When life gives you a 2,350-pound pumpkin, Travis Gienger figures you should carve it.
Gienger grew the gourd that won the 47th annual Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off this month in California, then hauled it back home to Anoka, his hometown and self-proclaimed Halloween Capital of the World, to earn even more glory.
Gienger enlisted the help of his friend Mike Rudolph to carve a tiger out of the pumpkin, which he had nicknamed Tiger King. He hopes to set Guinness World Records for the largest and the heaviest pumpkin ever carved.
“It’s not every day you get to see something like this,” Gienger said Friday at his garage in Nowthen while watching Rudolph turn his prized pumpkin into a work of art.
Tiger King will be on display Saturday, starting at 11 a.m., for the 100th annual Anoka Halloween Grand Day Parade. Due to the pandemic, this year’s parade will be a drive-by experience with several locations set up for people to see from their cars. Gienger’s pumpkin will be at Mauer Main Chevrolet, 435 W. Main St.; more details on the parade are available at AnokaHalloween.com.
Rudolph started carving around 10 a.m. Friday after a fork lift and skid steer propped up the 6- by 6-foot pumpkin, more than a metric ton of fruit. An opening was cut through the thick skin so Gienger could harvest 200 seeds for people around the world who inquired about buying them, he said. Some seeds will be donated and others Gienger plans to keep for another growing season, to see if he can top Tiger King.
Six months ago, he planted an $80 seed that came from a 1,501-pound Wisconsin pumpkin. With Gienger’s care and mastery as a horticulture teacher at Anoka Technical College, he produced his 2,350-pound beauty — the heaviest pumpkin weighed this year in North America — that earned him the world title and a $16,450 grand prize.
Tiger King and Gienger have since gained national attention. They were recently featured on the Drew Barrymore Show, and he received a call from the people at Tiger King, the popular Netflix show and the inspiration for the pumpkin’s name. He shares frequent updates about his pumpkins on social media, where he has a growing fan base.
On Friday, a wheelbarrow full of pumpkin guts rested beside Rudolph as he used clay sculpting tools to create a furry texture and add a 3-D quality to the face. He carved into the evening, clocking more than eight hours to get the job done.
“Teeth are the most tedious,” he said. “The goal is to start with ten fingers and end with ten fingers.”
Rudolph has been carving Gienger’s pumpkins for more than a decade, some of the largest being over 1,000 pounds, but he said it was an honor to carve Tiger King. Family and friends stopped by to watch the process of bringing the great pumpkin to life.
“It’s a long journey coming to an end, but it’s a cool ending,” Gienger said.