The factory's work appears all over the world.
Suppose you were co-owner of a thriving business in your hometown of Rexburg, Idaho. Your family was happy, and you thought your life was settled and secure.
That was Ross Clark's situation in 1994. He and his partner, childhood friend Sherrell Anderson, had married sisters, fathered large families, and were the owners of Carousel Magic, a company that constructs and restores carousels. Their customers buy everything from a carving kit to make a half-size replica to a complete 64-horse carousel.
One day out of the blue, the Richland Carrousel Park Board of Trustees called with an offer. Would they uproot their families, leave their hometown, and move their business to Mansfield, Ohio?
"They made us an offer we couldn't refuse," Clark says. "Mansfield is the center of the carousel universe, and it was easier for us to be here. Half the population of the United States lives within 500 miles of Ohio. That's a little more central than Idaho."
The Mansfield board had lost its original carousel factory, and was looking for another to maintain the town's identity as an important carousel center. They found Carousel Magic, enticed them to come, and it's been a good partnership ever since.
"We have a very good working relationship with the Mansfield business community," Clark says. "They've done a remarkable thing here with the town, adding millions to the local economy, and we're glad to be part of it."
The factory: The factory takes up three floors of a former furniture business, and includes a machine shop next door where motors are assembled. The smells of sawdust and paint permeate the air, and wood chips crunch underfoot. Ranks of half-finished carousel animals fill double rows of sawhorses, waiting for the next step. Clark and Anderson restore old carousels and build new ones, as well as carving custom pieces. Once all carousels were wooden, Clark says, but today there are fewer than 150 working antique wooden carousels left. Most units that travel with carnivals today, he says, are made of more practical fiberglass.
Carousel Magic is one of the largest restoration facilities in the country. Their work appears all over the United States, and they sell quite a bit to Canada and Japan. They also teach carving, taking on two students per week.
Time involved: A student might take years to build a project, but it takes a master carver 150 to 250 hours to complete a full size carousel animal. Large rough cuts are done on bandsaws, then the bodies, legs and heads are brought to the carving tables for finishing. Meticulously hand-carved saddlecloths, saddles, bridles, rosettes, tassels, and flowers can personalize an animal and add romance.
You may never have noticed, but only one side of a carousel animal is completely decorated. The "romance" side faces outward on the carousel, and includes every possible embellishment and flourish. The "off" side faces inward, and is painted like the romance side, but has no additional decoration.
If you've ever wanted to own your own carousel horse, Carousel Magic can sell you one, build you one, or teach you to build your own.