Pumpkin chunking with McClymont
By Fran Odyniec
For The Plain City Advocate
It’s not every day that you can find a trebuchet in central Ohio, considering that it is a siege engine that was used in combat during the Middle Ages.
But there in a field behind Cooley’s Greenhouse on Middleburg-Plain City Road just north of state Route 161 after it bridges the abandoned railroad line that once served Plain City stands an operating trebuchet.
Josh McClymont, owner of Cooley’s, has traded stone projectiles for pumpkins as ammunition for his trebuchet which is the highlight of the greenhouse’s annual fall festival continuing to the end of this month.
“We needed something different,” said McClymont, first-place finisher in the male division of the recent Plain City 4 Mile Run/Walk, as he gazed up at his trebuchet. “We can’t do a corn maze (due to a lack of a cornfield) but we wanted to differentiate ourselves from the myriad pumpkin growers in Pleasant Valley.”
He remembered that he had seen a feature on trebuchets on television.
So, he turned to his friends Steve Wieringa and Josh Strait, of New California, for further discussion. Strait told McClymont, “I have one.”
Hearkening back to a time when knighthood was in flower, how they got the device to that field was nothing short of a modern day crusade intertwined around an affair of the heart.
Strait’s sister’s ex-boyfriend had built a trebuchet about 10 years ago in the Strait family’s backyard down in Cincinnati at a time when knighthood was in bloom with a certain fair young maiden.
“Come Get It” became the battle cry and the crusaders set out for Hamilton County.
Upon arrival they discovered that the trebuchet weighed about 1,000 pounds, and had been built to launch a bowling ball a distance of 100 yards.
“We spent a whole day taking it apart,” McClymont said. “The bolts had rusted and the wood had become warped.”
Undaunted in their quest, the crusaders loaded their prize in a van and took it back up I-70, and to the kingdom of Cooley.
McClymont realized that the trebuchet required a lot of work, nearly a total rebuild, if it were ever to fling one pumpkin.
About the only salvageable items were the counterweights and the 24-foot long base; the all-important center and launching arm had to be replaced.
Using 6 feet by 6 feet, 4 feet by 6 feet, and 2 feet by 6 feet lengths of lumber, all new bolts and screws that required special drill bits for installation, McClymont spent all of September rebuilding the trebuchet. For guidance, he followed photos of trebuchets and directions that he found online. The fact that he knows construction and has built structures out at Cooley’s Greenhouse made the project more than feasible.
His trebuchet uses 600 pounds of counterweight positioned in the center of the device to launch a projectile that is inserted in the pouch which is attached with ropes to the trebuchet’s arm which is about 16 feet long, and towers in an upright position over the centerpiece, the counterweight, and the base.
According to McClymont’s calculations and the laws of physics, a counterweight has to be 100 times heavier than the projectile. In this case, a six-pound pumpkin requires those 600 pounds of counterweight consisting of sand contained in two tractor tires that have been hung on chains under the centerpiece which bears a remote resemblance to an oil well tower.
In order to load the pouch, McClymont uses some horsepower in the form of a tractor to bring the arm down to ground level while raising the counterweight to a height of eight feet.
Once a pumpkin is in the pouch, it’s time for launch.
Standing safely off to the side of the trebuchet while holding the length of rope that when pulled will release the trigger mechanism, McClymont lets the arm fly.
The counterweight drops down to about two feet above the ground as the arm heads skyward in an arc that reaches an apex of about 40 feet at which point the pumpkin releases from the pouch that was attached to the end of the arm and is hurled forward into the field that lies ahead where it lands in dramatic smashing fashion.
He hopes that this revived relic from ancient times also piques the interest of teachers and students in local schools.
In his fourth year of ownership, he explained that the challenge is to make the greenhouse a destination point.
“The Cooleys did an amazing job growing,” McClymont said. “We decided to add marketing.”
During this time, a petting zoo with roosters, chickens, and lovably curious goats has become part of the fall festival with hay rides, a bounce house, and, now, a trebuchet.
“Kids get a pumpkin or a gourd, a fresh-baked cookie and a box (carton) of organic milk,” McClymont said of the $5 fee that includes the hay ride, the petting zoo, and the bounce house. “And they get to watch the pumpkin launch.”
From its seven greenhouses, Cooley’s offers mums and cold-weather flowers, annuals, vegetable plants and herbs that are grown on-site and tended individually by hand. Perennials are purchased from a local grower.
When asked what will become of his trebuchet after the fall festival, McClymont, who is somewhat of a renaissance man having graduated the University of Ohio with a degree in theater where he had built “a ton of sets,” replied with something of a crusader’s proud smile as he savored his medieval device, “I haven’t gone that far.”
Cooley’s Fall Festival continues through October on Thursdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cooley’s Greenhouse is located at 14130 Middleburg-Plain City Road, one mile west of Plain City. For more information call (614) 873-4862; or go to www.cooleysgreenhouse.net.