BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — TOPSFIELD — The All New England Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off at the Topsfield Fair will forever be known as the contest where the world’s first one-ton pumpkin was weighed, as Ron Wallace of Greene, R.I., shattered a world record set at a fair in Deerfield, N.H., just 24 hours before.
Wallace’s pumpkin managed to beat back a challenge from one grown in Topsfield by Woodrow “Woody” Lancaster, whose personal best of 1,649 pounds held the top spot for all of five minutes before Wallace’s pumpkin was lifted by a forklift onto the scale.
“If you are going to get beat,” Lancaster said, “get beat big.”
“It took six years to get back, but I’m back, baby,” yelled Wallace, pumping his fist with his thumb out as he stood atop the pallet that contained his 2,009 pounder.
A throng of press and spectators gathered around as Wallace celebrated at the end of Friday night’s weigh-off. All night, people posed with the behemoth that sat at the far end of the fairground’s arena, with members of the New England Pumpkin Growers Association and others saying measurements were off the charts and foretold this could be the big one.
“It’s a great world record,” said the general manager of America’s oldest agricultural fair, James O’Brien. “Topsfield has had a lot of world records, but this one is special. This is absolutely one of the top sites in the country where you can come and weigh-off a pumpkin.” There have been seven world record giant pumpkins weighed at Topsfield in the last 15 years, O’Brien said.
Before his pumpkin was weighed, Wallace said his chances were good, and he was not nervous about it weighing a ton.
“By the measurements, it has a chance, but there is not much information on pumpkins this big, so who knows what it weighs, so,” Wallace said. Wallace had an inkling by the middle of August he had grown something special.
“Let’s hope it weighs more than a small car,” he said.
“Ronnie said, ‘it’s not over until it’s on the scale,’” said his mother Cathy, also of Greene, R.I. “You can think all you want, measure it, it’s not over until it’s on the scale.”
Wallace’s pumpkin shattered the Topsfield Fair’s previous record of 1,689 pounds weighed in 2007 by Joe Jutras of North Scituate, R.I. His pumpkin had once held the world record.
Jutras, who wore a yellow cap and a jacket with the number “1,689” embroidered on the sleeve, stood by at Friday’s weigh-off, but he did not bring an entry with him.
“I just had a bad year, I lost it,” Jutras said. “Neglect more than anything, I’m afraid. Too much time fishing and not enough time growing pumpkins.”
Wallace last held the world record with a 1,502 pounder weighed in 2006 in Rhode Island. But Jutras beat his record the following year. Last night’s victory was Wallace’s second at the Topsfield Fair weigh-off, having broken the fair’s record with a 1,347-pound giant pumpkin also weighed in 2006.
Wallace managed to pulverize a world record of 1,843.5 pounds set by Steve Geddes of Boscawen, N.H. on Thursday, according to the website BigPumpkins.com.
“Two thousand and nine, where are those checks,” said O’Brien as he climbed atop tables and posed with Wallace and his father Richard, also of Greene, R.I. All three posed with two over-sized checks totaling $15,500: A $5,500 check for winning first place in the competition, and another $10,000 bounty for bringing the largest pumpkin weighing more than 2,000 pounds to the competition. Last night’s contest had a total of $24,000 in prize money for giant pumpkin growers.
Wallace’s pumpkin was the last to be weighed as the tension mounted all evening about whether it would break the 2,000-pound mark. Richard Wallace was fearful that the pumpkin might not weigh enough to shatter the one-ton mark.
“It was a great seed,” he said. “We used that same seed last year to grow a pumpkin almost as big but we lost it in the patch.” Of the secret of growing the giant cucurbit, he said, “I attribute it to the weather, the seed and Ronnie has an excellent program where we constantly monitor the balance of the soil, all the nutrients are balanced correctly.”
Turns out, the runner up was a homegrown giant. For a few minutes, at least, Lancaster received rock star treatment for his personal best of 1,649 pounds.
“This was my easiest year ever. I had a new patch, it was pretty much weed free,” said Lancaster, who lives in downtown Topsfield. He said a fresh pumpkin patch this year made all the difference.
“He took down his kids’ swimming pool this year to grow it,” O’Brien said. “It’s not big farms. It’s not big acreage, it’s people growing these things in their backyard, and it’s a hobby and they are passionate about it and that’s what it is.”
Lancaster, who works as a maintenance supervisor for the Topsfield Housing Authority, said his prior record of 1,247 pounds had once placed him as high as eighth in the competition.
“I think Ronnie’s got me, but I’m glad I got second,” Lancaster said even before Wallace’s pumpkin was weighed.
Another local grower who weighed his personal best with a 1,543.5 pound pumpkin was Armand Michaud of Ipswich.
“God gave us good weather all year,” Michaud said.
Last night’s record at the Topsfield Fair may not last long, however.
Richard Wallace said his son may have an even bigger one at home he plans to weigh at Frerichs Farm in Warren, R.I., the site of the Southern New England Giant Pumpkin Growers annual weigh-off. Still, the Wallaces are glad to have broken the record in Topsfield.
“We like Topsfield. It’s one of the first weigh-offs we ever went to,” Richard Wallace said. “And we like the people that run the weigh-off.”
The world record pumpkin will be on display at the fair through Columbus Day.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.