Campus engineering students organize cantaloupe chukin' competition

April 11, 2012

An ancient siege machine will be the focus of an intramural competition between Penn State New Kensington and the Penn State Electro-Optics Center that is set for 2 p.m. Sunday, April 15, on Easy Street in Upper Burrell, Pa.

Engineering students at the New Kensington campus challenged veteran engineers at the Electro-Optics Center, a defense technology company managed by Penn State, to a Cantaloupe Chunkin' contest. The concept is based on the Punkin’ Chunkin’ world championships that are broadcast by the Science Channel. Each side is designing and building a trebuchet, a type of catapult that works by using the energy of a raised counterweight to throw the projectile.

“It’s all about fostering relationships between New Kensington students and EOC engineers,” said Michael McCabe, a first-year adult learner in the Electro-Mechanical Engineering Technology program. “And it is fun getting the students together and building a catapult.”

Medieval crusaders used the trebuchet to hurl boulders for destruction of castle walls. Punkin' Chunkin' enthusiasts use it to hurl pumpkins for distance. The Penn State rivals will use it to hurl cantaloupes for accuracy.

“I know that catapults and trebuchets usually launch pumpkins, but in the middle of April, we figured they wouldn't be in season so we decided on cantaloupes,” said McCabe, the event organizer. “The focus will be on accuracy, trying to hit a manmade target.”

The campus trebuchet is currently under construction by 12 students from the Engineering Club. When complete, it will be over 10-feet tall and 12-feet long and will support a 500-pound counter weight. The machine should be capable of launching a cantaloupe over 150 yards at a target on a 40-foot incline. The teams will get seven shots, and the distance of each shot from the target determines the score. The best five shots will be used to determine the lowest score and to declare a champion.

“There will be some kind of trophy,” said McCabe, president of the engineering club, “but it is all about bragging rights and having fun.”

EOC took up the challenge after the campus students drew upon the customs of the trebuchet’s medieval linage. They “threw down the gauntlet” by sending a signed cantaloupe to the Penn State-affiliated company.

McCabe’s team comprises Zach Montgomery, who emerged as a leader in the building of the trebuchet, Katelyn Reed, Josh Marfin, Melissa Daugherty, Christian Woyt, Navarre Statam, Thamy Ferreira, Tyler Leatherwood and Bill Staniszewski.

“Whether the competition works or fails, I am impressed with the club members,” McCabe said. “There are a lot of smart students in the engineering program.”

The construction and competition site is a trebuchet’s throw from the New Kensington campus, The site, owned by one of the student team members, sits at the end of Easy Street, which is two-tenths a mile west of the campus and off state Rt. 780. The family is building a new home on the site and agreed to let the students use the farm land for the catapult challenge.

“There are two immutable rules for the competition,” McCabe laughed. “Be safe and don’t hit the house.”

A native of Philadelphia who now resides in Shadyside, McCabe enrolled in the engineering program after earning a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from West Chester University in eastern Pennsylvania.

“I decided that an engineering degree would be more valuable than my nutrition degree,” said McCabe, who recently earned an internship at National Signal Technology Inc. in Pittsburgh.

For more information, contact McCabe at via email.


  • The 'unarmed' trebuchet awaits completion by engineering students at Penn State New Kensington.

    IMAGE: Bill Woodard

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 12, 2012