On an electric Saturday morning in late September, when the sun was hot, the air was dry and Halloween seemed as far away as Christmas, pumpkins sailed through the cloudless, azure sky above North Plains' Lake View Farms. It was a calculated business move on the part of Mike Cropp.
Cropp, a grass-seed farmer turned Halloween entrepreneur, decided to get a leg up on the competition (Sauvie Island's Pumpkin Patch has as many as 12,000 pumpkin hunters show up on a weekend day) by hosting the "First Annual Oregon Punkin' Chunkin' Festival." Seven teams were there with six medieval siege cannons (known as trebuchets), plus one giant slingshot. Bob Brown, a 69-year-old fisherman from Hillsboro, had anchored his trusty bait-flinging bungee to the front end of his Ford pickup. Lest he go ballistic himself, à la Wile E. Coyote, Brown wisely had slung 50 pounds of weights around his waist. He struggled to remain upright as he walked backward, teeth clenched. Until. The bungee. Seemed. About. To snap.
The pumpkin flew, to the delight of 1,500-plus spectators, who cheered as one when the gourd exploded several hundred feet downrange.
A few people ran for cover when the trebuchet from Mohawk High School sprang to life with a clang, releasing a dumpster weighted with ballast, which transferred its kinetic energy to the throwing arm as it fell. The arm, the size of a clipper-ship mast, pivoted on a tripod of telephone poles before hurling its projectile, which traced a dramatic arc over the field, orange silhouetted against brilliant blue. It was a strange and beautiful sight.
Meanwhile, one of the lanky Cropp boys, wearing a scarecrow costume, was folded into the cab of the Silver Harvest Express, a miniature passenger train, shuttling load after load of visitors from a station near the corn maze (2.6 miles of corn rows shaped like a steam locomotive), through a Haunted Barn, and out to the pumpkin patch.
Out on the irrigation pond, a sternwheeler pontoon boat, piloted by one of Cropp's neighbors, a farmer in overalls, was chugging away, weaving around a lunging mechanical shark and a silenced cannon (Cropp switched off the propane blast after the Sept. 11 attacks) aimed at a sea serpent.
As for the patriarch of Lake View Farms, he was standing in a grove of firs, working on a Polish sausage, watching city folks watch flying pumpkins. I wondered if he was bothered by the fact that his guests might get the impression that Lake View was just a Halloween theme park, not a bona fide 1,400-acre farm. He wasn't. You see, last season, 56,000 people came just to ride the train, at two bucks a head. And most left with a pumpkin, to boot.
"That pumpkin patch is some of the most profitable acreage we have," said Cropp. "With so many grass-seed operations going under, you do what you need to do to make ends meet."
Like host a trebuchet competition. Because flying pumpkins are much more interesting than stationary ones. As are flying pigs. I'd pay five bucks to see that.
Lake View Farms
31345 NW North Ave., North Plains, 647-2336, www.lakeviewnorthplains.com
9 am-5 pm Monday- Thursday, 9 am-10 pm Friday- Saturday, 10 am-7 pm Sunday, through October 30 (last train ride leaves at 4:30 pm)
The Pumpkin Patch
16511 NW Gillihan Rd., Sauvie Island, 621-3874, www.thepumpkinpatch.com
10 am-6 pm daily (The corn maze will be haunted after dark and open until 10 pm Friday- Wednesday, Oct. 26-31.)
The Big One
The World Championship Punkin' Chunkin' Competition will be held Nov. 2-4 in Delaware. Read all about it at www.