He Couldn't Break The Record For Pumpkin-Growing — So He Broke Out A Paddle

Oct 30, 2016
Originally published on May 19, 2017 12:54 am

It was almost too much for Rick Swenson to take.

First, his friend smashed a car by dropping a 1,400-pound pumpkin on it at a charity event — then he had to stand by as that same friend smashed Swenson's personal record by growing another 1,400-pound monster. Swenson, a competitive pumpkin grower from Minnesota, couldn't just let his friend one-up him like this.

So, Rick Swenson cultivated an idea to take back bragging rights: He would go for the world record for the longest distance paddled in a giant pumpkin. Yes, apparently that's a thing.

But first, let's rewind: Swenson grows giant pumpkins, big enough to fill your yard. They can pack on 50 pounds a day — and just a few weeks ago, a Belgian grower tipped the scales at 2,624 pounds. Many of these behemoths are a special breed, the Dill's Atlantic Giant, which has been crossbred for decades, and growers from around the world pay hundreds of dollars for seeds from record-winning pumpkins like these.

"There's some websites that keep track of the lineage of these different weigh-offs," Swenson explains, "and I know you can go back at least 10 to 12 generations and see who the parents were from many, many years ago."

Swenson says it's the little things that growers do to care for the pumpkin that make it plump up. Like pruning — as much as 500 times for a single plant — and covering each pumpkin at night with a warm blanket. Though: "I don't quite sing to them," he admits.

When Swenson saw he wasn't growing a record-winner this year, he decided to take his 1,100-pounder out on the Red River between Minnesota and North Dakota earlier this month. He hollowed out the pumpkin, making a hole 2 1/2 feet deep where he could put his feet as he sat on the edge and paddled.

He planned to go 8 miles, but at the last minute, a text came in.

"I got a text that the record had been broken the previous week in Washington state at 15 miles," he says. "And that really took the wind out of our sails." (So to speak.)

So Swenson kept paddling. And, after 13 hours and 40 minutes, he finally hit the 25.6-mile mark.

Since giant pumpkins don't make good pies, when it came time to retire the trusty 1,100-pounder, Swenson had another idea. He donated it to the Chahinkapa Zoo in Wahpeton, N.D., for its Halloween party — the (wait for it) Zoo Boo.

"Then, when it's all said and done they'll feed them to the animals," he says. "And I tell you what, there's nothing like seeing a whole Bengal tiger disappear inside your pumpkin."

Swenson says he's ready to take a break from pumpkins for a while. He has kept his Halloween decorations to a minimum. He says that, living out in the country as he does, he hasn't had a trick-or-treater in the past six years.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It is Halloween, so this morning, we bring you the story of a man possessed.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Rick Swenson of Minnesota - he's possessed by a passion for growing giant pumpkins competitively.

RICK SWENSON: Back in the '80s, I think, getting to 500 was a big deal. And then the thousand-pound mark was just completely unheard of.

GREENE: Pumpkin pie in the sky, so to speak. But just a few weeks ago, a Belgian grower actually topped 2,600 pounds.

MONTAGNE: Swenson says making pumpkins plump up takes some TLC.

SWENSON: I've put together - it's 140-slide PowerPoint presentation just on the ins and outs, the little things.

MONTAGNE: Like covering them with warm blankets at night.

SWENSON: I don't quite sing to them. A lot of people like to make fun about that, but I don't do that.

GREENE: Tucking a pumpkin in. Well, when Swenson saw he wasn't growing the world's heaviest pumpkin, he made it his mission to claim the world record for longest journey by pumpkin boat. Yes, that is a thing. He launched his 1,100-pounder on the Red River between North Dakota and Minnesota.

SWENSON: Just hollowed out a little hole, two and a half feet by two and a half feet, enough for my feet to get down in decent and then sit up on the edge.

MONTAGNE: Swenson planned to go eight miles, but at the last minute, he got a text.

SWENSON: I can see the world record ahead of me. I'm excited, you know, we're almost there. And I got a text that the record had been broken the previous week in Washington state at 15 miles, and that really took the wind out of our sails.

MONTAGNE: So Swenson kept paddling. Thirteen hours and 40 minutes later, he hit the 25.6-mile mark.

GREENE: And what came of the giant pumpkin, you might ask? Well, Swenson donated his to the zoo for their Halloween festivities.

SWENSON: Then when it's all said and done, they'll feed them to the animals. And I tell you what, there's nothing like seeing a whole Bengal tiger disappear inside your pumpkin.

GREENE: Quite a trick, and we're sure quite a treat. Happy Halloween. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.