High-speed squash at Screaming Pumpkin Derby

It doesn't take a fairy godmother to get these pumpkins rolling for charity

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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photoBeyond pumpkin racing, the Screaming Pumpkin Derby also included several kids activities and a costume contest.

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photoPhotos by Vivian Johnson for The Columbian Callie Kahler, right, races her Freaky Frankie Frank pumpkin at the Screaming Pumpkin Derby at Serendipity's Event Center. Below, beyond pumpkin racing, the Screaming Pumpkin Derby also included several kids activities and a costume contest.

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photoWilliam Sturgil, 5, and his mother, Heather Sturgil, judge pumpkins at the third annual Screaming Pumpkin Derby. William has participated in the event all three years.

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photoKids rolled a variety of pumpkin-cars down a large ramp at the third annual Screaming Pumpkin Derby. The event included prizes, kids games and a costume contest.

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photoJohn Snapp, 4, gets his picture taken with his derby pumpkin as his sister Stephanie, 6, looks on at the Screaming Pumpkin Derby.

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There was a kind of magic in the air at the annual carving party when Karen Shimer first thought up the notion of using pumpkins as race cars.

Magic, or something equally spirited.

"I think I was having a couple glasses of wine when we were carving pumpkins at our get-together, and I thought, 'This needs to be more exciting. Let's put wheels on these suckers,'" Shimer said with a laugh.

From there, the Screaming Pumpkin Derby was born.

Shimer, owner of Vancouver-based The Butler Did It Catering, took her idea and ran with it, turning it into a community event for charity three years ago.

By pretty much all accounts, it's been a hit ever since.

"I won my second race," said 8-year-old Hayden Kahler, who built a pumpkin racer called "Ghost Lights" and ran it in Saturday's event. "Mine crashed into the others and the top flew off."

When asked if he liked to watch the pumpkins crash, Hayden nodded vigorously, but added that he planned to refine his design next year.

"Next time I'll make one that goes more straight," he said.

Alton Dukes, who moved to Vancouver with his wife and three kids this year, said he had a great time watching the pumpkins as they rolled down the large ramp during the races.

"Our neighbors invited us to come, and we thought it would be good for the kids," Dukes said. "Watching the pumpkins fall, watching the kids scatter around them, this is about the coolest thing I've seen since I've come here."

His daughter, Ariana, who's 9, won second place in the costume contest for her "Black Kitty" outfit.

The family didn't have time to make pumpkin racers this year, but next year will be a different story, Ariana said.

"The pumpkins are cool," she said. "They love crashing."

Hayden's dad, Ryan Kahler, said he's been bringing his wife and four kids since the event launched in 2010. The family keeps a box with wheels from broken toys and other props that they can play with when they make their pumpkins each year, he said.

"It's a lot of trial and error when you build them," Kahler said. "Mainly, it's just putting them together and rolling them on the floor to see how they'll work. Part of the fun is not practicing and just seeing how they do on the ramp."

The event doesn't make a huge profit -- usually $100 or $200 -- but whatever it makes goes to charity, Shimer said.

Last year, the profit went to Share House.

This year, it went to Nicole Hurd, a 27-year-old from Fisher's Landing who's raising funds to go on a Christian mission to Nicaragua with the Forward Edge organization. People can donate to her team, No. 1151 Summit View, at http://forwardedge.org/teamfees.

Next year, Shimer hopes to enlarge the event and possibly move it to a bigger location. It's grown so much that it's getting a little cramped at Serendipity's Events and Photography center, she said.

"Our goal is to team up with a partner next year, maybe have a few tracks, and have a couple hundred racers," Shimer said.


Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457; http://twitter.com/col_SueVo; sue.vorenberg@columbian.com.