Hard to Catch Merry-Go-Rounds -- With a Lot of Bonuses

If you want to see the vintage steam driven carousels of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa and Rollag, Minnesota, you will have to take your Visa, because these wonderful antiques are over six-hundred miles apart, and both operate Labor Day weekend only (a time when high gas prices can really add up).  Let me assure you though, making the trip is well worth every penny.  Not to mention, you will travel right past the newly carved Carousel Works Merry-Go-Round at Union Park in Des Moines, Iowa and the vintage 1913 Herschell-Spillman in Story City, Iowa.  Both are well worth the stop.  Furthermore, it’s just a short jaunt from Rollag, to the 1928 Allan Herschell at Red River Zoo in Fargo and the 1926 Spillman Engineering Carousel at Chahinkapa Zoo in Wahpeton, North Dakota.

I am constantly reminded why I love making my little excursions in pursuit of carousels.  This particular trip was no exception.  It was a gorgeous fall day, as I headed down the highway from Denver to Burlington, Colorado.  And no, this is not another story about that magnificent carousel.  I just mention it because you have to know there are more worthwhile stops than just the few I noted above.  In fact I did stop, and ended up falling in love with good old PTC #6 all over again.  Besides, it was on the way to my first resting spot in Holdrege, Nebraska (no carousel – but my room was free and my sister-in-law always feeds me well).

The next day I was off again and super eager to see the Union Park carousel in Des Moines.  It was closed the last time I came through town.  What a great machine.  Carousel Works did an awesome job on this gem. 

After riding my favorite cat at least twice, I was on the road and headed toward the Mt. Pleasant Old Threshers Reunion. 

I have to say, even though I had a great time exploring the many fascinating exhibits and educational demonstrations at the reunion, the highlight was seeing their beautifully restored 1894 Norman & Evans carousel.  Exquisite in every way, this two row portable track machine, has 24 jumpers, a Wurlitzer 125 Military Band Organ, and is powered by a Herschell- Spillman steam engine that dates back over a century.

The Mt Pleasant carousel was first operated at Old Threshers Reunion during the 60s and 70s, after which it was sold to J. Ottaway, who restored the machine and operated it in Kansas.  It was part of Cowtown Park in Wichita from 1989 to 1994.  It then made its way back home to Mt. Pleasant where it has been ever since.  For more information on this carousel and the Old Threshers Reunion 2005 see: www.oldthreshers.org

Next, I headed back through Des Moines and up to Story City.  There, in North Park, lies a very fine example of a Herschell-Spillman menagerie merry-go-round.  It has twenty jumpers, two dogs, two pigs, two roosters, two chariots, a lovers tub, and a Wurlitzer Band Organ.

After taking a couple spins on the Story City machine, I was back on the road and headed toward the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion (WMSTR) in Rollag.  

Again, I had a great opportunity to see several fascinating exhibits.  Each one took me one step closer to my real passion – experiencing another great carousel.  The thing that touched me most about this piece was the huge popularity it held with reunion goers.  Not only was the line to ride unusually long, everyone there (young and old) seemed to be waiting with extreme eagerness to jump aboard their steam powered icon.

The Rollag carousel is a c. 1920 C.W. Parker, two row portable, with twenty-two jumpers, three chariots, and a Johnson Model 125SP band organ.  It’s also set up to run with an electric motor.  The center pole is trailer mounted, but was probably not configured this way originally. This particular Parker began its life traveling in a Minnesota carnival from the 1920s to the 1960s.  After which, Ruben Klein of Pelican Rapids, MN owned it.  Then, in 1982 it was passed on to the WMSTR. 

Two of the Rollag horses where carved by local carvers who are also working on carving new center panels.  In fact, a special carving building was established by WMSTR in 1992.  It serves as a workshop and added attraction for riders as they wait for their turn.  For more information on this carousel, and the 2005 WMSTR see:  www.rollag.com

After leaving the reunion I also had time to catch the carousels of Red River Zoo in Fargo, and Chahinkapa Zoo in Wahpeton, ND.  I would highly recommend stopping at both (see photos below).  There is nothing like heading out to see two hard to catch merry-go-rounds and ending up with bonus visits to four or five others.

So, when making next year’s Labor Day plans, you might want to think about catching your own ride on the Mt. Pleasant and Rollag carousels.  And of course, don't forget about all the other great stops in between.

Dennis D. Towndrow