Drive mechanism being installed for Carousel of Dreams

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldMarch 26, 2014 

There's a touch of magic in the way the mechanism that will suspend and rotate the Carousel of Dreams is coming together at Kennewick's Southridge Sports & Events Complex.

It features a single center pole with steel cables stretching down to hold 18 wooden arms called sweeps.

Eventually this will hold the full 30,000 pounds of the carousel and its horses, plus the weight of the riders -- effortlessly, like magic.

It's the culmination of a dream 13 years in the making. And by late May or early June, the Three Rivers Carousel Foundation's board expects to be able to give the first rides on the 104-year-old carousel.

Five Carousel Works employees from Ohio, along with about a dozen volunteers, are four days into a nine- to ten-day installation project of the carousel's mechanism.

Other workers are finishing the building for the carousel's new home next to the Southridge pavilion off Highway 395.

Building the magic

The poles for each of the horses will connect to the sweeps and the wood panel floor of the carousel.

Altogether, two sweeps connected to the center pole are about 52 feet long, said Jim Jones, Carousel Works mechanical and electrical supervisor. The wood panel bottom of the carousel will have a diameter of about 48 feet.

The sweeps will be evenly spaced using wood pieces called "spreaders." Both have been painted to match, with green and purple accents.

The carousel won't touch the floor. Instead, it will be suspended on a center pole visible to carousel riders.

The carousel will float, Jones said, using a 10-horsepower motor to move it.

The structure for the carousel is new, designed and built by Carousel Works. The foundation's board decided to go with a new mechanism because of maintenance issues.

By the 1920s, Jones said people had carousel making down pat. The only real improvement Carousel Works makes from the old designs is in the materials, such as steel instead of cast iron.

Carousels then were a bit of a mess. They needed frequent lubrication and oil would fall on the heads of riders, Jones said.

That is not the sort of experience riders have on newer carousels. Because of improved materials, the maintenance is less.

And operators no longer have to put oil down the hollow pole of each horse, said Jones, who has been restoring antique carousels and creating new custom ones for the last 26 years.

During that time, he said the company has worked on about 70 carousels, both new and old. Some, like Kennewick's carousel, feature restored antique horses.

"We hand-carve our own figures," Jones said.

Most of the Kennewick carousel's figures are the original horses. But a cougar and a husky have been added.

The carousel is among the few in the country to still have its brass ring, said Ken Johanning, who is on the carousel foundation's board and a founding member.

The brass ring

The dispenser for the rings features a four-foot salmon carved by Mike Thornton of Richland, and the lucky rider who manages to stick a finger through the brass ring wins a free ride on the carousel, he said.

After carving the salmon, Thornton took on the cougar.

Thornton, who makes reproductions of Queen Anne furniture as a hobby, said he told Johanning he would, but only if the foundation promised not to use it if the members felt it wasn't up to snuff.

His daughter, Jennifer Sorn, drew the cougar for him, and he spent six months working on the figure, which is one of the outside jumpers.

He hopes he or one of his grandchildren will be among the first to ride it.

Up to 54 people will be able to ride the carousel at the same time.

Eric Van Winkle, the carousel foundation's chairman, said the group expects to be able to offer about six rides in an hour.

A token will be used to pay for a ride. It will cost $3 for one token, but $10 will buy four tokens and $20 will buy ten, Van Winkle said. Group rates also will be available.

A dream for the Tri-Cities

Also taking part in the installation work are two Tri-Citians who brought the carousel and its horses to the Tri-Cities. Phil Slusser and Johanning recall driving to Roswell, N.M., to retrieve the carousel horses in 2003.

Both wanted to bring a carousel to the Tri-Cities.

Slusser's interest in carousels started with his first job working with the Spokane carousel.

"Grandpa Phil," as he likes to be called, said his grandchildren inspired him to try to get the Tri-Cities a carousel of its own.

But at first, they didn't think the Tri-Cities would be able to get an antique one. In 2002, Johanning recalls meeting with the carousel's former owner, Marianne Stevens, and thinking for sure she was going to tell them she'd decided to sell the 1910 Charles Carmel carousel to someone else. They were eating a meal, and she told him, "I found a home for the carousel."

It's been a long road since. And for a while, it looked like the carousel might never open.

The Kennewick City Council gave the foundation a last chance to finish the carousel in 2012. It considered selling the carousel to recoup some of the $830,000 the city invested in the project. The horses were restored and had been sitting in city storage. The city council was adamant that no more tax dollars be spent on the project.

Then, Gesa Credit Union donated $1 million for the naming rights. Toyota of Tri-Cities committed $500,000 to the project, donating $10,000 a month for 50 months, which will help with operational costs. Baker Produce of Tri-Cities paid for the new mechanism that will make the 45 horses and the cougar and husky bob up and down.

The entire project will cost the community about $4 million.

But seeing the carousel finally come together does have a bitter sweetness. Johanning said Stevens, whom he's sure would have wanted to come to the opening, died in 2012.

She was so determined to make sure she found a home for the carousel where all the horses carved by Carmel would be kept together, instead of being dismantled like many others, he said. She had bought the carousel from the Silver Beach Amusement Park in St. Joseph, Mich. in 1972 and hung on to it.

Her son plans to come to the opening, Johanning said.

How to help

The carousel foundation is continuing to raise money to meet its goal of incurring no debt.

Van Winkle said the group needs "a couple hundred thousand" dollars. It still has 34 horses, three chariots, the cougar and the husky and 16 of the 18 rounding boards left to be sponsored. Tiles that will form the floor around the carousel also are being sold.

For more information or to donate, go to or call 509-585-8800.

w Kristi Pihl: 582-1512;

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