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Smashing (giant) pumpkins

Festival brings together giant vegetable growers from across the region
by: patrick sherman, A 1,000-pound pumpkin drops out of the clear blue sky to obliterate a 1980 Mazda left in the ultimate "No Parking" zone.

The Giant Pumpkin Festival descended, quite literally, on Fir Point Farms in Aurora this month, and on one compact car in particular. Hoisted 100 feet into the air, a 1,000-pound gourd obliterated the 1980 Mazda GLC, to the cheers of thousands of spectators.

'That was my car,' said Dick Erkenbeck, of Oregon City. 'It's been sitting idle for a long time now, and my wife wanted it off the property. Just listening to the remarks of everybody, how awesome it was, that made it worth while.'

Erkenbeck's daughter, Kathy Jacoby, works at Fir Point Farms and grew up driving the automobile.

'My kids took turns wrecking it,' said Erkenbeck. 'As soon as I would get it out of the body shop, it would get smashed up again.'

'I wrecked it first,' Jacoby confessed. 'I over-corrected going around a corner, and I spun out in front of a school bus and ran into an embankment on the side of the road. The bus driver jumped out and said, 'Are you okay?' He told me that I went around like six times.'

Erkenbeck added, 'I was going to fix it up and have my grandson drive it, but I never got around to it. This was a fitting end for it, though - seeing it smashed without one of my kids inside.'

The pumpkin drop has been an autumn tradition in Clackamas County for the past seven years, announcing the start of the Canby Giant Pumpkin Festival, featuring the Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers weigh-off.

'This is the second time it's been here,' said Jim Hughes, who co-owns Fir Point Farms. 'It used to be held at Hoffman Dairy Gardens, but they closed down two years ago, so it came here. This is a better site, really - it's closer to the highway, and we have more parking available.'

To minimize the hazard to onlookers, Hughes removed the glass from the doomed automobile and scored the roof posts, so that it would implode without launching debris into the crowd.

'One year, they hollowed out the pumpkin and put a bunch of mini-pumpkins inside, and they popped out when it hit,' Hughes said. 'It was like it had babies or something.'

It's not heavy, it's my pumpkin

Erkenbeck and his daughter were not the only residents of the Eastland who towed a heavy object out to the farm that morning. David Marvin of Clackamas brought out a giant pumpkin and a giant squash to enter in the weigh-off.

'This is the biggest I've grown so far,' he said, standing over his massive, 700-pound pumpkin. 'I use a cow manure and fertilizer. It's not hard, but it takes a lot of time and a lot of space - it takes about 150 days to grow one.'

The massive gourds pack on 50 pounds a day at the peak of the season, and remain attached to their life-giving vines until the eve of competition.

'I cut them off last night at about 5:30,' said Marvin.

His father, Bob Marvin, added: 'It took seven guys to get them up onto the trailer. We started with four, but we could barely lift them an inch off the ground.'

In his first year at the weigh-off, Marvin's pumpkin finished in the middle of a crowded field, but he won high praise for his huge Show King Squash, taking home a third-place finish. He posed for photographs alongside the 586-pound gourd on a judging stand that also featured a 10-foot zucchini.

'That's a good-looking fruit, man,' said Jim Sherwood, president of the giant vegetable association.

In the junior division, 8-year-old Hanna Schunk represented Milwaukie with her bright orange pumpkin. A bottle of water hung from its severed vine, held in place with duct tape.

'That's for it to drink,' she explained. 'This is my first time - I just wanted to come here to see what it would be like, and how big my pumpkin would get.

'I love gardening. We've planted corn, onions, tomatoes and definitely pumpkins.'