TOPSFIELD — History was made Friday in Topsfield. Ron Wallace of Greene, R.I., became the first person to grow a 1-ton pumpkin, shattering the world record at the giant pumpkin weigh-off at the Topsfield Fair. It is the largest fruit ever grown.
There had been a huge amount of buzz about Wallace's pumpkin, "The Freak II," leading into the Topsfield Fair, which is considered the Super Bowl of pumpkin weigh-offs. So when the gourd finally made it to the scale, it could not have been more exciting. The digital readout danced around the 2,000-pound mark as handlers moved it into position on the scale and removed the straps used to hoist it.
When the dust settled, the scale read 2,009 pounds, and Wallace erupted.
"Ron Wallace is back!" he yelled again and again, pounding his chest. "Ron Wallace is back! It took six years, but I'm back!"
The 2,000-pound barrier is the giant pumpkin equivalent of the four-minute mile. It was so elusive that Topsfield offered a $10,000 bonus for the first grower to break it.
Wallace's record comes just a day after a pumpkin at the Deerfield Fair in New Hampshire moved the world record to 1,843.5 pounds.
Until recently, many considered a ton to be an impossibility. Some thought the structure of the pumpkin could not support the weight; others thought it simply impossible to grow 2,000 pounds in one growing season, starting from a single tiny seed.
The 1,000-pound barrier was not broken until the year 2000, and it took all of pumpkin history to get that far. The thought of going farther, to hit the heaviest word we use in colloquial speech — a ton — seemed too much. It would mean doubling something already dangerously huge; there didn't seem any way the pumpkin could structurally support itself. Certainly no one thought they'd be having this conversation in just 12 years.
But as the weigh-off kicked off Friday night, all eyes were on Wallace, a well-known grower who has been the talk of the pumpkin world since he hosted many growers for a tour of his patch in Greene in August. At that time, he had two huge pumpkins, and when he arrived at Topsfield with one — "The Freak II" — it was visibly larger than the rest of the field. Estimate charts showed it might indeed weigh more than a ton.
The chief difference between the 1,000-pound barrier and the 2,000-pound barrier, growers say, is the Internet. With it, mistakes were shared and avoided, techniques spilled because half the fun is bragging, and the whole thing opened up to everyone. As a group, growers simply got better at it. Weights have raced forward every year. The world record almost always falls. In 2006 at Topsfield, Wallace was the first to break 1,500, and the next year nine people beat that. They pushed. They pollinated earlier and took risks.
Pumpkin growers live uneasily until the pumpkin hits the scale. Anything can happen at any point in the season: Only an estimated 50 percent survive to maturity, because of the extreme growing conditions. Once they start adding weight, slow growing is a pound an hour.
Weigh-in day is one of the most precarious, as they try to get their pumpkins out of their gardens, to the fair, and onto the scales. Earlier in the evening, a disaster happened – the first anyone could remember at a weigh-off – when a pumpkin slipped out of the straps holding it in place and crashed from the forklift to the ground, cracking open like Humpty Dumpty. It was carried onto the scale – it took six men to lift its largest piece – where it weighed in at 822 pounds. "It was just a small pumpkin," said its grower, Barry LeBlanc of Merrimack, N.H., "so now at least I get to live in infamy."
As the weigh-in got down to the monsters — there were a handful over 1,500 pounds — Wallace was visibly panicked. He paced back and forth in the dusty ring, away from the crowds, stopping to take the occasional congratulations, but mostly keeping to himself.
Woody Lancaster, a Topsfield grower and crowd favorite, owned the penultimate pumpkin to be weighed, and he shattered his personal best by more than 400 pounds with his 1,649-pound pumpkin.
But Wallace knew his was bigger. Or at least it was supposed to be. They use estimate charts to predict the weight, but "you never know until it's on the scale," Wallace said repeatedly. Some pumpkins are "balloons" and go light.
When the numbers stopped moving and 2,009 was locked in the history books forever, Wallace stuck his finger in the air and his eyes welled up with tears. He pulled his father, Dick, in for an emotional hug.
In addition to the orange ribbon, a place in the history books, and the $10,000 bonus, Wallace won $5,500 for finishing first.
Ron Wallace is indeed back. And next Saturday, he will be back again with his other giant pumpkin, which is nicknamed "The Pleasure Dome." He's taking that one to a weigh-off at Frerichs Farm in Warren, R.I. And he thinks it's even heavier.
Billy Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.