In Episode 323 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger get medieval in Greenfield, New Hampshire, where we go searching for Yankee Siege – a world record-holding roadside oddity trebuchet that left its mark launching pumpkins over a quarter of a mile.
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RAY: There’s not many leaves left on the trees here in southern New Hampshire.
JEFF: No, Ray. Now that it’s November, the season is changing. Halloween is behind us, Thanksgiving is coming up. But there’s still plenty of fall things to do.
RAY: Sure. Pretty soon we’ll be holiday baking.
JEFF: Got a favorite pie?
RAY: Pumpkin. Hands down. Then maybe Boston Cream Pie, and then cheesecake… that counts as a pie, right?
JEFF: Sure? (LAUGHING) But I’m with you on the pumpkin pie. For me it’s a tie between apple pie and pumpkin pie. And pumpkins are the reason we’re driving up Route 31 just south of Greenfield, New Hampshire today.
RAY: There’s plenty of farm fields around us right now. Is there a pumpkin patch nearby?
JEFF: There could be… but that’s not quite why we’re here. We’re searching for a place where pumpkins came to die in a truly spectacular way. We’re searching for where large groups of people watched as some local farmers went medieval on some helpless pumpkins. Grab your suit of armor, Ray. We’re in Greenfield, New Hampshire to go punkin’ chunkin’!
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger and welcome to Episode 323 of the New England Legends Podcast.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Thanks for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. We love all things weird, haunted, monstrous, and out of this world. And we love when you tell a friend or two about our show and when you post a review. That’s how our audience grows and how we get new story leads.
JEFF: Also, the free New England Legends app is back for both Android and iPhone! Thanks to Lauren Middleton who developed the app for us. You can get access to all of our episodes plus an interactive map to help you see each of these stories for yourself. Download it today in your app store.
RAY: We’ll go looking for some medieval pumpkins right after this word from our sponsor.
RAY: Okay, Jeff, I’m still trying to get my head around farmers going medieval on some pumpkins. What are we looking for?
JEFF: I get it. This is a strange one that combines medieval technology, Yankee ingenuity, and a healthy dose of humor with an epic roadside oddity. Okay, we just passed New Boston Road, so we’re going to pull over just up there on the right just off the shoulder.
RAY: Okay, there’s room for a car over here. I can see a no trespassing sign, and just up ahead on this dirt road I see a wrought iron gate and some rusted castle-like structures on either side of the gate.
[CAR STOPS DOORS CLOSE]
JEFF: This is the spot, Ray. And if you look just over there you can see what we came here looking for.
RAY: It’s a strange looking contraption. It’s got a frame like an upside-down V, it sits on four large metal wheels, and it’s got a tall metal spire at the top that looks like it’s at least 50 or 60 feet tall, and at the bottom is some kind of large basket.
JEFF: THAT is a trebuchet. It’s a specific type of catapult.
RAY: Okay… looking that up… The almighty internet says a trebuchet is a war machine invented during the Middle Ages around 1400 A.D. It was designed to throw heavy stones against walls and enemy armies. It’s tall, incredibly heavy, and requires hundreds of strong men to move it into a firing position. Okay, so it’s like a catapult, but it uses counter weights to throw whatever is in the basket long distances.
JEFF: Right. So THAT trebuchet over there was designed for throwing vegetables. And it did its job so well, it’s a world record holder.
RAY: You’re kidding.
JEFF: Nope. To see it in action, let’s head back to the year 2004 and observe.
RAY: It’s the summer of 2004 here in Greenfield, New Hampshire. “Leave / Get Out” by JoJo is the number one song on the charts. The economy is doing well, but still, people are always looking for a distraction.
JEFF: And so is Steve Seigars. He and his family own and run The Yankee Farmer. It’s a farm stand and nursery here in Greenfield. He’s always looking for ways to draw in more customers. So one day he’s watching a PBS special on old medieval weapons. Specifically trebuchets. Though Steve isn’t an engineer, he’s handy. He thinks it could be fun to building something like that. So he gets to work.
[HAMMERING ON METAL UNDER NEXT FEW LINES]
JEFF: And pretty soon the idea catches on with his family and his neighbors.
RAY: In the coming weeks and months, Steve studies the design. He gathers materials – mostly steel — and construction continues.
[HAMMERING / DRILLING]
RAY: He adds four giant metal wheels to roll this medieval weapon. The machine itself is ten feet tall and weighs 26 tons. The throwing arm is over 60 feet tall, and the counterweight basket is filled with ten tons of rocks. When the machine is finished, Steve christens it: Yankee Siege.
JEFF: That’s a great name.
RAY: It is. It’s now October of 2005, and his farm stand has quite the roadside attraction. In an empty field across the road from his farm, Steve plans to launch… well… STUFF.
JEFF: What kinds of stuff?
RAY: If you’ve got a machine that can launch anything, why limit yourself?
JEFF: I suppose.
RAY: Couches, TV sets, a refrigerator. Anything is fair game if it fits in the launching basket. But there’s one projectile that gets the most traction.
JEFF: This roadside attraction is a hit. Dozens, then hundreds flock to this empty field to witness the display and… the launch… Let’s watch.
RAY: Okay, the trebuchet is loaded. They’ve used some ropes and pullies to lock down the basket into place. We’re standing maybe 100 feet away with a crowd as one of the staff is getting ready to pull the rope…
JEFF/RAY: That was amazing! Wow!
JEFF: Okay, there’s a castle looking structure way on the other side of the field. That pumpkin was launched over 100 feet high and made a distance of over 1,200 feet! That’s almost a quarter of a mile!
RAY: As word spreads, people are stopping by from miles around to see Yankee Siege do its thing. And business for the farm stand? Well, business is booming.
JEFF: Of course! There isn’t much else around here. So people see the launch, then buy something from the stand. It’s a business plan as old as time. Give people a reason to come by, and they’ll likely buy something.
RAY: So the Yankee Siege has been launching pumpkins for a few years now when Steve Seigars catches wind that other people around the country are also launching pumpkins. In fact, there’s an annual pumpkin launching competition in Delaware.
JEFF: From here we jump ahead to November of 2009. It’s the Punkin’ Chunkin’ World Championship! The Science Channel is covering the event, and the folks in Greenfield know they need to haul this beast of a machine down to Delaware. There’s a world record that needs breaking…
[TRUCK DRIVING DOWN THE HIGHWAY]
RAY: So the Seigars haul Yankee Siege down to Delaware and reassemble their imposing machine that towers above all the other entries. Finally… it’s their turn to launch…. The nine-pound pumpkin is loaded in. (BEAT)
JEFF/RAY: Woah! Look at that thing fly…
JEFF: By the time the pumpkin lands it’s 2,034 feet away. A new world record and more than a third of a mile. No one else in the competition even comes close.
RAY: And frankly the other trebuchets look like toys compared to the Yankee Siege.
JEFF: With the competition won, Yankee Siege is loaded back home for Greenfield, New Hampshire, where it goes back to work launching Granite State pumpkins. And that brings us back to today.
RAY: Yankee Siege brought in visitors for about a decade and a half. There were regular demonstrations on the weekends in October, but the trebuchet was shut down for good in June of 2019. Steve Seigars retired, and the farm moved on.
JEFF: So today Yankee Siege sits there rusting behind those castle gates. You can only view it from the side of the road. But there was a time when it launched pumpkins a quarter of a mile away. A roadside oddity built by a farmer who took his attraction to a world-wide level. I mean if you’re going to build a trebuchet, why not building it bigger and better than all the rest?
RAY: Those pumpkin never stood a chance…
RAY: And that brings us to After the Legends where we take a long look at this week’s story and sometimes misfire.
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To see some pictures of Yankee Siege and a YouTube video to watch it in action, click on the link in the episode description or head to our Web site and click on Episode 323.
If you’ve got a story you think we should check out, please reach out to us anytime through our Web site. Most of our story leads come from you, so please do speak up. Don’t assume we’ve heard the story. Our Web site is also the place you can find links to buy Jeff’s latest book The Fright Before Christmas, the 2024 Haunted New England calendar, and see dates for Jeff’s story tour and to see my band the Pub Kings. Also be sure to download our New England Legends app for your smart phone, and subscribe and share our episodes! We count on you to grow.
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Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think!