Smashing Pumpkins: With the help of an ATA Carnet, Bob Carbo brings his passion for catapulting gourds to Belgium

Bob Carbo atop the Onager, his pumpkin catapult, at the European “punkin chunkin” championships in Belgium.
Bob Carbo atop the Onager, his pumpkin catapult, at the European “punkin chunkin” championships in Belgium.

The New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Tour de France bicycle racers, NBC Sports – even the rock band Smashing Pumpkins: all have used an ATA Carnet when shipping valuable equipment overseas. And so has Bob Carbo, who, as it happens, knows a thing or two about smashing pumpkins himself.

Carbo used a Carnet, a document that speeds equipment and other goods through customs, when he shipped his pumpkin catapult to a “punkin chunkin” contest in Belgium last summer. The organizers wanted an American team, and Carbo accepted the invitation because it was his first opportunity to show off his skills outside the United States.

Punkin chunkers, as they call themselves, use catapults to shoot pumpkins high and far, much as medieval armies built them as weapons for hurling projectiles over the walls of enemy forts and castle. Carbo started competing 15 years ago after reading a newspaper announcement about a  punkin chunkin contest. He went, he saw, and he was hooked.

He built his own catapult, using wood, steel and rope, modeled after an ancient Roman type that he discovered during his research. “It was very powerful, especially for its size, and somewhat portable,” Carbo explained.

“Several references to this catapult said it was a Mangonel [a type of catapult often used in medieval sieges], but it was often referred to as an ‘Onager,’ which means wild ass, because it reminded them of these animals which were known for their fierce kick, often causing stones to be hurled.  As soon as I read this, I knew this was what I would name my catapult.  Just too cool a name to turn down.”

Carbo, who when he’s not hurling pumpkins is a psychological services coordinator with the North Carolina Department of Corrections, uses the name Onager for himself in punkin chunkin competitions. He dresses for the events in full knightly regalia, complete with helmet and chain mail suit.   The 11-foot high catapult rests on a trailer that Carbo tows with his pick-up truck.

The highlight of the year for pumpkin hurlers is the World Punkin Chunkin Championship, held in Delaware each fall. Last year it drew 110 teams. Carbo placed third, with a personal best of 2,196 feet.

Not out of his gourd: Carbo dresses in medieval regalia when competing.
Not out of his gourd: Carbo dresses in medieval regalia when competing.

But getting the 3-ton machine to Europe presented a different kind of challenge. “I had never shipped anything like this before, so it was all new,” said Carbo, whose smart business decisions show that he’s definitely not out of his gourd.  He found a freight forwarder called Ship Overseas that booked Onager on a ship sailing from Baltimore to the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium.

Jack Friedman, president of Ship Overseas, suggested that he look into getting a Carnet. “I thought this was a good idea because it might help to get through Customs. We thought they might raise some questions because the catapult’s a medieval weapon,” Carbo laughed. “The other big thing was that we didn’t have to pay any taxes or duties.”

Carnets are merchandise passports that enable users to avoid extensive customs procedures, payment of duties and value-added taxes for the temporary importation of various types of goods. They normally cover products such as commercial samples, professional equipment, and goods for trade shows and exhibitions. They are also used for special items, such as precious works of art displayed in museum exhibitions, race horses, and satellites.

By using a Carnet, Carbo was able to avoid Belgium’s 10 percent customs duty and 19 percent value-added tax.

The tournament was held Sept. 5 in a small Belgian town called Bikschote. “They call it the European Punkin Chunkin Championship, but we were the only one of the 13 teams not from Belgium,” he said.

Team Carbo, consisting of Carbo, his wife, his brother, sister-in-law, and three other members, placed second. “We threw over 2,100 feet, which was enough to beat the previous record in Belgium, but then another team threw it more than 2,300 feet,” he said.

Carbo doesn’t have any plans for competing in other events outside the U.S., but says “I’d love to do it again. Maybe some other country will invite us.” And if it does, he plans to use a Carnet to help him get there.

“An international competition for catapulting pumpkins. Who’d a thunk it?” quipped Cynthia Duncan, who heads the Carnet service at the United States Council for International Business. The Council administers the carnet program in the United States in partnership with the International Chamber of Commerce and the World Customs Organization. Learn more about Carnets at www.merchandisepassport.org.

Carbo’s web site is www.onager.net. For information about this year’s World Punkin Chunkin Championship, go to www.punkinchunkin.com. It even has a countdown clock (down to the second) to the start of competition on Nov. 4.

Staff contact: Cynthia Duncan

More on the ATA Carnet Export Service

Staff Contact:   Andrew Shiles

Senior VP, ATA Carnet and Trade Services
Tel: 212.703.5079

Former FedEx executive and cargo industry veteran Andrew Shiles leads USCIB’s portfolio of trade services, including the “merchandise passports” used by thousands of exporters around the world to get goods through customs quickly and easily. Shiles works to expand U.S. trade interests through promotion of the ATA Carnet program. Shiles comes to USCIB following more than 30 years at FedEx Express, the world’s largest air express cargo company, most recently as global regulatory compliance manager, where he served on USCIB’s Customs and Trade Facilitation Committee. His leadership experience in global supply-chain management includes participation in U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Simplified Entry Working Group, which redesigned and implemented the current entry-clearance process into the United States.
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