Shelby Carrousel operator Henry Hartley says he loves his job
A half dollar won't get you much these days, not even a candy bar, but that same amount of cash can get you a ride on one of America's most beautiful carrousels, and you don't have to go very far to find it.
The city of Shelby has a number of downtown attractions such as the Earl Scruggs Center in the old courthouse and the Gibson Theater around the corner on Washington St., but less than a mile away from courthouse square in Shelby City Park, in a special pavilion, is where the magic of the Shelby Carrousel is housed.
The carrousel is basically a huge, mechanical artwork with music. It is a swirling circle of brightly painted, galloping, wooden horses, mirrors, fancifully painted panels, and old time organ music rolled into one.
It's been called a "theatrical thing of the mind".
The story of how the carrousel got to Shelby, how is it was restored, and the role it plays in bringing a glimpse of the past into the present day is one of love and labor- lots of labor.
Briefly stated, the carrousel was originally owned by the James E. Strates Shows traveling carnival and amusement company. The City of Shelby bought it in 1951 for around six thousand dollars. It was taken apart and stored for a time under the grandstand at the Cleveland County fairgrounds where it narrowly avoided being destroyed in a fire. Years passed and the decision was made to finally resurrect the horses from their long slumber.
Enter Tommy Forney.
Forney had been injured in 1979 and needed a wheelchair for mobility. He had taken vocational rehab classes and learned woodworking and carving. The City of Shelby Parks and Rec. director at that time, Fain Hamrick, brought Forney on board to begin restoring the carrousel's horses and chariots.
"A restoration workshop was set up in a locker room at the park gym," said Forney. "A table was built that I could sit at while I worked on the carrousel."
Forney had his work cut out for him in doing the restoration.
"Layer after layer of paint had to be stripped off," he said. "Some of the horse's legs and tails were missing. Some parts were held on with rusty nails that had to be pulled."
Forney's vocational rehab courses came in handy.
"The horses were like big pieces of furniture," he said. "The bodies are basically a box with the other pieces attached. We used basswood to make new parts. It carves real well."
The carrousel has 29 horses that were restored. Forney estimates it took at least sixty hours to finish each one. Forney also carved the carrousel's two chariots from scratch.
Three of the horses are new. These were handmade by master woodcarver David Caldwell from Lawndale.
Once the horses and chariots were done, they were given stunning paint jobs by three ladies- Alice Johnson, Nancy Haynes, and Brenda Lowery. The ladies also painted the scenic panels on top of the carrousel.
Music for the carrousel is provided by an Artizan A-2 Military Band Organ dating to 1923. Shelby City Park Carrousel Friends, Incorporated, acquired the organ in 1997 to restore and use at the carrousel. This opportunity came about thanks to Mr. Lander Jenkins of Bessemer City who brought the instrument back from California in 1967 and kept it in working order at his former dairy farm outside of Gastonia. The organ works, playing beautiful tones from a Wurlitzer 125 size roll mechanism that was added at the Wurlitzer factory, replacing the original Artizan pressure pneumatics with the vacuum system common in most band organs and player pianos. The organ was repaired, with the vacuum pump, valves and pneumatics redone by Mr. Tony Marsico at his shop in Lincolnton.
The carrousel was installed in the Shelby Armory in September, 1998 and a preview and ride was given to members of the National Carrousel Association. The carrousel was then moved to its current location at the Anne Dover Bailey Pavilion and members of the public hopped aboard on October 17, 1998.
The carrousel has been a hit ever since. It's also a popular attraction for special events like birthday parties. The Cheek family from Kings Mtn. recently celebrated the birthday of son Adam.
"The carrousel is a wonderful thing," said mom Summer Cheek. "This is the fourth time we've had a birthday party here."
Carrousel operator Henry Hartley sees the smiles that the mechanical marvel generates.
"I love to see the kids go crazy when they ride it," he said.
The carrousel is for kids of all ages. Bank employee Sharon Hodge of Belmont had this to say about the ride.
"From the moment I climbed up on that horse and the music started, the stress and worries of everyday life melted away and I felt like a carefree kid again," she said. "I plan on going to the carrousel with my husband, Alan, many times. For fifty cents and a short drive, I can let my inner child be free."
For Forney, the carrousel is in many ways his artistic gift to anyone who wants to take a spin.
"When I see the kids smile I feel great," he said. "It renews my appreciation of everything it took to make it happen."
Want to know more about the Shelby Carrousel? Visit http://carrouselfriends.org/ and get ready for the ride of a lifetime.
By Alan Hodge firstname.lastname@example.org