Nebraska Man Paddles Down River in an 846-Pound Pumpkin

Duane Hansen celebrated his 60th birthday by attempting to break a world record and realizing a long-held dream.

September 01, 2022

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Photo by: Photo courtesy of Phil Davidson with the City of Bellevue/Facebook

Photo courtesy of Phil Davidson with the City of Bellevue/Facebook

There are a lot of tried-and-true ways to celebrate a milestone birthday. (A cake, a party, a trip …) And then there’s how Duane Hansen celebrated his big 6-0: Last week, to mark his 60th birthday, the resident of Syracuse, Nebraska, hopped into a giant, hollowed-out pumpkin he’d grown himself and paddled 38 miles down the Missouri River in an effort to set a new Guinness World Record.

Hansen’s journey was chronicled by Phil Davidson, who works for the City of Bellevue, Nebraska, in a post on the city’s Facebook page.

“They say if you stay in your job long enough you might see just about everything and this morning was one of those days!” Davidson mused, before recounting how he and a colleague were going about their work in the mayor’s office at Bellevue City Hall last Thursday, when, just after 8 a.m., Hansen stopped in to ask if anyone there would be willing to serve as official witnesses for his world record attempt.

Originally believing that Hansen intended to merely float his 846-pound pumpkin down the river unmanned, Davidson and his colleague only later realized that Hansen intended to actually ride inside the pumpkin.

A few days later, on Saturday (the day after his birthday) at about 7:30 a.m., as the sun rose over the trees and his wife, family and friends looked on, Hansen hopped into his massive pumpkin — with “SS Berta” (named for a TV character) carved into the pumpkin vessel’s stern — to make the 38-mile journey from the Bellevue Public Boat Docks down the Missouri River to Nebraska City.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Phil Davidson with the City of Bellevue/Facebook

Photo courtesy of Phil Davidson with the City of Bellevue/Facebook

Hansen smashed the previous world record for longest journey in a pumpkin boat (25.5 miles) at about 2:52 p.m., and safely arrived in Nebraska City, completing his record-breaking 38-mile journey, at around 6:30 p.m.

Along the way, the journey had its challenges: a rocky shoreline, shallow patches and sandbars, waves from passing boats.

At times, “not swamping it” proved tough, Hansen tells local News Channel Nebraska (NCN). “The boats leave the waves and you’ve got to stop everything and just hold on and ride with those waves. That was bad,” he adds.

Hansen — who wore a life vest (at his wife’s insistence), sat on a foam cooler placed inside the pumpkin and was followed by a few members of his entourage in a boat, in case anything went awry — said even just waving to the people along the shore cheering him put him in danger of capsizing the pumpkin, noting, “You’ve got to be on top of it the whole time – the whole time.”

“It’s just like riding on a cork,” Hansen tells the Omaha World-Herald.

Hansen first got the idea for his record-breaking pumpkin-boat river ride — and set his mind to doing it — when he met a previous record holder at a pumpkin-growing seminar in Portland, Oregon, five years ago. He was determined to grow his own pumpkin for the journey and doing so, he said, “was the biggest hurdle of this whole operation.”

Guinness says it is still waiting for evidence to review ahead of making Hansen’s world record official.

In the meantime, Hansen is recovering from his intense, nearly 12-hour ride. And if Guinness doesn’t certify his record? Don’t expect him to make another attempt.

“I ain’t gonna do this again,” Hansen tells NCN. “I’m done with this.”

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