Transforming Pumpkins Into Projectiles

Hunter Ostrum, 10, and his dad, Arron, pull the level on the pumpkin cannon at Lawyer's Winterbrook Farms in Thurmont. The farm also has an apple cannon for younger children.
Hunter Ostrum, 10, and his dad, Arron, pull the level on the pumpkin cannon at Lawyer's Winterbrook Farms in Thurmont. The farm also has an apple cannon for younger children. (By Timothy Jacobsen For The Washington Post)
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By Alex Baldinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 10, 2008

Let's face it: Young or old, we all like to make things go pop. Think about the laughter that fills a room when a champagne cork blasts off. Now imagine that the cork is a volleyball-size pumpkin and the bottle is an industrial air compressor with an eight-foot-long barrel mounted on a hydraulic platform. And you're at the controls.

At Lawyer's Winterbrook Farms in Thurmont, visitors of all ages can channel their inner Terminator at the helm of the farm's incredible pumpkin cannon, which launches the projectiles at blurring speeds.

This is not some unfulfilling gimmick: After climbing the steps to the launch platform, you're in control of the cannon's full range of motion. Targets, including a wooden speedboat, miniature tractors and a car that looks as if it belongs at Daytona, stands 100 yards away.

A cannon operator loads a pumpkin into the barrel, and the tank is pressurized, then you're in control. Adjust the trajectory to your liking, and you're ready to go.

"Give that lever a good strong pull," they'll say. Don't blink, either. The faster you pull, the farther your pumpkin goes.

Three . . . two . . . one . . . WHOOSH! If your aim is true, the next sound you'll hear is the sound of your pumpkin exploding against the side of the boat. Hit or miss, it's addicting, immensely satisfying and extremely popular. Busy evenings can generate big crowds and long waits to shoot the pumpkin cannon or its smaller, more kid-friendly apple cannon.

"I've been up here for five or six hours; the cannon just keeps running," said Taylor Lawyer, 15, who helps run the cannon on weekends.

Like both the pumpkin and apple cannon, the targets on the range were hand-built by farm owner Jan Lawyer. "It's that feeling of pulling that lever as hard as you can; it makes you feel like you're really doing something," he said.

Even Lawyer enjoys experimenting with the cannon. He pointed the barrel to its uppermost horizon and topped out the air chamber. "We'll wait until there aren't any cars coming," he said, lest a sudden wind carry a skyward gourd into oncoming traffic on adjacent Creagerstown Road.

With a mighty crank, Lawyer's pumpkin disappeared into the clouds. And if you leave now, you might get there before it lands.

LAWYER'S WINTERBROOK FARMS 13001 Creagerstown Rd. at Route 550 South, Thurmont. 301-748-7646 or 301-271-4826 orhttp://www.winterbrookfarms.com. Open Fridays from dusk to 10 p.m., Saturdays from noon to 10 p.m., Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. through Nov. 2. Also open Oct. 16 from 5 to 10 p.m. Pumpkin cannon, three shots for $10; corn/apple cannon, six shots for $5. The ninth annual Lawyer's Moonlight Maze features a 14-acre complex of three connected pirate-theme corn mazes. The mazes contain seven miles of trails and 24 checkpoints. The farm recommends boots; flashlights are mandatory in the evening. $5, free for age 5 and younger.


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