OGDEN -- In the 12th century, warriors in what is now Europe camped outside enemy fortresses for days, constructing trebuchets, large catapult-type weapons the aggressors would load and fire, hurling the toxins of the day inside the walled courtyards of castles.
Popular flinging things included putrid garbage, dead and diseased cows, and decomposing corpses that carried highly contagious plagues.
At this week's Ogden-Weber Tech manufacturing camp, teachers wisely opted to arm their students with golf balls.
"The trebuchets of the Middle Ages were the first way to deliver chemical weapons," said Wayne Layton, a sheet metal instructor at Ogden-Weber Applied Technical College. "But we have the students build trebuchets to teach them the different parts of manufacturing."
On Friday, the 21 teenage students who enrolled in the weeklong camp spent their final "classroom" hours in the breezy outdoors, loading the model devices they had built, and firing the golf balls at a cardboard picture of a castle, placed about 100 feet away.
No royalty was hurt during the operation, although Cooper Hirst, 13, from Harrisville's Orion Junior High, did take a golf ball to the gut when his team's trebuchet pouch released too soon.
"It wasn't too bad," Hirst said, rubbing his lower belly. "It could have been worse."
Trebuchets (pronounced tray-boo-shays) are a specific type of catapult that uses a counterweight and gravity, rather than a twisted rope, to power the weapon. They were more powerful and had a greater range than earlier catapults.
Curtis Nielsen, OWATC director of trades and apprenticeship programs, chose the trebuchets as a student project because constructing them requires students to master the basics of five different skills important to manufacturing.
The students, divided into seven teams of three, covered the basics of draft design, sheet metal fabrication, machining, welding and composites. Students also learned to work as teams with people they had never met before, and they toured the manufacturing plant of Ogden's Barnes Aerospace, which provides engineered, machined and fabricated assemblies for aircraft engines.
Nielsen said the number of students increased this year, as did the knowledge they brought to camp.
"I guess word spread after last year's camp, which was the first year," he said. "This year we got more students who already had taken a class or two in manufacturing areas. We got more who understood what we were talking about from the beginning, and more are considering careers in the field. We didn't have to get them excited. They were already excited."
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Several students from the summer 2011 camp enrolled in fall manufacturing classes at Ogden-Weber Tech, Nielsen added. That's the plan of Grayson Taylor, 17, a new graduate of Ben Lomond High School.
"I'll be here to study manufacturing and sheet metal," said Grayson, sidelined by a broken arm, and watching others launch their dimpled missiles. "I thought it would be fun to come to camp and learn about the career."
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On the impromptu firing range, students ages 13 to 18, whooped and hollered as their trebuchets lobbed balls into the grass around the cardboard castle. A few direct hits sparked wild cheers, but didn't damage the target in the least.
After 30 or so minutes of bombardment, Team 4 took top honors for accuracy. Bragging rights and iTune gift cards went to Saul Prado, 14, of Farr West's Walquist Junior High; Eric Barton, 15, of Ogden High; and Grant Callister, 14, North Ogden Junior High.
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So, did the winning manufacturers have any firing advice for those who attend manufacturing camp 2013?
"Wait for the wind to stop," Saul said. "That helps a lot."