pumpkin_tossThere’s something inherently hilarious about watching grown people (men, mostly) shoot pumpkins out of cannons. But that’s what they do at the annual Punkin Chuckin Contest outside Peoria, Illinois, a great family weekend vacation destination and among the most popular Illinois events.

The Morton, Illinois, punkin chuckin event, scheduled in 2010 for Oct. 16-17,  isn’t the only one in America. There also are punkin’ chuckers in Nassau, Delaware, home to the World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association.  The event there is Nov. 5-7 this year.

The event in Illinois celebrates Morton’s claim to be the pumpkin capital of the world. Morton is home to a huge Libby pumpkin packing plant that claims to be the source of 85 percent of the canned pumpkin of the world. (There’s also a Pumpkin Festival in Morton in September.)

Many Ways to Chuck a Pumpkin

Pumpkin_ModulatorOne of the highlights of the Morton Punkin Chuckin is the pumpkin cannon,  the Aludium Q36 Pumpkin Modulator, the world record holder for punkin chuckin. But it’s just one of the contraptions that will be tossing pumpkins. There also will be plenty of catapults and trebuchets (catapults use springs to increase the thrust while trebuchets use only counterweights). After each official chuck, spotters on ATVs zoom across the field to mark the distance and determine whether any chucker breaks the elusive one-mile barrier.

During the slow chuckin’ moments, organizers host a pumpkin hand toss contest and set up a car in the field that gets pumpkinated by the Q36.

The event is free, but parking is $5 per car and there are a host of pumpkin delicacies to buy–ice cream, pie, chili (which was surprisingly good)–pumpkin souvenirs and more. We spent about $30 the entire day. Bring lawn chairs, coats, hats and mittens. The wind really whips across the harvested farmland.

Other Peoria IL Events

Make a weekend of Punkin Chuckin and spend the night in a converted caboose, silo or stable at the nearby Wildlife Prairie State Park in Hanna City. Prices for two people range from $80 per night for the caboose to $125 per night for a cabin by the lake on weekends. Each additional person ages 4 and up is $10 per night. Room rental includes parking, two days in the park, fishing and other amenities.

wildlife_prairie_state_parkIn late October, the park becomes the “Wildlife Scary Park.” Scheduled for Oct. 22-24 and 29-31 this year, it includes a ride on the mini-railroad through the park. From 5-7 p.m., it’s a “Merry Not-So-Scary Park,” in which costumed characters line the train path, smiling, waving and wishing riders a happy Halloween. At 7 p.m., the smiles disappear and the happy characters turn more sinister as the crowds on the train get older.

If you make it into nearby Peoria, stop at the Smithsonian-affiliated Lakeview Museum of Arts & Sciences. It has an impressive array of exhibits at downstate-affordable prices.