Missouri man and a 1,200-pound gourd set new world record for longest journey by pumpkin boat
The sun peeked out over the Kansas City skyline just as Steve Kueny set off at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers inside a 1,293-pound pumpkin.
"Our plan is to float this pumpkin down the Missouri River," Kueny said. "We're trying to break the Guinness World Record for longest distance float in a pumpkin."
Wearing a wet suit to protect him from the chilly water and morning air, Kueny launched from Lewis and Clark Park at Kaw Point bound for Napoleon, Missouri. He estimated the journey would take around eight hours, putting him 38 miles downstream before sundown.
Kueny successfully completed his journey about 11 hours later — "cold, tired but pleased with the result," he told USA Today.
Roger Guibor-MacBride told KCUR he ran safety boat for the crew. Guibor-MacBride estimated the group passed Missouri City about 2 p.m., and completed the last mile at about 6:30 p.m.
The attempt took a lot of planning and a fair amount of courage. Flying Asian carp, river barge traffic and dangerous eddies laid in wait for Kueny.
Last year, Nebraska farmer Duane Hansen floated 38 miles down the Missouri River in a 846-pound pumpkin. Despite the lack of legroom he reported, Hansen broke all previous records.
Now, Kueny has broken Hansen's record in a much larger squash that he grew from seed himself.
"There's a little bit more leg room, but it is going to be cramped, that's for sure," Kueny said.
It took an entire summer to grow a pumpkin large enough to serve as a boat. Kueny said the Dill's Atlantic Giant pumpkin is the only variety that grows quite so large.
"We test floated it before we carved it so we would know which end wanted to be up," Kueny said. "Once we figured that out, we marked it, made the hole at the center."
The pumpkin in question measures 13 feet, 6 inches in circumference, and it took about 45 minutes to scoop out the seeds. The shell is about 8 inches thick, and has the words "Huckle Berry" stenciled on the port side.
There wasn't a chance to test float the vessel on the river before setting out, but Kueny hoped for the best.
"It may take all day or it may be over in five minutes," he said as he slid into the water. “I’m just a guy with a pumpkin and a whimsical sense of adventure out to have fun.”
Following the pumpkin downstream was a little armada of kayaks.
"We got the Kansas City paddle group out here, and they have been just instrumental in making sure that we do this safely," Kueny said. "If you're going to do something this silly, you do want to do it safely."
Christy Kurtz is the founder and manager of the Paddle KC paddling club. The veteran kayaker was among the crew out on the river making sure Kueny didn't meet his "Waterloo" before making it to Napoleon. Kurtz said it's important to attempt a feat such as this with a team.
"We've checked the water temperature, the speed of the water. We have contingency plans, we know when the barges are coming and we have all the different ramp access points marked out," she said.
The crew also had a variety of paddles on hand for Kueny, to see which one helped him navigate the giant pumpkin best.
"This is one of the more crazy things that we've attempted, but we're out here paddling (the river) all the time," Kurtz said with a laugh. "The Missouri River is an underused recreation venue but a great option during warm water season for experienced paddlers familiar with this river."
"We're hoping that we might be able to reach 4 1/2 miles an hour," Kurtz said. "If we float at 3 miles an hour and hit some eddies, it could be up to 12 hours. But we don't want to be out on the river (after) dark tonight."
The trip has to be documented thoroughly in order to qualify for the world record. Theresa DeSalvo, a board member of the Friends of the Kaw nonprofit, was there to serve as an official witness and fill out the appropriate paperwork. Another witness was onsite in Napoleon to document Kueny's arrival.
"I was all excited about the great pumpkin coming to Kaw Point," DeSalvo said. "It's all in the spirit of Halloween and bringing people together on the river on this beautiful day."