[Left to right: Ryan Borden, Shawn West, and Nick Jacka, on their trebuchet, with ammunition.]
SOCORRO, N.M., Oct. 25, 2002 -- Citizens of Socorro can sleep peacefully at night, safe in the knowledge that, if a phalanx of medieval knights invades their town, students from New Mexico Tech's Mechanical Engineering Department stand ready to defend them by flinging pumpkins.
A team of Tech students placed first in their category in Estancia's Fifth Annual Pumpkin Chuckin' Contest on Oct. 19. The intrepid mechanical engineers built a trebuchet, a medieval siege engine, which flung a nine-pound pumpkin to the winning distance of 466 feet.
Shawn West, Nick Jacka, and Ryan Borden were all members of the winning team. West and Jacka did most of the construction, and Borden contributed the use of his truck to help move it. The team thanked Dr. Van Romero, vice president of research, for providing a trailer to carry the machine.
"We probably could have flung the pumpkin even farther, if our machine hadn't broken down," said West. "In a test run the night before the contest, we were able to fling a pumpkin over 600 feet. We hope to do some repairs and be able to enter the contest again next year."
A trebuchet is like a giant lever, using counterweights to fling a projectile, unlike a catapult, which uses a spring. The version built by the Tech students used a weight which falls straight down, increasing efficiency, and a sling to help project the vegetable to even greater distances.
All three students are sophomores in mechanical engineering. West is from Locust Grove, Va.; Jacka hails from Valier, Mont.; and Borden is from Minneapolis.
West acknowledged that, while building trebuchets will probably not net them a lot of job offers, the experience was good.
"We had to find the means to accomplish a goal. It was a good experience in problem-solving. Plus, if you like build stuff and weld, it's fun."