this tarp would be removed. Perhaps this was to avoid possible criticism from Mr. Waterman and the WPC, but now it seemed the right thing to do with a pumpkin as precious as this one.

Ten men wrestled it to the scale, a short but arduous 10 foot journey. Then they carefully removed the tarp. The pumpkin stood naked on the scale with the red digital readout whirling to and fro until the pumpkin finally settled. The numbers topped at 914. The place went nuts!

There was great jubilation among all the New England growers. Craig was beaming a smile that can only be described as "life-smile." If we could all experience a smile like that once in our lifetime, it would all be worth it.

As the day unfolded after the weigh-off, we slowly learned that Craig's pumpkin would not be a world record, only a New England record that shattered the previous mark by 196 pounds. This was no fluke victory or milestone.

As the numbers came in from other weigh-off sites across North America, it was clear that 1994 had not been a normal year for giant pumpkin growing. Ottawa, Canada reported that they had weighed, not one, but two 900+ pound pumpkins. On weighed 945.5 pounds and another missed the 1000 pound quest by only ten pounds - 990 pounds. Glen Brown of Bethel, Minnesota - a perennial champion - trucked a 923 pound pumpkin to the Anamosa, Iowa weigh-off. Glen said he had also grown two other pumpkins on another plant that weighed 867 and 824 pounds respectively. Yes, you heard that right, they were both on the same plant. This prompted one New England grower to say that pumpkins were getting so big now that growers were leaving their 800 pounders at home because they weren't big enough. Ron Nelson of Grandview, Washington also had a 900 pound pumpkin that did not officially make it into the record books because of premature rotting. In all, five 900 pound pumpkins were grown in 1994.

When we heard of Donnie Black's 884 last year, we all felt that this might stand for many years. How wrong we all were. The question that is posed now is, "Is 1000 pounds a realistic goal?" Five years ago it was. Last year it was. This year it was. But next year, maybe we should begin thinking more long term; 1000 pounds is just a number. I think the Dill's Atlantic Giant will not be thwarted by a number like 1000. Maybe we should start thinking about numbers that are well above 1000. Maybe if we all try as hard as we have for the last ten years, God will drop another boulder in New England. Maybe we should start thinking about 1200, 1500, 2000 pounds. We will only achieve what we set out to achieve. If Donnie Black's 884 pound record can be surpassed by 106 pounds in one year, what can the future hold for giant pumpkin growing?

As the day ended for me, I suddenly felt sympathy for Craig. Because, as my day had turned from frustration and disappointment to joy, his had probably turned from joy and relief to sadness and disappointment. Obviously, he should not feel this way. Craig has put New England pumpkin growers back in the chase. He has restored a level of world respect that had been diminished by our achievements the past few years. He has instilled new confidence that we can, in fact, compete with the very best in the world -- and we will one day have a new world record pumpkin weighed on a scale at the Topsfield Fair.

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