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1,505-pound pumpkin takes heavyweight title

The summer's unrelenting heat and lack of rain didn't foul up Karl Haist and the giant success in his Clarence Center backyard.
Sunday proved that.
Haist, a grandfather who has grown pumpkins for 10 years, undoubtedly had a magic touch - along with a few secrets - that helped him raise a monster-sized pumpkin that tipped the scales at 1,505.5 pounds. It was enough to capture the winning title at the 30th World Pumpkin Weigh-off at the Great Pumpkin Farm's fall festival in Clarence.
Haist had to truck his pumpkin only about seven miles to the festival. He competed against 19 other pumpkin farmers, some of whom brought their mammoth pumpkins from far-flung parts of New York State and Pennsylvania.
Haist chalked up his big win to "lots of water and lots of luck."
He grew four pumpkins and two squash, and in the mix, he ended up with a real winner.
"There's always one good spot in your patch, and this one happened to be in it," he said.
After more than a hour of weighing 20 boulder-sized pumpkins of varying colors and shapes, and watching them get moved around by forklift, Haist saw his pumpkin edge out the nearest competitor - Quinn Werner, of Saegertown, Pa., - whose deep-orange pumpkin weighed in at 1,498 pounds.
Werner also won the Howard Dill Award for best-looking pumpkin. Werner, a pumpkin grower for 12 years, considers the effort to be "like a full-time job." He grew 12 pumpkins, and eight of them made it to the contest.
The hot summer helped.
"I'd rather it was dry than too wet, because then you get disease," he said.
Last year's top winner, Gary Adams, of Lafayette, brought a cream-colored pumpkin that ended up weighing 1,309 pounds - smaller than he'd estimated it would be, based on three measurements and a chart growers follow to track growth. Adams has another pumpkin growing at home that he figures will weigh close to 1,600 pounds.
"I'm going to let it grow another 14 days and hope to break the state record of 1,631.5 pounds," he said.
Larry and Gerry Checkon, a couple from Northern Cambria, Pa., are veteran giant pumpkin growers, and they ended up as third-place winners Sunday, with their green-and-orange pumpkin tipping the scale at 1,386 pounds.
"It takes a whole lot of research and preparation. You really have to know your soil," Larry Checkon said.
"When I saw [the others] coming in, I knew we were in trouble," quipped his wife.
This wasn't the first time Haist has come out on top. One of his pumpkins weighed in at 1,531 pounds a few years ago.
Sunday's first-place victory - which made him $5,000 richer - got its start with a free seed that was sent to him from a man in Alaska.
"The best seeds are free," Haist said.
Using a lot of chicken manure and doing tissue sampling on the plant contributed to his success, along with pouring up to 150 gallons of water daily on the growing pumpkin on those scorching summer days.
His latest water bill was $238, which he said he expected to be a lot higher.
One thing Haist believes helped is that he chose not to cut the pumpkin off its vine until Sunday morning, right before bringing it to the competition. "It could have accounted for a 7.5 pound [overnight gain] difference," he speculated.
Not all of Western New York's attention was turned to the disappointing Buffalo Bills game Sunday. Many families checked out the Great Pumpkin Farm's fall festival for many reasons, including to gawk and snap photos of the 20 humongous pumpkins in the weigh-off.
Some sampled fall treats, ranging from cider to doughnuts to amusement rides. There was no shortage of pumpkins and gourds of all sizes, and there even was a pumpkin-pie-eating contest that drew on-lookers and the daring. Chomping down 16 pieces in one bite could earn the brave ones $100.
It was Sue Deming's first time at the festival. She and her family drove from Avon.
"It's cool," she said, observing the huge pumpkins sitting on wooden flats. "It's really neat. They're huge."
The pumpkin weigh-off was a magnet for the curious.
John and Debbie Patrick, of Livingston County, have been to Cooperstown and other areas to watch pumpkin weigh-offs.
"We think it's fun. We love to watch and see how they do," Debbie Patrick said.
Have they ever tried their hand at it?
"We're lucky to grow one big enough for a jack-o'-lantern," John Patrick said.
The fall festival continues through Oct. 31 with daily hours of 10 a.m. to dusk. From Saturday to Oct. 8, the Pumpkin Farm Olympics are featured, and Oct. 8 also showcases the popular Giant Pumpkin Drop. On Oct. 13 and 14, the trebuchet pumpkin-tossing contest is on tap. The World Class Pumpkin Pie Eating Championship is planned for Oct. 20-21.
During the final weekend of Oct. 27 and 28, free admission is offered, as is pay-as-you-go for all festival attractions such as the corn maze, hay rides, amusement rides, face painting, magic, juggling and the "Cackling Hen Revue."
The farm is located at 11199 Main St.