Our beloved Forest Park Carousel opens the 2015 season this Friday, April 3, looking very much like the same landmarked piece of art we left last year. However, the past few months has seen the historic landmark undergo a much-needed mechanical overhaul.
“All the machinery that makes the carousel run, it’s 100 years old,” David Galst, director of Operations at NY Carousel Entertainment, told me last November as the team embarked on the process of replacing it.
Todd Goings, of Carousels and Carvings from Marion, Ohio, concurs.
“This carousel has got a lot of years of use on it,” said Goings, who was brought in to lead the team of experts managing the overhaul. “We’re concentrating on the top and center bearings. We’re going to take them out and rebuild them.”
Well, that sounds easy enough. But in order to reach those bearings, they needed to take the carousel apart, piece by piece.
“The center bearing is in the center pole of the carousel, it’s what makes the entire ride rotate,” Galst explained. “So basically, what we’re doing is we’re taking off everything so that we can get to that center bearing.”
Over a ten-day period in November, the team began taking the ride apart, taking the carved animals off and carefully storing them for the winter.
“We’re making sure that they are racked up securely and tied down with rope to make sure they don’t get knocked over,” Galst said. “The carvings on this carousel are great works of art and we are handling them very carefully.”
Once all of the carvings were racked and secure, the team started disassembling the rest of the ride – the sweeps, the crank arms, everything. The platform needed to be raised and supported by cinder blocks to get to the center bearing.
“We need to rebuild those to get a lot of the swing and sway out of the carousel,” Goings said.
Once dismantled, the Carousels and Carvings team drove back to Marion with the bearings and several gears and crank arms packed in the back of their truck. Over the winter they were busy building brand new replacement parts.
A tough winter delayed their return to New York by a week and on Monday, March 16, the team slowly started putting our carousel back together. They put in some very long days, many of them bitter cold and windy. But day by day you could see it all coming back together and this past Monday they started it up for the first time in 2015 and it passed its annual safety inspection with flying colors.
“This ride is running better than it has in years,” the inspector told me on Monday.
Visually, everything looks pretty much the same. A lot of the arms have been replaced or repainted, giving it a fresh look. But where you’ll really notice the difference is how it moves.
It’s quiet. It’s smooth. You can feel it when you step on the deck. It feels strong.
“The last set of bearings and gears lasted about 100 years,” said Daeshawn Grimes, Carousel Operations Manager. “We’re confident the new machinery will keep us going 100 more.”
The 2015 season opens this Friday and continues next week during the spring break. From there they will be open weekends until Memorial Day. You can check their website, forestparkcarousel.com, for their schedule.
This summer, they will continue to offer clown and magic shows each weekend and this year will see the addition of one ride for certain, possibly two.
It has been a busy off-season for the folks at the Forest Park Carousel and when you see the ride, it might look pretty much like it did last year. But when you sit down for your first ride of 2015, you’ll feel a difference. And you’ll feel good knowing that the carousel is in good hands and will be spinning strong for another century at least.