The Trebuchet ~ Memories from Camp Broken Antler

The trebuchet is a type of catapault. It uses a counterweight to propel objects through the air – whether it’s a stone intended for an enemy or an apple launch attempted by hunters.

Dave Curry
Contributing Writer

Temperatures were cooling down and a thin layer of smoke drifted horizontally from the chimney of the cabin framed by a cloudless, blue sky. Four or five muddy trucks and jeeps were haphazardly parked nearby indicating that camp was once again in session.

Yes, the boys from Camp Broken Antler are back in town and getting ready for turkey season. The gobblers probably know that they don’t need to fear us as most of us don’t really take this season seriously. Heck, most of the guys won’t even get out except for short little scouting trips. Shotguns are optional, and most likely, nothing will get killed, unless Doc decides to take out his yearly fairydiddle. We have to admit that it takes some pretty good shootin’ to hit something as small and fast as a red squirrel, but it will be dutifully skinned and leave the mountain in Doc’s cooler. And no one is likely to get foundered at that meal.

Camp in October is more for clean-up, fix-up and get ready for real camp when Buck Season comes in next month.

As I pulled into view across the swamp, several faces popped up in windows to mark my approach and see who might be coming in next. Ern and Slick greeted me from the back porch and offered to help me in with my gear when Cookie stepped out of the cabin and asked “What you got in the back of the truck? Looks like another lamp.”

“Nope,” I said, “I think we have enough lamps.” Two thin, parallel tripods about four feet tall were exposed in the truck bed along with a few other odd pieces of 2X2 and plywood. I could see how he would think it was some kind of furniture. “Well, what is it? Could make good kindling.”

“As I came out of Green Bank this afternoon, you see, I came by this yard sale, and I just had to stop and see what they had. It turns out, they had this neat catapult thing, just like out of the medieval times. It was a steal for just 20 bucks.”

Now I had everyone’s attention as the other guys tumbled out of the cabin and began to amble over to the truck.

“You mean you found a trebuchet alongside the road?” Ern inquired. “Who was having a yard sale? The Visigoths?”

Elvis chuckled and chimed in, “Yeah, they live right there next to Otto M Turks,” reflecting on his history teacher background.

While our understanding of history may be just a little bit murky, the guys still have an admiration for fine weaponry, and Cookie spoke for the group when he asked, “Does it work?”

“Don’t know,” I said. “I just picked it up a little bit ago. Want to give it a try?”

Immediately there was a hustle and bustle of new purpose as Cookie and Coach grabbed the weapon base and carried it into the swamp/yard in front of the cabin. Soupy brought the lever – a seven-foot 2X2 with a hook on one end, a plywood box on the other and an axle in the middle –while Ern went looking for some weights.

It didn’t take rocket science to assemble the trebuchet. Heck, there were only two pieces. Even for mechanically challenged folks like us, things came together quickly.

Attach part A to part B.

The axle of the lever fit perfectly into the cradle provided by the upside down V-shaped frame. And the narrow wooden box swung neatly through the base. Ern showed up shortly with a bucket of rusty, bent nails for the weights.

Every project needs a healthy dose of skepticism, someone looking out for the big picture and willing to show us the error of our ways.

Buck and Doc stood nearby ready to fill the role of cynic.

After sizing up the commotion, Buck asked “So, which direction will that thing fire?”

“If you continue to stand there, it will probably hit you just about in the eye,” I said.

Both of them contemplated that for a few seconds, then grudgingly moved about 90 degrees around the siege weapon to a safer side.

While preparations continued for loading and arming the “war weapon,” Elvis slipped back into teacher mode.

“Can you imagine thinking you are safe behind the castle walls during the Middle Ages, and suddenly a plague dead body comes hurling into the compound?” he asked. “That had to be terrifying.”

Doc took a new interest and added “There’s a dead squirrel out on the highway. How far can we fling that?”

“Sorry, Doc,” I said. “Not far enough. I doubt it will go out of sight.”

“How about one of them deer apples?” Doc asked.

So, it was agreed. A big Wolf River apple was chosen to be the first ammunition. What could possibly go wrong with that?
The nails were loaded into the box on the end of the lever. That part was then swung high in the air to the top of the arc while the hook end was secured to the trigger mechanism at the base. The four-foot cord sling was stretched out straight along a grooved board on the ground which served as sort of an aiming device. At the end of the sling was a small patch of material to hold the projectile which would travel in a 180º arc and be released going in the opposite direction from which it started.

We were ready. Locked and loaded. The apple looked a little too big for the ammunition pouch but the cord on each side should hold it in place until it reached the release point.

“Are we ready?” I yelled.

All the guys seemed to be in place, lined up along either side.

“Let’s fire this puppy up.”

I knelt down beside our weapon of war and pulled the trigger cord, releasing the counterweight to answer to gravity’s call while transferring energy to the projectile. As the apple began to move, quickly gaining speed and momentum, it began to bounce along the aiming plate. To our surprise – we all saw it – it slipped out of the pocket, yet still was propelled into the arc, releasing early at the top of arc. Like the missile it was, it headed straight up.

This is where time slows down. All the guys instantly assumed a defensive posture, meaning one hand swings up to protect the face while the other arm swings out over top to protect the head. It’s instinctual. From a distance we may have looked like some kind of modern, interpretive dance team. A redneck ballet possibly. And the mind’s eye captures a one-second movie, ingrained in my memories.

One hand in front and one over top. After all, we’ve been there before. When Coach dropped a full bucket of paint from the top of the ladder. When Slick threw a firecracker into the campfire.

Countless other times – yes, we have been there, done that. Many times. It’s good to have experience on our side.
And the apple?

It shot straight vertical, about 20 feet in the air, then fell straight back down landing harmlessly in the grass by the catapult base with hardly a bounce.

We continued to play with it for a while, having limited success with tennis balls and other projectiles, but I think that we all agreed. In the pantheon of Big Boy Toys, the trebuchet will never replace the 12 gauge or the 30.06.

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