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Dr. Campbell Catapults Cantaloupes in First Clusterchuck

by Eleanor Withers

Clusterchuck poster, courtesy of Dr. William Campbell.

On Sept. 15, Pitt-Greensburg students watched with glee as a cantaloupe exploded onto the ground after being flung across the soccer field by a trebuchet during the campus’s first ever Clusterchuck.

The event was presented by History Club, Science Club, and Academic Village Senate. However, it was Dr. William Campbell, associate professor of history, who created the trebuchet.

This type of catapult was used in medieval history. It was the leading weapon to enact severe damage until gunpowder became commonly used.

Over quarantine, Dr. Campbell noticed that his kids needed an activity to keep them busy since school was out early. Building the trebuchet required geometry, mathematics, and history, and allowed him to share his passions with his kids.

It was the pandemic that gave him the opportunity to build the trebuchet.

“It was a random idea,” Dr. Campbell said. It took around six months to build the 13 feet tall catapult.

Despite its size, Dr. Campbell still managed to fit the whole contraption in the back of his Honda Fit.

“That, in a way, was the bigger engineering challenge than making it throw stuff,” Dr. Campbell said.

Dr. Campbell grew up working in his father’s woodshop in the summers, which familiarized him with building things like this.

“I have a background understanding the engineering principles behind things,” Dr. Campbell said.

Dr. Campbell was always fascinated with Medieval history.

“I grew up as a cathedral choir boy,” he said. “Those things together kinda captivated my imagination from an early age.”

Now, he teaches history classes at Pitt-Greensburg that relate to the European Medieval era, like his class focusing on the Black Death.

At Clusterchuck, students were encouraged to witness (from a safe distance) the trebuchet fling heads of lettuce and a cantaloupe across the soccer field.  Meanwhile, Dr. Sheila Confer, the Academic Village director and part-time instructor, and Hayley Hayden, assistant director of the Academic Village, handed out T-shirts and sweatshirts to commemorate the event.

Dr. Campbell also incorporated scientific elements to his contraption with a contest to vote and see which of the different weighted concrete balls would go the furthest, while also factoring in the adjusted length of the tether flinging them.

Dr. Campbell did not originally create the trebuchet with the idea that he’d bring it to campus and fling vegetables, but he knew it was something Pitt-Greensburg needed.

“We’re in a time when we need social events,” he said. “We need places and times to come together with other people and do something fun that’s safe and outside.”

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