SANDPOINT — Weighing in at a half ton, the Carousel of Smiles’ center pole is the supporting structure for the 36 ponies and two chariots, as well as the riders who will once again enjoy the Golden Age machine one day.
“It literally is the backbone of the carousel,” said Clay Hutchison who, along with his wife Reno Hutchison, discovered the 1920s Allan Herschell carousel after it had been abandoned for years in a field outside of Kansas City.
Although the carousel has been in slumber for nearly 70 years, the 18-foot, 10-inch diameter center pole took a lot of abuse in its day. In efforts to restore the carousel to its Golden Age glory, the center pole needed some work. Not only was its red paint nearly gone, it had a full ring of indents from the top bearing’s screws, which Clay Hutchison said is evidence of the “countless” number of times the carousel was set up as it traveled the Midwest on a fair circuit.
Thanks to a trio of businesses that “generously” volunteered their time and efforts, Hutchison said the center pole has been refurbished and is back at the studio with a fresh coat of red paint.
“It made the rounds of these three businesses on Triangle Drive, and we have it back and it is beautifully painted,” he said.
It was no simple matter of repainting the pole, however. Its first stop on was Full Circle Powder Coating, where owner Kelly Spielman said he and his crew sandblasted the center pole, as well as some smaller supporting poles, to get all the old paint off to prepare them for repair and painting.
Hutchison said he met Spielman during the 2017 Fourth of July parade, where he offered to help with whatever sandblasting and powder coating need the carousel might have throughout the restoration process. Spielman said he has sandblasted a number of other metal parts as well.
“Though Kelly and his gang are consistently busy, they would squeeze us in whenever we showed up with an eclectic set of parts — except on ‘Growler Tuesdays,’” Hutchison said.
Fully Circle specializes in sandblasting, bedliners and undercoating, but Spielman spends his Tuesdays powder coating a couple hundred beer growlers of various colors.
As for the center pole, Spielman said the weight made it a bit challenging, but with some finagling with a forklift, they were able to get it done. One thing that was “really neat,” he said, was that the sandblasting exposed some more history of the machine as the word “Youngstown” was revealed. It was, in fact, the town in Ohio where the pole was manufactured. Hutchison researched Youngstown steel mills and said the company that manufacture the pole may have been Youngstown Sheet and Tube, but that is not verified.
Overall Spielman said he enjoyed his part in the center-pole refurbishment, as well as the overall carousel project.
“It is fun to be part of a project that is going to benefit the community in the future,” Spielman said.”It is kind of a historical event.”
For the next stop on its journey, the center pole was loaded onto the forklift and hauled across the street to Selkirk Power Generation. Owner Bob Bickers said there was some ditching in the center pole from being “put together and taken apart 40 million times over the years.”
“I just ran around it with a welder for about 20-30 minutes, it wasn’t no big deal,” Bickers said.
While he was reluctant to take credit, Bickers’ work was an important step in preparing the pole for its new paint. What he is looking forward to, he said, is restoring the power unit, a TFD Wisconsin, that came with the carousel.
“It’s old school … a very good piece of machinery,” Bickers said.
Hutchison said the unit will not be used with the carousel when it is up and running with a new home, but is worthy of restoration nonetheless.
Bickers said he built his shop on fabrication, but has been doing generators for the past decade. Hutchison said Bickers has the “cleanest shop in the world,” where he does work on high-end power generator systems for companies like Union Pacific, Bonner and Kootenai 911, as well as homes in a four-state area.
As for the center pole, Bickers said it was a piece of pipe that needed attention and he has a shop that does “nothing but oddball stuff really well.”
“I do stuff like this for people around town,” he said. “... If nobody in town knows what to do with it, it will probably end up in my shop.”
The final stop on its forklift tour of Triangle Drive was with Cory Donenfeld and his crew at Northwest Autobody. Northwest Autobody is a family-owned collision and autobody repair shop with locations in Ponderay and Sandpoint.
The center pole, as well as the other smaller poles, received their shiny new coat of red paint at the Ponderay shop. In addition, Donenfeld said the paint was donated by Northwest Autobody’s paint supplier, PPG and KC Auto Paint in Coeur d’Alene.
Donenfeld said he was inspired to help out when Hutchison came by the shop and told him the story of how they found the carousel, and the efforts to restore it and find it a home in Sandpoint.
Donenfeld said he and his brother Eric Donenfeld are dedicated to helping their community in any way they can. He also enjoys seeing “amazing” things and great ideas come to life, he said.
“I love to help and donate in ways that I can physically get involved in,” Donenfeld said. “I can’t wait to see it finished, knowing that I will always have a small part in something amazing.”
Reno Hutchison said they want everyone to know they are a “really important” part of the project, as it is the community’s carousel.
“We want people to take ownership of this carousel,” Clay Hutchison said. “We are just really excited when not only individual volunteers, but when companies are enthusiastic about helping out.”
As for the story Donenfeld alluded to, the carousel was abandoned in the aforementioned field outside of Kansas City in 1952 after a Midwest traveling fair shut down for the season and never reopened. The Hutchisons ultimately saved the carousel from being broken up and sold at auction when they purchased the entire machine in 2000. They moved it to a storage barn in upstate New York until it was delivered to Sandpoint in December 2016, dubbing it the Carousel of Smiles.
After determining all the parts were there, the restoration work began. Those efforts have ramped up over the last year, which includes the dedicated work to restore the ponies — but that is a story for another day.
Mary Malone can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.