JOY MAKERS: Volunteers get old Joyland carousel rolling at Botanica

By Joe Stumpe | October 31, 2019

When Botanica was given the old carousel from Joyland amusement park, it came with one roller coaster-sized problem: 

It wasn’t in anything close to useable shape. Built in 1949, the carousel had been exposed to the elements for decades before being placed in storage after Joyland’s 2006 closing.

This month, it’s expected to open to the public again, thanks in large part to some mechanically-minded volunteers who got the thing spinning again.

“We couldn’t have done it without them,” Marty Miller, executive director of Botanica, said. “They put in thousands of hours.”

As volunteer crew leader Dan Wilson recalls, the effort grew out of his old job with WDM Architects (Wilson is the firm’s original “W”), which designed the 9,000-square-foot, mostly glass building that now houses the carousel. Wilson knew restoration of the carousel’s horses was underway by Marlene Irvin, a former employee of Chance Rides Manufacturing and one of the few specialists in the country in her field.

“I just asked Marty has anybody stepped forward to do the machine part of the carousel?” Wilson said. “He said a couple of guys had talked about it but nobody’s really committed to it or brought it up again.”

Not long after, Wilson said, “I woke up in the middle of the night and thought ‘Hey, here I am pretty much retired, I’ve restored an old car, I can do this.’”

It turned out to be a little bigger job than a car. “We got it in pieces, and the pieces were rusty and greasy – I mean a lot of grease. All the wood pieces were pretty much rotten and unusable.”

Starting three years ago this February, Wilson started working on the parts in a warehouse near the airport owned by Roger Nelson, whose family had owned Joyland.

“Roger Nelson was of great value because he and his brother used to take it down every winter and put it up in the spring,” Wilson said. “That’s the only reason it’s in good enough shape to be restored.”

The carousel’s metal parts needed to be cleaned and sandblasted, powder-coated, painted and repainted and put back together. All the wood pieces that make up the floor had to replaced, along with the 10-horsepower motor. Gears that turn the carousel and send the horses up and down needed rebuilding.

Fortunately, Wilson found plenty of help, both from friends in the business world who donated goods and services to volunteers such as Duane Hanson, Melvin Hollenbeck and Charley Davidson. 

“The neatest part of the story is bringing people to the project that would give of their time and resources to provide pieces of it,” Wilson said.

Hanson and Hollenbeck fashioned all new floor panels, along with wooden parts elsewhere. 

Davidson “is a guy who can pretty much do anything – fabricate stuff, weld and that sort of thing,” Wilson said. “He’s helped every day for the last two years.”

In addition to Margaret Nelson Spear, the Joyland co-owner who donated the carousel, business benefactors included Hentzen Construction, which donated specially selected wood for the floor; Wichita Cabinetry, which provided millwork; and Lubrication Engineers, which is providing grease for the lifetime of the carousel.

The carousel was built by the Allen Herschell Co. of New York and bought by Joyland for $14,500. Even with the volunteer labor, bringing it back to life cost Botanica $2.4 million, partly because the goal was more than just restoration.

A new style of canopy and hundreds of additional lights —  all LED — were installed. The motor is now controlled digitally. Many original decorative components of the carousel have been retained, but new ones have also been created by local artist Connie Ernatt. The two chariots on the carousel that seat up to four people each will be accessible to people with disabilities.

“It’s probably five times the machine it was at Joyland.”

Not to mention that the carousel now sits in an attractive building with a party room Botanica is already booking for events.

“It’s a jewel within a jewel box,” Wilson said.

Pending an inspection by the state, Botanica expects to open the carousel on the day after Thanksgiving in conjunction with its annual Illuminations tours.  Eventually, plans call for The Carousel Gardens corner of Botanica to include a giant sleeping troll whose back children can play on, fish pond, stage, open-air stone pizza oven and more.