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Mid-City Steel Helps Granite State Resident Catapult to Top

Fri November 20, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

Take one New Hampshire dentist, a farm stand that needed some publicity, a candy store of steel and an ancient method of warfare, and you have a most unusual formula to create a world record for catapulting pumpkins.

Five years ago, Steve Seigars, a Greenfield, N.H., resident who practices dentistry a hundred miles away in Dartmouth, Mass., wanted to pump up some publicity for his family’s Yankee Farmer vegetable stand in the appropriately named Greenfield.

“Among other vegetables, we sell pumpkins in the fall,” said Seigars. “About a dozen years ago, I saw a program on NOVA on the ’Trebuchet.’ That’s a French word, which means ’overthrow.’ They had a French team and an American team.”

A mock castle was constructed on the program, and the teams took shots at it with the Trebuchet, classified as the catapult. “They threw rocks at the castle wall, with what we call ’Siege Engines,’ filled with 200- to 300-pound boulders, in effect, to break the castle walls and gain entry,” he said. “After seeing it on the show, I thought it would be a good promotional thing for the farm stand in the fall, to give a professional demonstration.”

Seigars and his family decided not to use traditional materials — like wood and hemp — but mostly steel. “That’s where Mid-City Steel came in,” said Seigars.

A Steel Candy Store

Mid-City Steel is a fascinating warehouse annex and surrounding yard of used (and some new) steel, a heavy metal dream at 190 State Road, (Route 6), Westport, Mass., which has been open for more than 17 years. Paul Aguiar has been sales manager, purchase manager and general manager of Mid-City for 10 of those. He was fascinated by Seigars the moment he walked into his used, surplus, discount steel yard with a dress shirt and tie.

“I found him interesting from the beginning,” said Aguiar of Seigars. “Usually, where I work, there are dirty guys, garage guys, welders, builders. This guy walked into our annex with a tie, a nice shirt, nice pants, nice shoes, and then he started to trail in the mud, looking for steel. I said to myself, ’I don’t think this guy belongs here.’ ”

Seigars asked if Aguiar could help him build his Trebuchet. He did. “And now, I see him getting steel every year,” he said.

“It’s a big place,” said Seigars. “Mid-City Steel is like a candy store for buyers of used steel. I found this great place where I can pop over on my lunch hour, pick up what I want and have it delivered. It has the biggest selection of steel in the area. If you need to build something right away, that’s the place to go.”

Seigars’ full-size Trebuchet took two years to build with the help of his construction team family, Patrick, Michael and Kathy Seigars, consultant Chuck Willard of Hancock, N.H., welder David Webb of American Steel of Greenfield, machinist Paul Gingras of Mattapoisett, Mass., and builder Kerry Smith of Hancock, with crane service provided by American Steel.

“Eight years ago, we had to put 2,000 hours into it to build it full size,” said Seigars.

The machine is more than 60 ft. (18.3 m) high and the throwing arm, in its relaxed position, is 62 ft. (18.9 m) in length. It weighs more than 26 tons (23.6 t). There is an I-beam for the main frame and Seigars bought pipes for the huge wheels and bought more I-beams for the throwing arm. “I also bought solid steel shafts, main axles for the throwing arm,” he added.

The pumpkins sit in a pouch made of synthetic material. “We call it a sling, but it is really a pouch,” said Seigars. All together, said the builder, materials and labor totaled $50,000 over that two-year period.

World Records

Seigars smiled at his first attempts to throw pumpkins. “When we first were trying it out, it took a while to tune the machine,” he said. “The first shot went straight up. The second shot brought the trajectory down a bit. The pumpkin went well over 1,000 feet on the third shot. We were surprised. We didn’t think we’d throw it quite that far.”

With the Trebuchet completed, crowds began drawing to Yankee Farmer. Seigars returned to Mid-City Steel for an entirely different reason.

“We set up a little theme park at Yankee Farmer. We made a lot of things out of steel. We got a very heavy anchor chain to make a medieval chain fence. We bought 600 feet of that,” added Seigars. “It’s a massive chain. Each link is 80-something pounds.”

More surprises followed. The family and friends soon learned that they were not alone.

“It turned out, we didn’t know there was a world competition, throwing pumpkins this way,” said Seigars. “Two years after we built the machine, someone told us, ’You know, they have a world competition each year in Delaware.’ We found out that the world record was 1,150 feet. It turned out, that was with an 8- to 10-pound pumpkin. We were throwing a 50-pound pumpkin further than that.”

How far? For the last five years, Yankee Farmer and his siege engines have either broken or held the world record for pumpkin catapulting, currently at a whopping 1,897 ft. (578 m).

“In the meantime, we modified the Trebuchet further,” said Seigars. “We got it to go further and further. We put another $50,000 into it.”

The comment he most often hears is: “Why would you build such a huge machine to throw anything?”

He just laughs. “It increased sales of pumpkins twenty-fold,” added Seigars. “So, it draws people and our original intention was to draw people.”

’Thrown Just About Everything’

Pumpkins flying from the Trebuchet are now an annual event at Yankee Farmer in Greenfield. The public “oohs” and “aahs” every Saturday and Sunday from mid-September through Halloween.

On Nov. 1, the family took it apart in 24 major pieces for the 500-mi. trip from New Hampshire to Delaware for the competition. “It’s not easy to transport,” said Seigars in typical understatement. “It takes four trucks to move it: A tractor-trailer truck, a farm truck, a pick-up truck with a full trailer and one more pick-up truck. It takes more than four hours to take apart and five hours to put back together.”

Pumpkins are the official object of thrust, but, “We’ve thrown just about everything with it,” said Seigars. “We’ve thrown rocks, refrigerators, couches, TVs; you name it, just to see how they will fly. The only permit we need to get is if we throw something flammable. We’ve thrown flaming logs, even flaming pianos.”

When the Seigars return from Delaware each year, the Trebuchet sits on a trailer all winter long, waiting to be put together, sometime in spring. “It’s for rent,” laughed Seigars. The media world has noticed. The family and its machine have been featured in newspapers and on Web sites, on CNN, The History Channel, the Discovery Channel, the Country Music Television, Boston Chronicle, New Hampshire Chronicle and many more.

Beyond the entertainment value, the world records and publicity for the farm stand, the machine has an educational purpose. “We teach math and physics classes with it to students. It’s basic engineering,” said Seigars. Each year, there are adaptations and for that, the dentist returns to Mid-City, where Aguiar awaits.

“He says, ’Can you repair my catapult?’ I see him every season to get steel,” said Aguiar. “He’s interesting to me.” Aguiar loves it when customers search for the extraordinary.

“We have big train wheels that customers use for moorings for their boats,” he said. “They use railroad tracks for weights. We have big stud-link chains to hold down nets for lobster pots. I sold some to the fishermen on that new show, ’The Lobstermen.’ I’ve seen the chains they bought on the show.”

It’s this extraordinary customer service that is Aguiar’s pride. “I know it sounds corny, but we go above and beyond to have the best customer service. Corny, but it’s true.”

Especially when it is pumpkins going above and beyond the corn in Greenfield.

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