Librarians on the Loose: Chuckin’ pumpkins

Messenger photos by Kristy Zurbrick
With a pull on the string, a young Plain City Public Library patron sends a pumpkin flying through the air. Library staff members built the catapult from scratch as part of their “Librarians on the Loose” video series.

(Posted Nov. 7, 2019)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

Crank, crank, crank, crank.

“Giant pumpkin! Giant pumpkin!”


Thunk. Splat.


The live soundtrack to Plain City Public Library’s pumpkin-chuckin’ event was as entertaining as the actual gourd-flinging itself. All of the audio and visual delights, from the careful placement of the orange orbs in the catapult’s bucket to the youthful onlookers’ hoots, hollers and leaps of joy, were captured on video.

Barbara Yoder, 12, registers her pumpkin for chuckin’. Amanda Warner, public services librarian, makes note of the pumpkin’s weight and circumference.

The Nov. 5 spectacle, which took place behind St. Joseph Parish Activity Center in Plain City, served as the makings for the first in the library’s “Librarians on the Loose” video series.

“Each video will be about us building or doing something we know nothing about. The idea is to inspire patrons to build or achieve something new themselves,” said Noah LeMaster, library assistant, who is doing all of the videography for the project.

For the first video, the librarians chose to build a catapult from scratch.

“It was something none of us knew anything about but all of us had wanted to do at one time or another in our lives,” said Chris Long, library director.

Shane Hoffman, Plain City Public Library technology services manager, places a pumpkin in the bucket of the catapult and whispers to it, “Adios, amigo.”

So, they looked up instructions on the Internet and got down to work.

Their early versions of the catapult proved to be faulty. In a low-tension test in which they flung an old VHS tape, the catapult’s bar (made from a piece of gas pipe) bent, as did the eyebolts holding the bungee cords in place.

“So, we replaced the gas pipe with a 31-inch solid steel bar. That’s not going anywhere,” said Shane Hoffman, the library’s technology services manager. Other modifications included extra bracing to reduce stress and prevent twisting.

After a successful second test run using small pumpkins, the amateur catapultists were ready to take their machine prime-time. They invited the public to bring pumpkins for chuckin’. Two sessions were offered on Nov. 5–one in the afternoon and one in the evening.

Library Director Chris Long explains how things are going to work.

Amanda Warner, public services librarian, helped participants register their pumpkins–weighing them and measuring their circumference. Some entries came in whole; others were carved. Some were small; others required a bear hug to carry.

The catapult sat facing a harvested field of corn. Underneath was a blue tarp tacked down at the corners with old dictionaries and other books that didn’t sell in the library’s last book sale.

Spectators were asked to keep their distance, for safety’s sake. Hoffman handled the set-up for each launch, whispering a farewell to each pumpkin as he put it in the bucket–“Adios, amigo,” “Godspeed.”

When all was set, Long beckoned each pumpkin owner to take hold of the end of a long string attached to the launch mechanism and, at the count of three, pull. Some of the pumpkins plopped not far from the catapult. Some caught good air and/or rolled, making it into the cornfield.

A jack-o-lantern loses its top on its downward trajectory from the catapult.

“It was fun watching all the carved pumpkins explode and then ours, which were not carved, rolled,” said Gabe Bertin, 11, of Plain City who attended the pumpkin chuckin’ with his brothers, Lucas, 8, and Nick, 5. Lucas’s second pumpkin traveled 72 feet, the record for the afternoon session.

The Librarians on the Loose are happy with the results of their first adventure.

“It’s been really fun talking with people in the community who helped us with the project,” Long said. “And it’s great that we didn’t kill each other working on this thing in the heat of the summer.”

Plain City Library Director Chris Long counts to three as J.T. Yoder, dressed in a Batman mask, grits his teeth in anticipation of sending yet another pumpkin flying into a cornfield behind the St. Joseph Parish Activity Center. Yoder attended the pumpkin chuckin’ event with his mother and siblings.

She said they have a list of possibilities for their next project but haven’t settled on one. They are open to suggestions, she said.

The pumpkin chuckin’ video will be released in two parts, likely in the next two to three weeks. Look for it on the library’s website,

To make a suggestion for a Librarians on the Loose project, call (614) 873-4912.

Noah LeMaster (right), library assistant, captures the whole pumpkin-catapulting process on video for Plain City Public Library’s “Librarians on the Loose” video series. He gathered footage during the construction phase, as well. He plans to release the video story in two parts sometime in the next few weeks.
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