• WHAT: 18th annual Dell’Osso Farms Pumpkin Maze
• WHERE: Dell’Osso Farms, Manthey Road and Interstate 5, Lathrop
• WHEN: Through Oct. 31 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
• ADMISSION: Free as is the parking. Most attractions have charges
• MORE INFO: Go to www.pumpkinmaze.com
Some thought Ron Dell’Osso was out of his gourd.
Why would anyone want to fashion a bazooka like device to fire off mini-pumpkins?
Twelve years and 4.2 million mini-pumpkins later the man who created the world’s first pumpkin blasters that can send the small gourds sailing in excess of 100 mph to ding steel targets is still growing his own ammo on 10 acres and welcoming upwards of 150,000 people each fall to his farm. Most of those visitors find it tough to resist plunking down $5 for a bucket of pumpkin ammo to allow them to blast away at steel and metal targets.
Versions of the original blasters that you can fire off a bucket of mini-pumpkins between now and Halloween at Dell’Osso Farms Pumpkin Maze in Lathrop have been reproduced by a Texas man and sold to similar agri-tourist ventures in the eastern United States.
But still they come to Dell’Osso Farms.
“We get about 10 people a year (from other agri-tourist ventures) that want to see what we do,” Dell’Osso, 58, said.
Everything impresses from the corn maze to the scaled down railroad to the zip line but what draws other agri-tourist entrepreneurs is the pumpkin blasters.
The pumpkin blasters are the end result of what Dell’Osso describes as his “Charlie Brown” Christmas experience as a 7-year-old.
• • •
during his ‘worst’
His mother would give her kids a JC Penney catalogue when November rolled around and have them circle items they were interested in for Christmas among the toy selections. Typically they circled six apiece and their mom would pick one.
When he was 7 years old, Dell’Osso circled only one item that he really, really wanted: A plastic machine gun that shot off plastic bullets while resting on a tri-pod.
Dell’Osso was more than crestfallen when he opened his present on Christmas morning and discovered his mother had gotten him a coat instead.
“It wasn’t that she was against guns,” Dell’Osso recalled. “We had guns and my dad would take us hunting. It’s just that she didn’t think a young boy needed a make believe machine gun.”
Dell’Osso never forgot about the gift he never got.
Then he saw a pumpkin chucking competitions carried on TV. That’s where participants used various devises to hurl regular sized pumpkins through the air.
But it had one drawback. People could watch but they couldn’t participate as they were forced to stay far away behind rope.
He thought there had to be a way people could fire off pumpkins for fun and do so safely.
So 13 years ago after the fourth season of running the corn maze, Dell’Osso decided to head out to his shop to try his hand at fashioning a “machine gun” that could shoot pumpkins. The first prototype was fashioned out of PVC pipe. After four days he finally got one that used air pressure to fire a pumpkin.
“It was a dud,” Dell’Osso said.
The pumpkins only went four to 10 feet.
He gave up — but just for about a week.
Dell’Osso went back to the shop and continued tinkering.
Then they hit pay dirt on the seventh prototype.
Since they no longer had pumpkins, they went to Costco and got a few cases of oranges.
Little did he know oranges due to being circular orbs and being basically the same size due to how they were packed and sorted were the perfect ammo.
• • •
fire oranges more
than 400 feet
From his shop near the two landmark brick silos at Dell’Osso Farms, they watched as the oranges were propelled 400 plus feet with no problem at all. Fine tuning it allowed then to send an orange from the silos clear across nearby Interstate 5.
He enlisted the help of Butch (a gentleman who has since passed away) to fabricate the devices out of sheet metal and other parts.
The destructive power of flying pumpkins is evidenced by the targets that guests shoot at. Each year they bring in vehicles that don’t run but otherwise are in near perfect condition in terms of the body. On the first day of each season, the windows go first. Then it’s open season on the rest of the body. By the time Oct. 31 rolls around it is next to impossible to determine what make and model may of the vehicles are given they are shot up that much.
“People like destroying things by shooting off pumpkins,” Dell’Osso said.
It’s evidenced by busy weekends where sometime upwards of 80 people are waiting in line to fire away.
One year Dell’Osso was determined to switch half of the blasters over to automatic weapons. He developed sleeves that allowed the loading of 12 mini-pumpkins at a time. But since it was the wrong season, the blasters were tested with apples instead. They were able to fire off 12 apples in 20 seconds.
The idea was to use three orange mini-pumpkins, then a white one and then three more orange ones. The white pumpkin being fired between the orange would look like a tracer bullet.
With a week to go to the opening of that year’s pumpkin maze, they finally had mini-pumpkins to use as ammo. The result was disastrous.
“It kept jamming,” he said.
Pumpkins weren’t round like the apples. They scrambled to convert the automatic blasters back to the one shot wonders that you can use behind sand bags at camouflage netting today at Dell’Osso Farms.
On opening weekend this year, the blasters were supplied with No. 2 apples and then a mixture of pumpkins.
Currently pumpkins are the ammo that is sold.
“We weren’t sure with the drought whether we had enough pumpkins,” Dell’Osso said.
No longer does he believe that to be the case.
But if they do run out there’s close to 15 bins of apples waiting to defy the law of gravity.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com