Carousels are one of the oldest amusement park attractions, with spinning rides which were forerunners of today's rides dating back to 500 A.D., and more "modern" versions being introduced in the mid 1800's with the advent of steam power and later electric power at the turn of the 20th century. In England the earliest carousels (known as "gallopers") were constructed by farm machinery manufacturers. As the technology progressed, they became more elaborate with jumping figures and more ornate to attract the public's attention as part of traveling fairs. Eventually American craftsmen would elevate the carousel to the art form we know today, with more elaborate and larger machines designed for stationary locations in parks.
|Above: Jimmy Williams Galloping Horses operating at Salisbury Pleasure Fair in Europe.
Purchased from the Jimmy Williams traveling show company in England, the
Carousel was one of the oldest and most elaborate carousels in Europe built
in 1881. The
Carousel was brought to Great Adventure along with its travel vehicles which
were used to move it from fair to fair in England for decades.
The Carousel was to be one of the first spectacular sights to greet guests entering the park on Dream Street with its colorful collection of animals spinning beneath an equally colorful and elaborate pavilion. The concrete pad for the ride was one of the first things constructed in the park, with the Carousel itself arriving months later.
The Carousel was assembled completely on site in front of the Yum Yum
Palace, then the pavilion was constructed around and over the antique ride.
It appears a thin layer of plastic sheeting was placed over the ride during
construction offering little protection to the beautiful ride while the roof
was being constructed above.
The pavilion itself was built with steel columns supporting the wooden beam rafters which came to a central steel hub. The columns were then covered with decorative fiberglass shells which echoed the look of the neighboring Yum Yum Palace's ice cream cone style columns.
|The finished pavilion and Carousel made a beautiful hub along Dream Street where pathways led to the Garden of Marvels, the Aqua Spectacle and further down Dream Street to the Fountain and Giant Wheel off in the distance.
Through the Years
19th Century Carousel
Ye Old Carousel
The original look of the pavilion was very Arabic or Indian, with the onion
domes resembling those of the Taj Mahal or the minarets on a mosque but in
vibrant candy colors. The exterior edges of the roof featured a decorative
trim painted in the same bright colors and featuring dozens of small inlaid mirrors
to reflect the sun.
The roof appears to have for a short time been covered with a fiberglass shell which matched the fiberglass domes and columns. That roof was painted gold to match the giant central onion dome and then for a very short time in the same bright colors as the rest of the pavilion with each section painted in a different color.
Along with the colorful banners along Dream Street, the Carousel stood out among the trees of the Enchanted Forest from ground level as well as from above as guests sailed over the treetops on the Skyyride or from the far end of Dream Street on the Giant Wheel.
The beautifully painted horses and machinery were spectacular. Each part of
the ride was hand painted and featured bright colors and gilding along with
the brass poles and hundreds of light bulbs in multiple colors and mirrors
reflecting the lights and motion of the ride.
The bright colors were original to the ride as it was purchased from Williams in England. The rides at the fairs were painted very elaborately to attract attention (and sell tickets), with each ride competing to be the most spectacular and beautiful.
|One of the more unique aspects of the Carousel was that the operator was located in the middle of the ride. This meant he or she could see the riders, but not the perimeter of the ride where guests were waiting. Had the ride also had modern electro-magnet gates it would have been OK, though not ideal, but the fact that the ride had no fences or queue initially made the setup an accident waiting to happen.
|Another of the short-lived features of the Carousel was the band organ which provided the music for the ride. The band organ appears to have only lasted about five seasons before being removed. Though we have no definitive answer as to why it was removed, we speculate it probably was a combination of changing drive from steam to compressed air drive along with the age of the band organ and the fact it was manufactured in England, making the technology an orphan with no parts or people with the technical expertise to make repairs readily available and too expensive.
|Like most of the fair rides in England, the Carousel was designed to advertise itself, so the colorful steps on the running boards were decorated with fanciful designs along with lettering. The advertising bragged of the rides excitement along with the safety. In England carousels (known as "gallopers") with horse figures were often billed as "studs" so a steam powered ride was a "stud of steam". Patrina Williams was the daughter of the ride's owner, Jimmy Williams and the ride and show company were named after her.
Running Board Lettering
* The Most * Safest * And Exciting * Riding *
* Machine * Patrina * Williams * Stud of *
* Steam * Driven * Galloping * Horses *
|Savage Brothers Ltd Steam Engine
The Carousel was originally powered by a two cylinder steam engine located
within the ride's center. The steam engine was built (along with the rest of
the Carousel) by Savage Brothers Ltd., a company that originally produced
steam powered tractors and other farm machinery. The steam engine was
mounted to the central drive along with the center post that the ride runs
on. Together they were mounted to a trailer for portability with the rest of
the ride packed in separate trailers.
When the ride first arrived at Great Adventure, it apparently ran on steam for a time, with the ride's center column also serving as a chimney which loosely connected with a sleeve that rose up through the roof and out the center of the central onion dome which originally featured a decorative cap in matching Arabic/Indian style. Steam operations were impractical and potentially dangerous with the hot boiler so close to guests, so the ride was converted to compressed air, keeping the rides distinctive clacking sound as it ran until it was updated with an electric drive motor in 1988.
|Over the seasons, the animals on the Carousel have been repainted several times. Each successive paint job has resulted in the once elaborately painted animals becoming less ornate over time as well as changing colors. The horses and cockerels have given thousands of rides in their more than one hundred years of service, so the paint requires constant stripping and repainting to keep up with the wear and tear of use.
|English carousels differ in several ways from their American counterparts. First and foremost is that they run clockwise rather than counter clockwise. This is so riders can mount from the proper side of the horse. Also, instead of the stirrups found on American carousel figures, English carvings feature a step on their left side allowing easy mounting and dismounting. English figures are also depicted in mid-gallop, increasing the idea of speed. This pose also had two practical advantages for the manufacturers who also sold the same figures as rocking horses (the feet are in proper position to mount to rockers) as well as to allow the figures to easily stack when packed for travel.
|One of the lost features of the Carousel was the "flying" of the figures as the ride got up to speed. The slots in the floor show how far the animals could spin out from the center through centrifugal force. In 1988 as part of safety and accessibility upgrades to the ride, the horses were restricted from swinging outward and the Carousel's speed was reduced with the addition of the electric drive motor, which allowed for better (and safer) stopping and starting than the old steam engine's compressed air drive could.
During the off-season, the figures are often taken off the Carousel and
brought into the park's Maintenance Shop where they are taken apart and
inspected. The wooden animals are repaired as necessary and the old paint is
stripped. New paint is hand applied in a multi-step process taking hours to
complete each figure.
While all the figures are essentially identical, there is one "lead horse" which features an eagle on the left side beneath the saddle. Something rarely seen when the figures are in place on the Carousel is the fact that the left side of each horse is highly decorated with carved details and a ribbon, while the right side which faces inward is much simpler. Originally the ribbons on the horses would have featured the names of the children of the ride's owners or names of the carnival workers.
The figures all feature glass eyes with one exception which was a replacement horse which has simple painted eyes instead.
The off-season is often a very busy time at the park, with rides like the
Carousel being taken apart for thorough inspection and regular maintenance.
The Carousel's portable past makes it fairly easy to take apart with all the
pieces being numbered for easy re-assembly.
In the 2010-11 off season, the Carousel was taken apart completely as part of a long needed rehabilitation. The steam engine was removed and the gears at the heart of the ride's drive mechanism were thoroughly cleaned. The steam engine itself was brought into the Maintenance Shop with the hope to re-install it in some kind of working manor in the future.
The Carousel's electric lighting system was long overdue for updating, so
the wiring was replaced throughout the panels. The lighting update brought
the Carousel from the he 19th century to the 21st with the addition of new
Part of the challenge of working on such an old ride is the paint which was originally lead based. Any time that the paint is stripped for re-painting it requires special care for the workers to protect them from the dust created in the stripping process.
While the Carousel was apart for rehab, the figures were brought into the
Great Character Cafe for storage as well as for maintenance and touchups of
The process of rehabilitating the Carousel was more complex than anticipated, so not everything was ready to go back onto the ride for the 2011 season. The plaques which hung from the overhead sweeps were left off so they could be re-painted and re-wired properly.
The deck of the Carousel was constructed with modular panels small enough to
be easily stowed in the travel trailers. All of the parts of the ride are
designed to take up as little space as possible when disassembled but create
a strong structure when full assembled. The iron rods that suspend the
wooden framework of sweeps from the central support column were relatively
light yet strong enough to support the weight of the machinery, figures,
platform and the riders.
The central column was designed with decorative panels to hide the machinery at the ride's heart as well as to add visual interest with additional lights and mirrors.
One of the most striking features of any carousel is the ride's rounding boards. Great Adventure's Carousel featured rounding boards decorated with scenes of exotic animals of all kinds. While many guests assume it was painted by Great Adventure, the animal paintings predate the park's purchase of the ride and were painted while it was still owned by Jimmy Williams.
Along with the decorative panels mounted around the inside of the deck of
the Carousel, the ride also features a decorative "crown" above which also
features panels of mirrors and lights adding to the visual spectacle as well
as hiding the internal gears and machinery that turns the crank shafts which
raise and lower the figures.
One of the unique features of an English style carousel is the open framework overhead. The spider web of wooden beams that support the crankshafts and figures are chamfered, helping to reduce the weight of the beams and making them more decorative. Chamfering of wooden beams was common in construction of old wagons as a way of reducing the weight of a beam while maintaining strength. At the time of construction, people marveled at the mechanical aspects of the ride, so the crankshafts were painted red to highlight them against the canvas roof, and the beams were given a very elaborate paint scheme as well to help show off the delicacy of the design.
In 1988 the biggest changes in the history of the Carousel took place with the steps being removed to increase safety as well as allowing easier access for children and the handicapped. A new concrete platform was constructed just below the wooden platform and ramps now lead up and down. With the steps gone, the rounding boards were too low over the concrete platform, so the ring of decorative trim and mirrors below the scenic panels was cut off, allowing more headroom.
New taller iron fences reduced the chances for guests climbing over them while the ride was in motion. The original fences at ground level were low and easily climbed over. This was also when the Carousel was retrofit with an electric drive motor. Eventually the ride was setup with a single attendant/operator position and mirrors positioned to allow better viewing of the ride in motion.
Carousel Features Removed Over the Years
The pavilion that the Carousel stands in has seen
several cosmetic changes over the seasons. The bright colors of the roof and
columns were changed when Warner LeRoy sold the park as part of the
conditions of the sale. Many of the most elaborately and brightly painted
structures in the park were toned down. For one season the domes and decorative panels were painted pure
white along with the Yum Yum Palace.
Other changes included removing the large central onion dome replacing it with a small louvered cupola. The outer domes were also removed and replaced with stylized clown faces above each of the columns.
|The paint colors of the pavilion continued to evolve over the years going from a stark brown with green accents back to a more colorful version with white as the primary color and each of the columns painted in a bright, cheerful color. The louvers on the cupola were painted in the same colors as well as the diamond shapes on the ends of the roof sections that had originally been mirrors. In later years the clown faces were removed and the small onion domes were re-attached.
|The Carousel and its pavilion were to have undergone a three year restoration from 2008 through 2011, but plans changed with changes in management and priorities so no work was done in the 2009-2010 off season. The work restarted in the 2010-11 off season with the re-wiring and work on the steam engine, and hopefully the pavilion will get a much needed repainting and refreshing for the 2012 season along with additional work on the Carousel itself.
|Day or night, the Carousel is one of the most striking features of Great Adventure. The hundreds of lights that adorn the ride and the pavilion really make it spectacular after dark. The recent work on updating the electrical system and conversion to LED bulbs should make the Carousel continue to shine for another hundred years and thousands of riders yet to come.