The Thump was begun in 1954, when Luling Elementary School Principal Hermon Allen suggested that a celebration be held to honor local growers of watermelons and tomatoes. A contest was held to name the event, and the winner was a senior at Luling High School - Carroll Ferguson.
After a few years, the tomatoes got lost in the shuffle and the watermelon emerged as the star of the festivities.
Approximately 3,000 slices of ice cold watermelon were served free of charge to visitors at the 1st An-nual Thump. Highlights of the festival were shown on the Humble Oil & Refining Company television show “Texas in Review”.
Since that first year the festival has gotten bigger and better, and more and more volunteers donate their time to ensure the success of the festival and grab a little place in history. The gala continues to be the major fund-raiser of the year for many local groups.
For the 61 years that the melon has been celebrated here, 1,183 have crossed the auction block, bringing in about $35,000 over one million dollars. Those melons had a combined weight of 59,914 lbs., 14 ozs.
The greatest number of entries sold - 56 - was in 1955; and the lowest number - eight - was in 1987. Of course, those two years mark the “heaviest” melon total - 3,505 lbs., 1 oz - and the “lightest” total - 234 lbs., 4 ozs.
The largest Black Diamond Champion melon, to date, was raised by Allen and Shane Watts in 2005. That melon weighed 81 lbs. Rudy Hernandez brought in a giant melon in 2012, which tipped the scales at 107 lbs., 3 ozs., but the melon was deemed to have imperfections, which knocked it out of the running.
The highest price paid for a Grand Champion was in 2010, when Lester Henry received $22,500 for his entry. That melon was purchased by NorthSouth Oil Co. and Centex Equipment, for $20,000, with Lembo and Kelly Allen adding $2,500. The lowest price paid for the Grand Champion was the first year of the festi-val,, when A.M. “Pat” Fuqua’s melon sold to Ara Bros. for $350.
The top selling melon was Buck Holcomb’s 13th place entry in the 2014 Thump, which sold for $23,000. Of that amount, $20,000 was paid by a West Texas buyers’ group, and $3,000, by Debra and StanFikes and Steve and Sharon Talbot and Britt.
The top total for an annual auction was the $94,450 paid for the 15 melons sold in 2010; and the lowest total was in 1954, when the top 17 melons went for $1,210.
Through the years, two brothers-in-law, F.C. Hinds and Preston Briscoe, have volleyed back and forth as holders of the most champion melon-titles. The tally stands at six wins for Briscoe; and eight for Hinds. And, if they didn’t claim top honors, the two growers managed to “place” or “show” over the years.
The Black Diamond popular in the 1950s, is the only acceptable variety for Championship honors, but its use as a shipping melon has fallen to the bright green stripped Jubilee melon with its dark red meat, which is now the primary type of melon grown in the area.
The Thump has gained national recognition over the years by sending the Champion melon to celebri-ties. Art Linkletter was the recipient of several; Johnny Carson was presented the 1972 champ; and Presi-dent Ronald Reagan got the 1981 big melon. The 1989 Champion was displayed and devoured on the popular country western show, “Nashville Now”; and the 1991 Champ was presented to the staff of the Nashville Now program “Crook & Chase”.
Apart from the fruit, the seeds of the melon have come to be an important part of the festival. Topping listings in the Guinness Book of World Records was the longest local spit of 68 feet, 9 1/8 inches. That distance was recorded at the 1989 Thump by Lee Wheelis of Luling.
Seed-spitting wins were claimed by a husband and wife duo in 1996, which made several television appearances over the year - including the Jay Leno pro-gram and Crook and Chase; and one of the younger spitters, flew to California for an appearance on the Howie Mandel Show a couple of years ago.
Inquiries from all over the world are received at Thump headquarters each year, and Thump organiz-ers are somewhat amazed by all the national attention at times. There are interviews with news media from all over the state, as well as points throughout the world.
REPRINTED with permission LULING NEWSBOY & SIGNAL, 2015