What would Halloween in America be without the pumpkin? Why, it would be like Christmas without Santa Claus or Easter without Peter Cottontail. Travis Gienger knows how important the pumpkin is; after all, Gienger, a horticulture teacher at Anoka Technical College, and his fiancée, Megan Piffer, drove his rather large pumpkin he named “Tiger King” 35 hours from Anoka, Minnesota, to Half Moon Bay in California to compete in the 47th Annual Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off.

It’s rather fitting that the trip began in Anoka because the city dubs itself the “Halloween Capitol of the World”, and it’s where Gienger has been growing pumpkins for the last 27 years in his Anoka backyard.  However, he’s recently perfected soil conditions for growing the Atlantic Giant seed variety of pumpkins that’s cross-pollinated to produce the most massive of Halloween gourds.  As a result, Tiger King was growing 53 pounds per day at its peak. Although he chose not to weigh it one last time before he headed out west, he had a “gut-feeling” that the pumpkins insides were heavy enough to allow him to compete and wanted the final weigh-in at Long Branch Farms at 321 Verde Road in Half Moon Bay to be a surprise.

This year Anoka celebrates its 100th year as the Halloween Capitol of the World.

They lifted the pumpkin onto a trailer as gingerly as you can lift a pumpkin that they guessed weighed over a ton; after all, if even a single crack developed in their pumpkin, they would be disqualified from the Great Pumpkin Weigh-In. As a result, they babied the behemoth gourd swaddling it in layers of wet blankets, tarps and an air tarp, watering it down with buckets of water every time they stopped for gas.

In the end, however, all of Travis Gienger’s hard work and loving care paid off – he won the weigh off, taking home the grand prize of $16,450 prize for having the heaviest pumpkin this year at 2,350 pounds (or $7 a pound).

Travis Gienger’s prize-winning pumpkin.

Usually an event attended by thousands of spectators, this year’s weigh-off was a virtual event for spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic and live-streamed on YouTube.  Nevertheless, the event’s emcee, Tim Beeman, who also helps put on the Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival said, “It’s the heaviest pumpkin weighed in North America this year and the second-largest pumpkin ever entered into the Half Moon Bay Weigh-off”. The event was Gienger’s first time entering the national competition.

It fell short of the world record, however, which belongs to Mathias Willemijns of Belgium who set the record at 2,624 pounds in October 9, 2016 at the Giant Pumpkin European Championship held in Ludwigsburg, Germany.

Meanwhile back in California, Steve Daletas of Pleasant Hill, Oregon, came in second with a 2,174-pound pumpkin. Jose Ceja of Napa took third with a 1,957-pound pumpkin. Prizes were awarded to the top 20 pumpkins and the top three pumpkins usually head to the Bronx’s New York Botanical Gardens to go on display for Halloween. However, this year that tradition was canceled because of the pandemic, so instead Gienger gets to keep his gargantuan gourd.

So, what does he plan to do with it? Well, at first he thought about giving it to someone there in California   or taking it to Las Vegas to celebrate; however, in the end he decided to take it on another road trip back to Anoka which is celebrating 100 anniversary of being the first town to celebrate Halloween in America. So, if you and Linus are looking for a good pumpkin patch to celebrate the arrival of the Great Pumpkin this year, look no further than the backyard of Travis Gienger who might just introduce you.

Just here in Anoka, Minnesota, waiting for the Great Pumpkin

We’re going to stay in California for now, however, because what else can you do with a pumpkin that weighs nearly 2,350 beside make around 4,700 pumpkin pies? Well, you can attempt to make the world’s largest jack-o’-lantern, but you’d have some pretty stiff competition because about a half a day’s road trip away from Half Moon Bay is the “Smilin’ Jack” of Wilmington, California – otherwise known as the world’s largest jack-o’-lantern.

The Union Oil (now ConocoPhillips) refinery has been transforming its orange three-million-gallon gasoline storage tank into the greatest of pumpkins every year since 1952. And it won’t let the coronavirus pandemic stop one of the South Bay’s longest standing traditions, so  this year they’re giving  Smilin’ Jack a distinctly 2020 feel: the world’s largest jack-o’-lantern this year will hide his 80-foot-long smile behind a mask, a symbol of safety and unity in these troubling times.

Phillips Refinery’s “SmilinJack” is back, this year with a Covid mask.

So, if you’re planning a road trip around Southern California in the next couple of weeks, swing by 1660 W. Anaheim St. in Wilmington to get a gander at Smilin’ Jack. As a special treat, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Oct. 30, a drive-thru community event will take place at the refinery, providing an opportunity for families to take some selfies with Jack and trick-or-treat for our signature caramel popcorn and 76-branded goodies. ‘”However,” says Juliana Moreno, spokesperson for the refinery,  “we are taking additional safety precautions this year, so all visitors must wear masks at all times, including while taking pictures.” Visitors must also stay in their cars and comply with refinery and security personnel, who will direct traffic, Moreno added.

So, there you have it – two great things that Stuckey’s loves – visiting giant, well, giant anythings really, and taking a fun road trip to get you there.

And what’s a road trip to anywhere without a stop at Stuckey’s along the way? So whether you’re planning a road trip from Atlanta to Anoka to see this year’s biggest pumpkin or Wilmington, North Carolina, to Wilmington, California, to see Smilin’ Jack or anywhere in between, make sure to include a Stuckey’s stop along the way. While you’re there, grab a couple of our new and bigger 10 ounce, 10 inch Stuckey’s  pecan log rolls and some other fine pecan candies to take with you on the road. Don’t forget to get some for the folks back home, too.

No Stuckey’s locations along the way? No problem! Let us send some of our signature Stuckey’s pecan log rolls, pecan divinity or other pecan treats right to your door. And with the holidays quickly approaching, what says happy holidays better than a gift from Stuckey’s including our branded hats, t-shirts, and mugs? To find out how you can make this season bright by ordering Stuckey’s merchandise for your family and friends, visit stuckeys.com for more info.

Don’t forget today is the last day to get your free Stuckey’s bumper Sticker and 2 oz. pecan log roll when you order any product from our website! It’s our way of saying “Happy Halloween” from Stuckey’s!

Stuckey’s – We’re making road trips fun again!