TOPSFIELD (CBS) — It happens here, in Topsfield. The town was first incorporated in 1650 after Chief Masconomet sold the land to the English for 20 pounds. By 1805, the Newburyport Turnpike was complete, bringing shoe factories, inns, and a lot more people. Then, in 1818, Topsfield became home to America’s oldest continually operating fair.
Just about a half-mile up Route 1, you’ll find Woody Lancaster. He’s hoping to kick off this year’s fair with a big hometown win at the giant pumpkin weigh-in.
“At one time this pumpkin was putting on 50 pounds a day and now it’s down to about, I think six pounds a day,” explains Lancaster as he shows off the smaller of his two pumpkins. “I’ve got two plants and I spend four hours a day at least. My wife thinks more.”
Lancaster has a 1,850-pound pumpkin still putting on weight but he hopes the second one, estimated to top 2,000 pounds, places near the top Friday night.
Growing a pumpkin that big doesn’t happen by chance. It’s a process of controlled pollination and breeding seeds from other big pumpkins from around the country, some even come from other countries.
“It’s everything, every day, all season long,” he said. “Is it working? What’s happening? I’ve got an insect problem, I’ve got a disease problem, I’ve got a squash vine borer in the stem, I’ve got a little bit of rot here. I’ve got fans going in a couple different ways on this one to keep the stem healthy.”
They grow so big now that Lancaster actually dug up the old family pool in his backyard to make room for the plants. The 2,000-pound pumpkin weights more than a grand piano, more than most Clydesdales and even more than some small cars on the market. With pumpkins that big, Lancaster has seen his share of grand prizes but a win in front of the hometown crowd is extra special.
“Almost every year somebody asks me if I roll it to the fair,” he joked. “I have a cheering section, even if I don’t win.”
Lancaster said the competition is fun but more importantly friendly. Growers are always trading seeds and learning from each other, hoping for the next world-record giant pumpkin.
He is now mentoring a local high school student, who is hoping for an upset win at the Topsfield Fair.