The Giant Pumpkin Throwdown

local friends’ challenge to grow the biggest pumpkin

Ben Rueter, photos by Andrea Paulseth

“It was one of those 20 below zero January nights,” says Eau Claire City Court Commissioner, Tim Adler. He needed something to get him out of the house during those dark months of winter. So Adler decides to get up, buy some pumpkin seeds, distribute them to some of his close friends, and have everyone meet up in October to see who the pumpkin-growing master is. Hey, it’s one way to kill the doldrum months of a Wisconsin winter.

“It was either that or growing zucchini, and who is interested in growing zucchini?” said Adler.

This is the first year Adler has held the competition, and it all comes to a close on October 1, when the pumpkin growers will meet at an undisclosed location and weigh their pumpkins.

The rules of the event are simple: everyone involved has to throw in $5. The person who grows the heaviest pumpkin will receive half of the pot, second heaviest receives 30 percent, and the rest goes to the most interesting pumpkin-growing story.

But growing pumpkins is about as exciting as, well, watching pumpkins grow. What Adler and others are finding enjoyable is the stories and light competitive nature of the event. Some of the growers have been pretty open about their pumpkins’ growth, while others, are “hiding in the weeds,” as Adler puts it. 

“(Adler’s) got a couple that are the size of beach balls,” says Bernie Hoefgen, another pumpkin grower in the group. “I think some other people have bigger ones. So expect them to get to at least 200 to 300 pounds.”

But, 300 pounds is nothing compared to the world record that was set last year in New Richmond, WI, where one came in at 1810.5 pounds. Whether or not any of the Eau Claire growers aim to top that, it shows that they or the pumpkins have a lot of growing to do. Maybe it’s something in the ole’ Wisconsin dirt.

In order for the pumpkins to get gargantuan, the growers have some complex strategies, while others are letting nature do the work. Adler, for instance, erected a tent over the pumpkin to give it the perfect growing atmosphere. Hoefgen says that the participants are not trying to tell lies, but some interesting stories have been cropping up, whether or not they are true. Every Friday morning the group gets together, drinks coffee, shares stories about their pumpkins, and enjoys each other’s company. 

“We are having a lot of fun. We’re trying not tell too many lies about it,” says Hoefgen. “There have been a couple of interesting stories flying around like people saying they lost theirs and they found them and they were the size of basketballs.”

Hoefgen says that he has a vine on his pumpkin that is about 38 feet long. He’s shooting for 50 feet by the end of September.

This is the first year of the competition and Adler and Hoefgen have expressed interest throwing another pumpkin grow-off next year. 

“People seem to indicate that next year we will have more people that will want to get into the contest,” says Adler.

On October 1 we’ll see if the Eau Claire area can top New Richmond’s freak pumpkin. And if not, well, there’s always next year.