Travis Gienger of Anoka, Minnesota, who grew the record pumpkin which is almost three tons with champion carver Eric Jones, a two-time world record holder for jack-o-lantern carving and a past Food Network champion (photo by Madisyn Herman)
By JOHN ANDERSON, photos by MADISYN HERMAN
The snow, sand, ice and pumpkin carvings by Eric Jones have received national attention and made him a Food Network champion.
Today, his work holds an official Police Gazette world record and is credited for breaking two Guinness Book of World Records.
Jones, thanks to the support of Rob Moore of Gideon Entertainment and the movie “Iron Will: Veterans’ Battle with PTSD,” carved a stunning pumpkin with carvings honoring the military and veterans. Academy Award winner Billy Bob Thornton narrates the movie.
Minnesota farmer and pumpkin expert Travis Gienger of Anoka, broke his own Guinness World Record on Oct. 9 with the heaviest pumpkin at 2,749 pounds. The pumpkin, he named “Michael Jordan,” was then carefully shipped from Anoka to Buffalo, N.Y. where it landed at the Great Pumpkin Farm in Clarence.
Gienger said the pumpkin grew 70 pounds a day, 400 pounds a week and it was a 184-day process grown in 60 days.
“It’s quite a feat to see it and I’m so proud, thanks to Rob Moore and Iron Will Movie, this pumpkin can support veterans,” Gienger said.
Jones then broke the record for World’s Heaviest Jack-O’-Lantern and World’s Largest Jack-O’-Lantern as he carved a female veteran, a disabled veteran, a veteran reflecting, an American Eagle and a service dog.
Gienger, Moore and Jones were all awarded medallions and a special veterans knife from Scott Burt, president of the Police Gazette, which has handed out world records since 1880, 38 years before Ripley’s Believe it or Not began.
From left, Scott Burt, who certified the record pumpkin for the Police Gazette, Rob Moore of IronWillMovie.com, Veteran Steve Botens of the Cuba AMVETS, Champion carver Eric Jones of Bolivar, who set two world records and is a Food Network champion, Vietnam Veteran Les Baker, a past New York State Amvets Commander and Travis Gienger of Anoka, Minnesota who grew the Guinness World Record pumpkin (photo by Madisyn Herman).
Television crews flocked to the pumpkin farm for live remotes in the morning, and then during a ceremony just before Veterans Day, Burt certified the pumpkin as a world record as a crowd cheered.
But the big winners are veterans who are benefiting from the national publicity of the world record pumpkin. Moore, along with Christopher Kreiger, Sr., an Iraq War veteran who was in the movie, talked about dropping the “D” from PTSD and getting help for veterans in three ways: service dogs, peer counseling and combating homelessness.
“This movie is being told by veterans. The fact of the matter is, they are veterans living a civilian life. We as civilians need to understand this reality,” Moore said. “They will never lose that part of them that served in active duty and the things they saw as they served to protect our country. We need to let them know it is ok to ask for help.”
Moore heard from loved ones who didn’t understand, either.
“I hear a lot of wives of veterans say ‘why can’t they talk to me, but they can go down the street and talk to a stranger who is a veteran and they click?’ It’s because that veteran had his back and he would die for him,” Moore said. “It’s easy for them to relate to each other. I think peer-to-peer groups work. This documentary shows PTS is not a disorder but it’s a natural reaction to a traumatic event.”
Jones, who hails from the Bolivar-Richburg, N.Y. area and does a lot of carvings in Olean, N.Y., has had his snow and pumpkin carvings featured on Sunday Night Football and Thursday Night Football recently. He did a snow sculpture of Buffalo Bills’ NFL players Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs which also went viral. But he said he is most proud of the work he has done to bring a smile to a child who has a terminal disease or were victims of a tragedy. A caricature artist, Jones had that work with children go viral thanks to Hope Rises Network.
“When we decided to make this a military-themed pumpkin, I walked around the pumpkin and let the pumpkin tell me what I could do and where I could carve,” Jones said. “You get an idea of what you can see. Rob Moore and a whole team put this together, I had the easy part, I just had to carve it.”
The “easy” part was starting the carve on Nov. 4 and working almost around the clock until Nov. 8. He used airbrushes to accentuate the details in the carving and the uniforms of the veterans as well as the eagle and dog. From the time the pumpkin was weighed to the final carve, Jones and Gienger completed the project within the 30-day window required by Guinness to be considered a world record. The official book with the record will come out in 2024.
The pumpkin had tremendous meaning to veterans. Veterans Les Baker, a past New York State Amvets Commander along with Steve Botens of the Cuba Amvets and Cindy Gass of the board of trustees drove almost two hours to see the pumpkin and the presentation.
Baker and Botens, who are also part of their local Honor Guard, walked the world championship Belt up to Burt as it was presented to Jones. Baker had a tear in his eye as he watched Jones receive the Vietnam Veteran knife of honor. After the ceremony, Jones gave the knife to Baker, who is a Vietnam veteran.
It was moments like this that made Moore proud they spent seven years trying to get the movie produced, which also has several famous entertainers and musicians talking about their respect for veterans.
“We have two benefacting organizations from the proceeds of Iron Will Movie, Pawsitive for Heroes and Tunnel to Towers, which is trying to eradicate veteran homelessness. The pumpkin itself shows the service dog, but it shows the eagle, which I think is a symbol of the United States and how we can all become united and not divided,” Moore said. “We are bringing in the women who served, the military, the veteran who is disabled, this is the history of what they went through and it represents the message we are trying to bring out, no matter what life deals, you have the iron will to sustain it and get better, it’s not hopelessness.
“The movie came together because of Tim Vandesteeg, the producer of the movie, it was his mindset as his brother, a veteran, committed suicide. With two other veterans, they started filming in Nashville,” Moore added. “Today? You can go to ironwillmovie.com and stream the movie … it’s live, finally! A military-themed pumpkin on Veterans Day, it all fits. “
Kreiger is in the movie telling his story as well.
“Western New York Heroes, we are just that. When Rob reached out to me to come to Nashville to be in the movie, Iron Will, I was honored,” Kreiger said. “Our program, Pawsitive for Heroes, was just in Western New York. But veterans all over needed our help. So we went national last year and veterans receive service dogs across the country and it continues to grow. We now have the ability to change a life and save a life.”
The movie, which just premiered, has been popular with young adults and college students. Moore said there is a second message for those who watch the movie as well.
“You need to understand that freedom is not free and these people served and sacrificed and their family served and sacrificed as well,” Moore said. “When you are young and you are in college having fun, and you are in the United States and you are warm, you are eating, you have everything you can think you can have, our iPhone and your tennis shoes and you are having a good time, remember, the veterans are the reason we can live like that. They served and they sacrificed so we can have our freedom. Even if a veteran didn’t go through a war like Iraq or Afghanistan or Vietnam, they helped make this a better place and the best country on earth.”
Burt, the keeper of the human achievement awards, also is the president of the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame in Belfast, N.Y. During their induction ceremony in June of 2024, Burt invited Jones, Moore and Kreiger back for their induction into the hall of fame and to once again honor them for the world record.
From left, Christopher Kreiger, Sr., an Iraq War veteran who founded Pawsitive for Heroes and WNY Heroes, Rob Moore of Iron Will Movie, which is raising money for veterans and commissioned the carving by Jones, Eric Jones of Eric Jones Studios who now holds two carving world records for the pumpkin, Travis Gienger of Anoka, Minnesota who grew the pumpkin, Scott Burt, who certified the pumpkin for the Police Gazette and is the president of the Bareknuckle Boxing Hall of Fame in Belfast, and Caroline Greenwood, the Clarence Great Pumpkin Farm’s 2023 Pumpkin Princess (photo by Madisyn Herman).
The Guinness Book of World Record pumpkin is 2,749 pounds. It grew 70 pounds a day, 400 pounds a week and it was a 184-day process grown in 60 days by Travis Gienger of Minnesota. Eric Jones then carved it to set two more records for jack-o-lantern carving (photo by Madisyn Herman).