MILFORD – Remember the cow catapult from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”?
A more humane – but no less spectacular – contraption is in the works at Dawn Til Done Farm in Milford. Instead of a cow, Dee Dauphinee’s trebuchet hurls a pumpkin at high speeds until it lands, hundreds of yards away.
The trebuchet is a medieval war weapon made famous in the later drawings of Leonardo da Vinci. Dauphinee’s version, which lives in a field off Route 2, immediately over the Sunkhaze Stream bridge, will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. The pumpkin-smashing extravaganza is free – Dauphinee uses castoffs from his farm – and people who hit a target will get a free pumpkin from the farm store.
Dauphinee, who has worked alternately as a photojournalist, orthopedic physician’s assistant and now farmer, brushes off the notion that he’s a bit of a Renaissance man himself.
“No, I’m a crazy man,” he said, laughing, as he and his 7-year-old daughter, Samantha, walked from the farm’s garlic patch toward the front field, where the trebuchet sits. “My friends all tease me like heck.”
Dauphinee’s plans to build a trebuchet did little to ease the teasing. He initially became interested in the device after seeing da Vinci’s drawings at Harvard’s Widener Library. Years later, when he set out to build a trebuchet of his own, he tried several designs he found on the Internet, with little success.
Then a friend pointed out why Dauphinee wasn’t having any luck.
“He said: ‘You’re trying to improve on Leonardo da Vinci,'” Dauphinee recalled. “‘Why don’t you just do it his way?'”
So he did. And it’s something to behold.
The trebuchet, which is essentially a giant slingshot, stands 32 feet tall, with a bucket holding 800 pounds of fieldstones. Dauphinee sets up a complex set of pulleys and cords to secure the trigger and the safety, and then loads a pumpkin into a sling. Then, he cocks the trebuchet by pulling back the stones with a tractor.
When the “shooter” throws the arm of the trebuchet, the rocks fall, creating sheer kinetic energy that sends the pumpkin flying in an arc.
On a recent afternoon, the whole scene was enough to silence a small group of onlookers, including Samantha, who’s an old pro at the trebuchet.
“Are we ready?” she asked her father, as he loaded another pumpkin.
“Nope, I’ll let you know,” he replied, then turned to a visitor. “She knows not to touch the strings until I’m done.”
Then he stepped away and looked at Samantha.
“Ready?” she asked.
“Say when,” Dauphinee said, smiling.
“When!” Samantha yelled.
Like slow motion, the stones fell and the pumpkin swung upward and out of its cradle, spinning, like a basketball from half-court. Then it hurtled toward the ground and landed with a thud – and a splat.
It was a smashing finale.
Dawn Til Done Farm is located on Route 2 in Milford, directly over the Sunkhaze Stream bridge on the right, if you’re heading north. Look for a dirt pullout and a small yellow sign that reads “trebuchet.” The trebuchet will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. In the case of rain, Dauphinee will be there, but he’s not particularly excited about throwing pumpkins in a downpour. For information, call 827-8833.