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A gourd among men: 60-year-old paddles 38 miles in hollowed-out pumpkin to break world record

Duane Hansen of Nebraska paddled 38 miles down the Missouri River in an 846-pound pumpkin he affectionately named the SS Berta.
Duane Hansen paddling in the SS Berta.
Duane Hansen paddling in the SS Berta.Courtesy City of Bellevue, Nebraska via Facebook / Duane Hansen

For one Nebraska man, all it takes is a little ingenuity and a big load of fertilizer to reach your dreams.

On Aug. 27, two official witnesses, friends and family watched as Nebraska resident Duane Hansen paddle a 846-pound floating pumpkin down to Missouri River in an attempt to beat the Guinness World Record.

“They say if you stay in your job long enough you might see just about everything and this morning was one of those days!” reads a Facebook post from City of Bellevue.

According to the post, Hansen walked into the mayor’s office the morning of Aug. 25 and asked if two people from Bellevue City Hall would serve as official witnesses for his efforts to complete a unique feat.

Hansen aimed to be recognized by Guinness World Records for breaking the world record for "Longest Journey by Pumpkin Boat," a record currently held by Rick Swenson of Grand Forks, North Dakota. In 2016, Swenson managed to paddle for 25.5 miles, a distance Hansen believed he could beat.

 “We were very surprised when we saw the hollowed-out pumpkin and realized that he would be sitting in the pumpkin for 11 hours while floating down the Missouri River,” Phil Davidson, who works in community relations for the City of Bellevue, told TODAY Food. Davidson served as one of Hansen’s official witnesses for the event, along with Lisa Rybar, a Bellevue Community Foundation board member.

Duane Hansen on the Missouri River.
Duane Hansen on the Missouri River.Courtesy City of Bellevue, Nebraska via Facebook / Duane Hansen

Rybar and Davidson originally thought Hansen intended to float an intact giant pumpkin for over 30 miles down the Missouri River. In the Facebook post, they said that it wasn’t until later in the conversation that they realized that Hansen, who had just celebrated his 60th birthday, would actually be physically riding in the pumpkin on its journey.

“Once you have a goal like that, and you’re so close, there’s no way I was quitting,” Hansen told TODAY. “When I went down that river, for a long way, it was tough, I was done. But I was determined.”

Hansen said he’s loved growing squashes and gourds all his life, and a few years ago, became interested in growing giant pumpkins. 

“You have a lot of failures growing giant pumpkins,” Hansen said. “I mean, I thought I could grow stuff. I thought I could grow anything. Well, these humble you.”

Berta as a wee little gourd.
Berta as a wee little gourd.Courtesy City of Bellevue, Nebraska via Facebook / Duane Hansen

Hansen had some successes, “three, four or 500 pounders,” but wanted to reach at least a ton (the heaviest pumpkin ever recorded was a whopping 2,702 pounds) so he went to a giant pumpkin-growing seminar to bone up on his gourd-growing. He came up with the idea to break the record around the same time he even learned that giant pumpkin boat paddling was even a possibility.

“About five years ago, I went to Portland, Oregon to a giant-pumpkin-growing seminar, and there was a picture of this lady,” said Hansen. “I don’t remember how far she went down a river, but you know, it was a fair amount of miles, like 12, and I looked at that and thought, 'Wow, I didn’t even know there was such a thing.'"

The SS Berta being readied for the journey.
The SS Berta being readied for the journey.Courtesy City of Bellevue, Nebraska via Facebook / Duane Hansen

Hansen said he approached her later after noticing that she was at the seminar and grilled her on how she did it. “She told me everything I asked. Ever since then, that was my goal to get a pumpkin big enough to get down the river,” he said. “And that’s how it all started.”

According to the City of Bellevue, on Saturday morning, at the Bellevue Public Boat Docks, Hansen hopped in the pumpkin, affectionately named the SS Berta, at around 7:30 a.m. to attempt to make the trip paddling to Nebraska City in a floating gourd. It was estimated that the trip would take approximately six hours, but ended up taking about 11, with Hansen traveling an astonishing 38 miles total down the Missouri River without leaving the pumpkin once.

“Once you’re on the river, that damn thing was so tippy, it was unbelievable. It was like riding in a cork,” Hansen said. “You just could tip over at any second. You’re using your balance the whole time. I’ve never paid so much attention to any one thing in my entire life.”

Duane Hansen (2nd from left) with SS Berta and loved ones in advance of his journey.
Duane Hansen (2nd from left) with SS Berta and loved ones in advance of his journey.Courtesy City of Bellevue, Nebraska via Facebook / Duane Hansen

“I’m glad I did it. I mean, 30 miles is a long ways to go in a pumpkin down a river, but I’m sure someday somebody will try to beat it,” said Hansen. “I turned 60 the day before I did this, so I’m not no young punk, you know? If somebody beats me, I have just enough experience at this now. I would probably try to do it again.” 

Hansen said that with the help of his daughter, Morgan Buchholz, he’s compiled all of the evidence to send to Guinness World Records to get his record officially recognized.

“Congratulations Duane for smashing the world record,” a spokesperson for the City of Bellevue told TODAY. “We are proud that you started this record breaking 38 mile journey in Bellevue and we have enjoyed seeing all of the positive feedback this record setting float has received.”

Duane Hansen in his giant pumpkin, SS Berta, complete with a beer cupholder.
Duane Hansen in his giant pumpkin, SS Berta, complete with a beer cupholder.Courtesy City of Bellevue, Nebraska via Facebook / Duane Hansen

TODAY reached out to Guinness World Records for comment and hasn't heard back yet, but the organization previously sent a statement regarding Hansen's feat to CNN.

“Within our application process, we provide the applicant with guidelines that are specific to that record category and must be adhered to, to qualify,” Guinness World Records spokesperson Kylie Galloway told CNN, adding that the organization has received Hansen’s application for the title and is awaiting evidence to review. “These guidelines also detail the evidence that must be submitted. Once received and reviewed, our Records Management Team will then confirm the success or failure of the record attempt.”

Either way, Hansen said he’s proud of himself for what he’s been able to accomplish, and has already inspired his daughter to ask him something sure to turn a few heads.

“She told me, ‘Dad, I got this idea. Can you grow a pumpkin big enough for me and you go down the river?’ I’m like, 'Oh, Morgan,'" said Hansen with a laugh. “I might be able to grow a pumpkin that big because I’ve learned a lot, so you know what? I think that might be our next goal."