These are the times that try men's pumpkin-carving souls. Unless you're Jerry Ayers.
Ayers, who first set the Guinness record as the world's fastest pumpkin carver in 1999 with a time of one minute, 37 seconds during an appearance on the CBS's Saturday edition of The Early Show, will appear Saturday at e_SDHpSpringhouse Garden's Fall Planting Festival and demonstrate his techniques.
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He routinely knocks out detailed jack-o'-lanterns in less than two minutes flat.
He beat his own record in 2000, with his fastest-ever official carving time: one minute, 18 seconds. "I've done it even faster than that unofficially," said Ayers, 68, a native of Baltimore, Ohio. "But the whole concept of pumpkin carving is having fun, and not speed."
Still, Ayers' speed is what draws crowds.
And his quickness doesn't stop just with his knife. Ayers said he can clean out the average pumpkin in less than 25 seconds.
"It's because I do it so much," he said. "When you carve enough pumpkins you get pretty good."
Before slowing down in recent years, Ayers was in high demand for October demonstrations throughout the country. One year, he traveled more than 5,000 miles, carving 800 pumpkins and making 40 TV appearances from one coast to the other in the weeks leading up to Halloween.
"Kids come and enjoy seeing my demonstration, but it's always the parents, the adults, who are more amazed than the kids are," Ayers said. "They're so surprised to see how fast and simple they could do it, because it usually takes them hours."
Ayers developed his trademark, super-quick "half-moon method of carving" — in which all the jack-o'- lantern's features save the mouth are formed from half circles — when his own children, now in their 40s, were small.
He perfected the technique in the 1980s and 1990s, when each October he would take a break from his job at the insurance agency he owned with his wife, Sally, dress as a clown for Halloween and do an annual carving demonstration and Halloween safety presentation for elementary school kids in his town.
Eventually, local press picked up on his speed, and the national media soon followed.
Ayers has appeared on Regis and Kathy Lee, and set several other world records, including carving a ton of pumpkins in seven hours and 11 minutes.
His success as a carver eventually led to a full-time, second career. He launched Designer Pumpkin Co. in the mid-'90s, which marketed books and carving tools to grocery stores nationwide for more than 10 years.
Designing on the fly
Ayers never uses a template and designs his pumpkins in the moment so that no two turn out alike. He promises those who attend his free demonstration will come away with some easy-to-use tips.
The 30 or so pumpkins Ayers carves during the demonstration will be for sale. Proceeds will benefit the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Bluegrass, Inc.
Ayers always donates his time and has never charged to do a demonstration. Since he began traveling and doing carving demonstrations more than a decade ago, he estimates he's carved 12,000 pumpkins, raising more than $100,000 for local charities. While some of his pumpkins have fetched as much as several hundred dollars at auction, most go for $20 to $40, he said.
For his own house at Halloween, though, Ayers' pumpkin count is more modest. One year he did a big display of 30 jack-o'-lanterns, but its popularity caused traffic backups on his busy street. Now, he sticks to just one or two.