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.39-TON PUMPKIN SQUASHES COMPETITION

A chimney sweep from Windsor swept away the competition Saturday with his 779 1/2 -pound pumpkin.

The big pumpkin won William Bobier $5,000 and a chance at another $5,000 if it turns out to be the largest grown this year in the world.

"Fantastic! I finally got the big plaque!" exclaimed Bobier.

It was his fourth try.

Last year, the Broome County man came in third with a 796-pounder.

"Just a little lighter this year," he said, but all of the growers grumbled that the 1997 summer was one of the worst for growing pumpkins.

Michelle and James Munro of Angola can attest to that.

Like many of the other competitors, they paid $10 for just one seed.

"The vines take over the whole garden," Mrs. Munro said, "but we love to watch it grow.

"But there was just too much rain, and when it was up to about 300 pounds, it started to rot on the bottom.

"But not all was lost," she said resignedly, "the deer had a feast."

More than 50 pumpkins, from as far away as Ann Arbor, Mich., were hauled to Clarence for the Pumpkin Festival Weekend that continues today at 11199 Main St. The annual weigh-in was moved to Clarence last year after 13 years in the Town of Collins.

Second place in Saturday's 15th annual World Pumpkin Confederation weigh-off went to Kevin Brown of Milan, Pa., with a 758-pound entry. Richard Cooper of Alden took third with a 708-pounder. They received $250 and $100, respectively, along with a plaque.

Bobier's winner paled in comparison with last year's top pumpkin -- a 1,061-pound world-record setter grown by Nathan and Paula Zehr of Lowville and certified at Clarence.

Too many cold and cloudy days this past summer protected the Zehrs' world record.

But pumpkins are not the only giants the up to 50,000 expected visitors can gape at.

Seven-year-old Nathan DeRycke of Honeoye Falls, with some help from his father, Steve, was showing off sunflower heads that were more than two feet wide with "at least 5,000 seeds," according to DeRycke.

Son and father grew about 100 sunflowers.

"Just for the birds," DeRycke smiled, "and trust me, by the end of the month, they all will be picked clean."

"Weather wasn't good for sunflowers," Reno Olivieri of Silver Creek chimed in. "First seeds rotted, and then it was cold when we planted the second batch.

Olivieri, who had some winners last year, wasn't too proud of this year's crop of 150 plants.

"Most of them are about 13 inches," he said, "but the birds aren't fussy."

Then there was a cornstalk that Jack might have chosen over the bean stalk.

Steven Andrews of Williamsville grew it -- to 15 feet, 6 inches, declared the judges.

Bobier's pumpkin will be on display at the pumpkin farm through Halloween.

"Once it begins to break down," said Ray Waterman, the Collins farmer who is the president of the World Pumpkin Confederation, "we will scoop out all the seeds. They are valuable."

Like $10 a piece?

"Could go as high as $100," he solemnly replied.

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