The origin of carousels is said to occur in the 1600's as a device to train young noblemen in the sport of jousting. In those days the motion was provided by manual labor. The first American 'Merry-Go-Round', once called 'a ring of flying horses', appeared in 1799. After the Civil War, many carousel factories emerged, and 'Merry-Go-Rounds' became the main features at fairs, city parks, seaside resorts, amusement parks and carnivals . Ten thousand were built in the United States between the late 1800s and 1935. By 1980, 315 were known to exist throughout the country. (1)
The machine was manufactured about 1910 by Savage, an English roundabout manufacturer. It turns clockwise, which was the custom in Europe.
The roundabout was originally destined for the Panama-Pacific Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915. It was shipped around the horn before the Panama Canal opened. Off-loaded at Los Angeles, it moved via rail to San Francisco in time for the Exposition.
After the Exposition, the roundabout became part of a little known travelling circus. In the early 1930's Foley & Burk Shows purchased the machine. After that it was called a 'Merry-Go-Round' because it was part of an American travelling carnival show. Foley & Burk Shows retired the equipment to a Redwood City warehouse in 1967.
The Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad purchased the 'Merry-Go-Round' in late 1980 after collecting $50,000 in donations. Now it's called a 'Carousel' because of its stationary installation. Restoration began in 1981 starting with the horses. There were twenty nine hand carved wooden horses and two chariots. There are positions for thirty horses. A mold was fashioned as a copy of one of the center row horses (CW Parker Manufacturing) and a fiber glass resin replica was cast in the mold to add the 30th horse.
When Savage had many roundabout orders to fill and found his own horse inventory too low, horses were purchased from G&J Lines, CJ Spooner (English toy manufacturers), and the German carousel industry. The German imports had double faceted jewels mounted on bezels. Some of the jewels were installed with mirrors behind them. The English roundabout companies never mounted jewels in their horse carvings.
The inside row of horses was manufactured by G&J LInes. The outside row were first thought to have been made in Germany, but later it was discovered that a Frenchman named Bajol, who had carved carousel figures from 1870 to 1914, had produced them.
Foley & Burk Shows replaced the complete middle row of horses as a consequence of unrepairable deterioration. That row is now composed of five CW Parkers, two Dare, and two Armitage-Herschel horses.
Originally, the machine was hung from the top of a tall steel center pole that had to be hoisted upright by many men and an elephant. An 'A' frame type structure was constructed first, then, through use of block & tackle, the center post was hoisted on end. Four outriggers were attached to the post above mid point, extended outwardly at the bottom to keep the post vertical. Each of the outriggers was attached to one of four spokes that extended horizontally from the base of the center pole.
In 1937, the arrangement was converted to a hinged post mounted on a 1920 GMC circus wagon, this, to eliminate the time and effort consumed in assembling the carousel. The wagon which houses the motor and center pole, weighs about five tons.
After the carousel was transported to Oak Meadow Park, teams of volunteers led by Charles Dewey and Jerry Kennedy spent many years reconditioning the horses, redesigning the power train and linkages, as well as constructing the carousel building. Paul Seaborn of Seaborn Automation, a local company, designed and built all the mechanical and electrical innovations which upgraded the carousel with 'behind the scenes' modern technology.
The W.E. Mason Carousel was dedicated to the memory of Bill Mason Sr. in July 1990. Bill was the organizer of the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad who always loved kids and wanted the Carousel to complement the train at the park.
1. Cynthia Bournellis...South Bay Accent Magazine, Oct/Nov 1991
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