Giant pumpkin takes its last tour
SOUTH LINCOLN — Driving around Vermont in late October has always presented Jim Apgar with some unusual technical challenges. It’s not the truck or the roads or the routes — they’re fine. It’s not the tools of his trade as a contractor.
It’s the 700-pound pumpkin, the one it took a team of helpers to bring home, a Sawzall to carve and a forklift to set in place atop the truck.
At night you could see Jim coming from a distance. Drivers along that hilly stretch of Route 17 in New Haven, where the road seems to undulate, have reported seeing a giant jack-o’-lantern rise out of the darkness, disappear, then rise again.
“It’s part embarrassing and part awesome,” said Jim’s daughter, Amanda Bolduc. When she was working in Burlington in her mid-20s, Amanda recalled, a coworker “came in and was telling everyone about this awesome thing she had seen. ‘A truck with a giant pumpkin on the top of it. A huge pumpkin right on the roof!’ Everyone thought it was so interesting. ‘That’s my dad,’ I said sheepishly. Then we all had a good laugh.”
Sometimes Jim’s jack-o’-lanterns have worn a smirk. Sometime they’ve glowered or grinned wildly. One imagines they’d cackle and howl if they could. Whatever their expression, his Halloween creations have delighted (and sometimes startled) countless friends, neighbors and community members from the Basin Harbor Club to the Mad River Valley and beyond.
This year Jim added an additional design element: a small pumpkin sticking out of the larger one, meant to represent a tumor.
In July Jim, age 62, was diagnosed with a glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
“He wanted to get a laugh out of it,” Jim’s son, Dustin Apgar, said about the design. “Dad has always been about having as much fun as possible.”
This year, while his dad watched from the window, Dustin oversaw the project. With the help of friends and family, he carved the face, inserted the tumor, hoisted the pumpkin and secured it into place using ropes, straps and netting.
“It all went smoothly,” Dustin said.
It hasn’t always gone so smoothly, however.
One year, when Jim’s sweatshirt got caught in the controls, his forklift shattered the glass of his truck.
“That wasn’t a cheap fix,” he said with a chuckle.
JIM AND MARY Apgar stand by a previous year’s truck creation.
Another year, as Jim was rounding a bend, the pumpkin rolled off the truck and nearly hit another car. Thankfully the other driver was a good sport about it, he said. After that, he started securing the pumpkin with a giant net.
Then there was the Humpty-Dumpty year. When his pumpkin fell and broke, Jim put it back together again.
“With rebar. It stuck out everywhere,” Jim said, pleased with the mental picture he was drawing. “It made it even more spooky than usual.”
Among the many lives Jim has touched over the years, one name came up over and over again: Mrs. Perfect, a resident of Bristol who lived to be 93.
Toward the end of her life Mrs. Perfect grew blind, said her son Jeremy and his wife, Sheila. One thing she could still make out, however, was the light and dark of those great big pumpkins. So when Jim came to visit, he made sure to back his truck right up to the house so she could see them.
“We would bundle her up and take her down the ramp to see the pumpkin,” Sheila said.
“It was a big hit for her every year,” Jeremy added.
No one quite remembers when the tradition got started, but Jim and his wife, Mary, estimated it was 15 or 20 years ago. One day Jim decided that since Halloween doesn’t really come to them in far away South Lincoln (“We don’t get any trick-or-treaters where we live,” he said), he would bring Halloween with him, wherever he went.
A giant wily jack-o’-lantern glows from the top of Jim Apgar’s truck during a stop at the Lincoln General Store. The store’s owner, Vaneasa Stearns, is organizing a “pumpkin parade” at Apgar’s home in South Lincoln, to honor Apgar’s life and Halloween spirit. Below, an undated photo from a previous Halloween appeared on Jim Apgar’s Facebook page.
Facebook photo/Lincoln General Store
“Dad is always about having a good time and making people smile,” Amanda said. “As a kid we never got lost. We were just ‘on tour.’ He was always the first person to lend a hand to someone in need and everyone knew they could call him anytime for help. Pulling cars out of the snow or mud was never a chore, always an adventure. Bonfire? The bigger the better. His fireworks shows would rival most town events.”
He is also a bit of a rule-breaker.
“Dad would park off a side street in Rutland so he could watch the Halloween parade and then would sneak in at the end, like he was part of it. It was always in good fun.”
Jim won’t make it down to Rutland for Halloween this year, but he’s still getting a parade.
“We would like to pay tribute to Jim and his family by asking the community to join us on his lawn Friday evening (Oct. 26) with your own Jim-o-Lanterns,” wrote Vanessa Stearns on the Lincoln General Store’s Facebook page last week. “For as long as I can remember, the season of Halloween has always meant keeping our eyes peeled for Jim and his Giant Pumpkin cruising the roads. He takes great pride in the delight (and fright) that his pumpkin creations bring.”
This year, she wrote, “Let’s shine our pumpkin lights in honor of Jim.”
In the days leading up to the tribute, Dustin predicted a good turnout for the “Jim-o’-Lantern” parade, he said.
His sister was enthusiastic, too, but more cautiously so.
“I won’t lie, I’m am concerned that this will be a huge parade (Friday) night,” she said. “But I know my dad will love and appreciate every single second of it. The outpouring of love and support my family has received from the Lincoln community has been wonderful.”
It’s a testament to both her father and to this mountain town, where everyone is treated like family, she said.
“This is the world we should all strive for.”
Reach Christopher Ross at email@example.com.
Click here to watch an Addison Independent video about this year’s Apgar pumpkin project.