Dock of the Bay

Vol. 8, No. 44
Nov.2-8, 2000
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In Annapolis, Watch for Falling Pumpkins \

Medieval warfare intersects with modern technology at a small boatyard just over the Eastport drawbridge. Here two teams of ''punkin chunkers'' are finishing the machines they will take into battle during the 2000 Punkin Chunkin World Championship in Sussex County, Delaware.

Jim Hyde and Chris Shainoff are putting the final touches on their catapult, Feats Don't Fail Me Now. It's a simple apparatus: A small, eight-foot metal pyramid supports a well-sprung boom that hurls the pumpkin.

Working alongside Hyde and Shainoff are friends and members of last year's team Larry Webber and Mike Baldwin, with their trebuchet Del's Destroyer. The trebuchet looks like a wooden medieval catapult and uses lead bars to launch the boom forward.

"I worked with Jimmy last year," says Webber. "I guess I like wood better than steel."

The weekend of November 3 to 5, both Feats Don't Fail Me Now and Del's Destroyer will join 76 other punkin chunkin machines on a field in the middle of nowhere. At the intersection of Sussex County roads 305 and 306, these big boys will use their big toys to send eight- to 10-pound pumpkins through the fall sky to see just whose launch goes the farthest.

Punkin chunkin may have been invented in 1986 by William 'Broaddog' Thompson. Driving down the road, Thompson stopped at a friend's house and issued a challenge:

"On the first Saturday after Halloween," Broaddog said, "we're going to have a duel at high noon. We're going to see who can launch a pumpkin the farthest." His friends agreed, and the game was afoot. No, they weren't drunk.

That first November, three teams battled in front of 50 onlookers at Broaddog's farm near Gravel Hill, Delaware. Punkin chunkin continued there until, with ever longer tosses, pumpkins were launched into the woods, distances could no longer be measured and parking space dwindled to nothing.

Punkin chunkin then moved to Eagle Crest Airdome on Highway 1. After the 1997 contest, when the highway had to be closed each time a pumpkin was tossed, it was time to move again.

In 1998, punkin chunkin moved to its current location where, this year, 78 teams will compete before some 13,000 spectators. The millennial match is a big, well-organized deal, with competition in eight divisions: three youth divisions; a human-powered division, with machines cocked in two minutes using the power of one human; trebuchet; catapult; centrifugal, machines powered by motors spinning an arm in a circular motion; and launching, and air-powered cannons using compressed air.

Hyde and Webber were introduced to punkin chunkin at the 1999 Sussex County Fair. They went to see Little Feat in concert, but they saw a whole lot more.

"There were a few catapults and air cannons launching pumpkins trying to drum up interest," Hyde remembers, "One guy let me launch a two-liter bottle full of water. I saw how far that went, and I was hooked. I thought to myself, I'll see you boys later in the year."

In honor of the concert where they discovered punkin chunkin, Hyde and Shainoff named their machine Feats Don't Fail Me Now. The team was on its way, but a little behind schedule.

"Last year our machine wasn't ready until the day of the event," Hyde remembers. "We never fired it before the competition started. We didn't know if it would work or not."

The prototypical Feats Don't Fail Me Now worked. The team came in third among the 15 machines in the unlimited catapult division. This year they want to do even better.

"We kind of got the chunkin bug," says Hyde. "We went a little overboard this year. But this is close to what we first came up with. We designed it, then tinkered with it and then beefed it up some more."

The bigger and badder Feats Don't Fail Me Now uses a sailboat mast as a boom and is powered by custom-made springs that Hyde and Shainoff stretch hydraulically.

"Last year we used springs from Home Depot," Shainoff says. "This year we wanted a little more power."

More power is what they need. The 1999 World Championship team's punkin chunkin machine, The Big Ten Inch, a propane powered air gun, will be back to defend its title and better last year's winning distance of 3,694 feet. The all-time record is 4,026 feet. Event organizer Dawn Thompson, wife of Broaddog, thinks it will take a toss of 4,200 to 4,500 feet to win this year's contest.

What drives grown men and women to launch pumpkins great distances? It's not money or fame; it's something much more important.

The winner of each division gets an official Punkin Chunkin hat. But there's more. The team whose pumpkin travels the farthest wins the rights to the Big Ass Trophy for one year. Most important, the winner has bragging rights and can say 'I am the World Champion Punkin Chunker.' What more could a chunker ask for?

"Chunkers are all the same," says Dawn Thompson. "They like to have fun, but they put a lot of time, effort and energy into their machines. They all seem to get chunkin fever."

Hyde, Shainoff, Baldwin and Webber have caught the fever.

"This is the America's Cup of Punkin Chunkin," Hyde says. "We want to win our class, but we want to fight for the World Championship. We want to bring the Big Ass Trophy home to Annapolis."

-Chris Heagy\

In Season:
Bald Eagles
By Gary Pendleton

On a Calvert County back road in 1982, I was thrilled to see a pair of endangered bald eagles up close. I had never seen an eagle before, and I didn't own a bird book or a pair of binoculars. I had never been birding, but the large white-headed birds were instantly recognizable. That was 18 years, four binoculars and three bird books ago.

Eagle sightings are so common they are no longer remarkable to seasoned birders. On the other hand, most folks who have a pulse are still excited by the sight of an eagle in action.

Eagles were an endangered species in 1982, even though their numbers were on the rise and have increased steadily since. The pesticide DDT was linked to the near demise of eagles, osprey and brown pelicans. DDT was banned in the 1960s, and all have made significant comebacks.

On my first visit to Westmoreland State Park on Virginia's Northern Neck over the Columbus Day weekend, I was pleasantly surprised to run into old friends, and we camped together. At Westmoreland, the Potomac River is very wide, there are cliffs and the fossil hunting is good. We saw a lot of eagles catching fish from the river.

Returning from a walk along a wooded trail that skirts an open area of marsh and swamp, my friends enthusiastically reported seeing a pair of eagles consuming their catch from the perch of a dead snag adjacent to the trail. I found the spot without looking for it. I was walking along when I noticed the white wash of bird droppings covering the vegetation next to the path. I looked up into a break in the leafy canopy to see the bare skeleton of an old oak against the empty sky. There were no birds in sight, but their presence was strongly suggested, and I felt that familiar sense of excitement.

Selingers Senior Say Adios; Old Stein Stays

A German restaurant in Mayo? When Chesapeake Country is all for seafood? Yet Karl and Ursula Selinger founded their Old Stein Inn on Central Avenue 17 years ago, and ever since, citizens of Chespeake Country have been celebrating Oktoberfest all year long.

But now, we'll have to carry on the German tradition without them. This week the Selingers, who emigrated from Germany over 40 years ago, are on the move again. Emigrating once again, they're headed for Guadalajara, Mexico, to relax and enjoy life.

It's about time. At 65, Karl claims to have been unemployed only one day in his 51-year working life. That's the day he spent on holiday between leaving the U.S. Army and joining the Marriott Management training program. For many of the next 20 years, he and Ursula dreamed of having their own place. For five years, they searched throughout Maryland, D.C. and nearby Pennsylvania for just the right place. They wanted to own their building so that all efforts benefited his family. Finally, they found what they wanted on Central Avenue.

Beverly Beach and Trident Beach Karl remembers from his years as an MP at Walter Reed Army Medical Center as places where an entire carload could enjoy a day of good fun for two dollars. He saw them as places to set up a restaurant where people with hunger for European influences would feel comfortable. He wanted to recreate Germany so all could enjoy his country first hand. As Karl says, "find a need and fill it." And done that he has, from the décor of the building to the wurtz, wienerschnitzel and Jaeger chicken

When the Selingers opened their Old Stein, they had no thought of creating a family business that they would be passing along. As recently as four years ago, they thought of selling. But son Mike, about to graduate from college, asked to take a shot at managing the restaurant. Karl was thrilled, and the restaurant prospered. Mike's new ideas and energy have brought more business, forcing Karl to work harder rather than giving him a reprieve.

Enough! the senior Selingers said, and then passed the whole job of managing their Old Stein Inn on to Mike and his wife Beth.

Hard-earned relaxation awaits Karl and Ursula at Lake Chapala, and they plan to take it easy and discover what Mexico has to offer. If they tire of relaxing, they may take up a hobby, golf or volunteer work. Karl plans to do the things he has not had a chance to do while building a legacy, like read books and socialize.

For all who aspire to follow in their footsteps, Karl offers these parting words: "A business will take much hard, hard work and determination. If you have a vision and stick with it even in the bad times, you will do well. It is worth it, but never forget the hard work."

-Kathy Flaherty

Into the Marshes for Fall Cleaning

Up early the last Saturday of October along Route 261 just south of the Anne Arundel County line, a small band of stalwarts in colorful battle gear set out against the wretched refuse of their teeming shore.

Every spring and fall North Beach's Semi-Annual Marsh Clean-up Day converges with a particularly low Saturday tide. This season's clean-up coincided with the 10th Annual National Make a Difference Day. To which North Beach organizer Marc Goodman said, "cool."

North Beach Marsh Clean-up Day makes a difference locally. So much progress has been made in cleaning up years' accumulation of trash along the road that volunteers are establishing new fronts.

This year's beachhead was Forbidden Beach, a small Bayfront sand spread that takes its name from the odor of long-simmering garbage. Its source became clear when Bob McMahon emerged from a stand of tall reeds with two wooden bushels of fish skeletons. Perhaps the nearby Christmas popcorn container pock-marked with small slits once served as a stove for a seafood fry.

You never know what you'll find when you don high boots and wade out in the brackish water as Marc Goodman does every year. Up to his knees in marsh water, he came across a boat.

Among the items salvaged from past clean-ups have been a truck transmission, vehicle fuel tanks, carpeting, a mattress, a CO2 cylinder, countless tires and shoes, spent fireworks and hunting shells, a few pairs of panties and shirts, rotted phone poles and boats, and, yes, the proverbial kitchen sink. It's true that one man's trash is another man's treasure: A flower box salvaged in a previous year now adorns Marc Goodman's garden.

The cleaned-up marsh is regarded as such a town treasure that plans are on the drawing board for an educational marsh life center.

Thus the clean-up enjoys wide local support. The sponsoring North Beach House & Garden Club budgets funds for boots and bags. Town government gives both official and personal support, as Mayor Mark Frazer and Town Council members Chris Homan and Bob McMahon spear cans and cigarette butts. The Maryland State Highway Administration provides warning signs, bags, safety vests and protective gloves. Beacher Allan Wolf, an avid woodworker, has made special pointed poles for picking up paper and aluminum cans. Other volunteers bring crab nets and plastic leaf claws to reach and gather refuse.

-Patricia Kirby

In Deale, Downsizing Safeway?

As the leaves progress to their peak, revealing bold golds and intense, intoxicating reds, Carl Gutschick should be finished raking up the leaves blown into his yard by Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens. His Montgomery County firm was hired to clean up the yard at the proposed Deale Marketplace by November 3.

"Because of the controversial turns that this project has taken in the past nine months and the toll those decisions have had on the public's confidence," said Owens, "I have asked Gutschick, Little & Weber to review the proposal and give me their unbiased assessment."

Anne Arundel County taxpayers are paying $150 per hour for Gutschick's experience in engineering, surveying, land planning and landscape architecture. Two days before the county deadline, Gutschick said, "the review of code compliance is more than halfway complete. Although," he added, "I may need the weekend to prepare the information for review."

Owens says she has also prevailed on Safeway officials to reduce the size and scale of their proposed Deale Marketplace by about 12 percent, from 88,000 square feet to 77,000 square feet. "I have heard from residents both for and against a new grocery store, but few, I think, want a shopping center this size," said Owens. The Safeway store will remain 55,000 square feet, while other retail space would decrease by 10,000 square feet.

Size is only one leaf in the pile of issues that divide the community on the Deale Marketplace proposed to stand on the southwest corner of routes 256 and 258. Equally controversial are environmental consequences and traffic.

"The development of that land is totally at odds with the commitment that the state and county have made to stop sprawl and pollution that is harming the Chesapeake Bay," said Amanda Spake, speaking for the South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development. SACReD is one of the citizen groups vocally opposing the development. "The size of the project will not only overwhelm the town but the small watersheds as well," she added.

Size is just a leaf in the wind to Deale businesswoman Claire Mallicote, who's emerged as the unofficial spokeswoman for Safeway supporters. "Everyone needs a grocery store. The town center needs an anchor, and Safeway is it," said Mallicote. An owner of property adjacent to the Safeway site, Mallicote is also agitated over what she sees as a violation of property owners' rights and the economic growth of the community. "I invested money in this town," she said, "because I knew it would develop into something great one day."

Unless Carl Gutschick finds that the county has erred in approving Safeway's plans, size may well be the last issue to be decided before construction begins on Deale Marketplace.

"No matter how much we as individuals may not like it, the bottom line is that the property owner's proposal complies with the zoning established by the county council and it has the approval of all the necessary state and federal agencies," said Denis Canavan, director of Office Planning and Zoning, who said he is "poised to approve" the plan.

Still, opponents say more leaves will drop at the proposed site.

Ron Wolfe, chairman of the Deale-Shady Side Small Area Planning Committee, says "It is time to step back and reconsider the whole thing. But, if it is authorized, the public protest is sure to grow and it will go to court."

SACReD hopes to prove that the residential zoning of the proposed parcel that will house the floodwater management system is enough to halt this project. In the meantime, SACReD intends to present Safeway officials with the option of selling the site to a "wetland bank" as an alternative to development. Should Gutschick deem the proposed site plan error free, SACReD will appeal immediately, said Spake. "We will fight this every step of the way."

Meanwhile, at Safeway, director of store development Tom Castleberry said, "We don't know what an engineer can determine in 10 days in reviewing work that's taken 10 years. That said," he sighed, "we just have to wait and see what happens November 3."

-Jennifer A. Dawicki

Way Downstream ...

In California, a radio ad goes like this: "The National Oceanographic and Space Agency reports that the hole in the ozone layer has doubled in size due to all the hair spray used by Sen. Dianne Feinstein over many, many years." The ad, which Feinstein did not find humorous, was sponsored by Green Party Senate candidate Media Benjamin ...

Elsewhere in California, a San Jose Mercury News editorial said this to followers of Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader: "We won't try to unconvert the Nader faithful. We'll just note that if Gore loses California by less than 5 percentage points, and Nader takes 5 percent, the Green Party will have handed the least green candidate 54 of the 270 electoral votes he needs to set up residence in the White House"...

In Missouri, a former Army Corps of Engineers project manager pleaded guilty last week to attempting to solicit over a half-million dollars in bribes for helping companies win millions of dollars in contracts. The Corps official, Steven Lemons, was caught in an FBI sting after he tried to shake down companies ...

Our Creature Feature comes from southern Washington state, where researchers believe they discovered unmistakeable evidence of a sasquatch, otherwise known as Bigfoot. Anthropologists say they found a clear impression of the elusive hairy creature, about nine feet tall, in a mud wallow on Sept. 22. They also found hair and recorded eerie howls that none of the researchers had heard before, according to the Denver Post.

When they played the recorded sounds into the night, they about jumped out of their boots when something responded. "The guys closest to it were petrified," said Matthew Moneymaker, who heads the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization....

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Bay Weekly