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    After the fair, the show goes on for giant pumpkins

    Woody Lancaster sits with his 2003.5-pound winner.
    craig f. walker/globe staff
    Woody Lancaster sits with his 2003.5-pound winner.

    When the Ferris wheel comes down and the corn dog stand is packed up after the Topsfield Fair closes on Monday, it will also be time to haul away the winners of the New England Pumpkin Growers Association’s Giant Pumpkin Competition.

    It won’t be easy.

    “The pumpkins we’re growing now don’t fit in back of your truck,” said Steve Sperry, who grew this year’s second-place pumpkin, a 1,938-pounder. “Several of us had to buy trailers just to haul these things around.”


    Sperry, 62, of Johnston, R.I., said his pumpkin will travel nearly 70 miles southwest to the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence for its annual Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular.

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    Woody Lancaster, who took Topsfield’s top prize this year, said he will scoot his 2003.5 pounder across Route 1 to display it at the Essex County Co-Op, which sells agriculture and gardening supplies. It’s not the first time Lancaster, 71, has hit the road with a ginormous gourd in tow. In 21 years as a competitive grower, Lancaster has showed off his prized pumpkins at restaurants, hotels, and shopping malls. In 2005, an 1,101.6-pound pumpkin that Lancaster raised was displayed in the lobby of the Wang Theatre during a Boston Ballet staging of “Cinderella.”

    You could use a giant pumpkin for baking, but you probably wouldn’t want to. They have a very high water content, are low in starch and sugar, and have very little flavor, Lancaster said. “Not a pie pumpkin, no, not at all,” he said. Sperry and Lancaster said the world of competitive pumpkin growers is collegial rather than cutthroat.

    “There’s a camaraderie among the growers that’s unique,” Sperry said. “You’re all in the same boat, and you all have the same interests.” Modesty is prized among growers, and bragging is considered bad form, Lancaster said. But growers have more to brag about, as the pumpkins get larger each year. Lancaster said for years no one believed it was possible to grow a 1,000-pound pumpkin. After a grower reached that milestone, 1,500 pounds seemed impossible, then 2,000 pounds did.

    “It just keeps on going, and nobody really knows where the ceiling is,” he said. The current world record was set last year by Mathias Willemijns, of Belgium, with a 2,624.6-pound behemoth that outweighed the previous record pumpkin by 300 pounds. “That was unbelieveable,” Lancaster said, “and who knows what’s going to happen this year? And next?”

    Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.