YUTAN – At this time of year, pumpkins are usually carved into spooky jack-o-lanterns of turned into delicious desserts. But in Yutan, pumpkins are on wheels.
The first Yutan Pumpkin Derby pitted the orange squash against one another in a race to see who could get down the ramp the fastest. But really, the goal was to teach fundamentals of science, technology, engineering and math, according to organizer Dusty Reynolds.
Reynolds and fellow Yutan resident and parent Todd Baker put their heads together to bring this event to the community. They heard about the concept during an event in Fremont, and began planning months ago.
“Todd and I were talking about how we could help small towns get interested in engineering and STEM,” Reynolds said.
They not only had to schedule the event, but they also wanted to make it easy for kids and their parents or guardians to build the pumpkins. So they designed and built kits that included wheels and axles to make the pumpkins roll. They gathered surplus shopping cart wheels and bought axles online. The kits cost only $10 and the kids can keep them for next year, Reynolds said.
They also procured pumpkins from a local grower, Charlie Lorenz. Reynolds said there is a certain variety of pumpkin that works best for making a derby car, and Lorenz had a limited amount of them. They are hoping to persuade the farmer to grow more next year, he added.
Reynolds and Baker turned a 100-pound monster pumpkin donated by Joe Vandenack of Yutan into a rolling advertisement for the pumpkin derby. Reynolds said it was quite a feat to get wheels on the massive vegetable, which sat in front of a downtown Yutan business to promote the event.
Reynolds and Baker set up a build day a few days before the derby, and invited the kids and their parents to work together to build. Reynolds said it was exciting to see so many girls and boys working with their mothers and fathers.
It was also exciting to see the families starting to grasp certain concepts of science and how tiny changes can affect the outcome.
“One guy had his own laser to make sure everything was running parallel,” said Reynolds.
Once the pumpkins were set on the axles and wheels, it was up to the kids to decorate them. Glitter, paint, fabric and cardboard employed to create spiders, dinosaurs, lawn mowers, movie characters, unicorns and glitter bombs.
On Oct. 30, the children gathered in the Yutan Elementary School gym for the derby. Reynolds and Baker had originally planned to hold the event outside, but cold weather that day forced them inside.
With a wooden ramp set up and hay bales to catch the speeding squash, the derby brackets were set. Children were separated into three categories based on the size of their pumpkins.
Twenty-four children participated in the derby, which was a great turnout, Reynolds said. Organizers were particularly excited to see that more than half were girls, and many mothers participated as well.
“Girls and moms working together, that was something encouraging to see,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds said there were some hiccups the first year, but overall the event was a success. They will build on their experience to make next year’s derby even better, he added.
“Our assumption is moving forward that next year will be a lot easier,” he said.
There was a lot of positive feedback from parents and kids about the pumpkin derby. The success is spurring Reynolds and Baker to create more STEM-centered events in Yutan, he said.
“This was to gauge interest in this type of STEM-related learning,” he said.
They are hoping to organize four or five different events throughout the school year. They are already working with the school district to ensure their activities align with the curriculum. The Yutan PTO is also on board to help with future events.
“Our hope is, given the response we had, that this is something we can grow,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds has observed that Yutan residents were very receptive to the pumpkin derby and other similar activities since he and his family moved here about 18 months ago. It’s part of the community DNA, he said.
“They have a deep appreciation for someone who volunteers to do something for the community,” he said.
Winners of the pumpkin derby were as follows: Small pumpkins – Everett Griffith, medium pumpkins, Charlie Daniels, large pumpkins, Lando Baker.
Daniels’ “Starlight” pumpkin was also chosen as the best decorated. Second place went to Maxton Chittendin for his spider pumpkin and Alec Wacker’s Tin Man took third place.
Prizes included Bakers Candies for those earning second and third place in the races and for the best decorated pumpkins. The winners in the three categories received $50 gift cards from Fat Brain Toys.