Megchelsen's monster

Nikiski pumpkin grower reflects on setting state record

J.D. Megchelsen said the last few days had a strange, yet exciting feel.


"It's almost like a Greek tragedy or something - you've got these highs and lows and sways and there were just more twists and turns in yesterday's weigh-off than there are on the Seward Highway," he said.

Megchelsen was referring to Wednesday's weigh-off at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer where his giant pumpkin went toe-to-toe with another grown by Dale Marshall of Anchorage. Although Marshall's weighed more - 1,723 pounds - it was disqualified for a small hole penetrating the bottom of the giant vegetable.

That left Megchelsen's 1,287-pound monster claiming the largest pumpkin ever grown in the state, this year's state fair winner and a personal best for the 53-year-old pumpkin grower from Nikiski.

"It's kind of bittersweet in a way," he said by phone Thursday. "It's a close-knit fraternity of growers - we're all in this together and we are all always helping each other out."

It's unfortunate how the results shook out for Marshall, he contends.

"You have this exhilarating high throughout the season growing something this size and then you go from having a potential world record to having the pumpkin being disqualified from competition," he said. "It's really hard to describe. It is almost like being in the Super Bowl and getting down to the six-inch line and not being able to get it across and losing the game."

Megchelsen said he had nothing but admiration for his fellow grower. It comes from knowing that in 365 days, the tables could be turned.

That's the nature of the game, he said.

"This guy's a competitor and even this record is not safe," he said. "I fully anticipate that both of us will probably be back next year, guns loaded and ready to shoot it out again."

But, that's not stopping Megchelsen from taking a moment to celebrate his achievement.

"It's always great to get a personal best and make it to the finish line in this hobby ... and not have anything go wrong or fall apart on you, it's a great feeling of satisfaction and you feel like you beat the odds," he said.

"There's more things that can go wrong than can go right when you grow them to this size."

The pumpkin - named "Lucy Lu" after a dog Megchelsen owned who used to patrol his previous giants for mice, moles and shrews and passed away in May - won't leave the limelight for some time.

It will be on display at Three Bears in Kenai starting around Sept. 10. The pumpkin will likely then be carved close to Halloween time on-site depending on how it keeps through the coming months.

The carved innards of the monstrosity will be frozen and sold off for charity pie sales.

"From there the remains will probably end up back in the compost heap there and be a part of next year's pumpkin," Megchelsen said.

Although he knows the preparations for a run at a bigger pumpkin should begin shortly, Megchelsen hasn't gotten quite that far yet. He's enjoying the brief rest from a busy growing schedule.

"You're lucky in life if you find something that really drives you and motivates you," he said.


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