I just returned from visiting the biggest, bestest fair in the state: the Washington State Fair (formerly called the Puyallup Fair). Until moving to the other side of the state, this had always been "my" fair. I've been attending there since before I can even remember, up until nine years ago when I had to move away. I did visit two years ago, and even though there were signs then that all was not right with one of my favorite attractions, nothing then could prepare me for the shock and sadness I felt this year.
Since the 1920s, the very rare PTC #43 carousel has been a staple of the midway. Built in 1917 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC), it is the last remaining portable carousel built by the company that is still in operation. It is also one of the last wagon-mounted carousels remaining intact from any manufacturer. In 1983, Bob Bollinger, the late co-founder and co-owner of Funtastic Shows (the carnival that serves the fair) generously donated the vintage machine to the Fair with the stipulation that it be cared for and maintained for future generations to enjoy. He could have sold off the individual horses and other parts for thousands of dollars- but instead decided to keep it as a whole intact unit.
The Fair had, for decades, been good stewards of the ride. They had the horses restored and repainted in 1983, had a climate-controlled building constructed to house it in year 'round, brought in a quiet new motor to replace the old and worn out one in the '90s, replaced the worn deck with an attractive new hardwood one, got the rare little band organ repaired and working again. They took pride in the carousel, and it showed.
Then, when I saw it again two years ago, things were changing. Many of the horses had been repainted in thick, unattractive and unprofessional "park paint". There was no attention to carving detail and no real care in the application of the new paint. That was bad enough, but it gets much, much worse.
This year, just two years later, I'm shocked and horrified to see that the horses are literally falling apart. Carousel figures are made of many pieces of wood, laminated and held together with a combination of glue (originally animal-hide glue) and wooden dowels. The bodies are hollow, constructed like a box. While the hollow body construction helps a lot with avoiding cracks and splits in the wood, care must still be taken with the figures or they still will have problems.
Most of the horses, as well as one of the two chariots (benches) were suffering with seam and joint separation, especially on the heads and necks of the horses. One horse was so bad that I actually pried up a pie-wedge sized chunk of loose wood from its neck! I replaced it and immediately notified the operator. I told her I was concerned that someone might pull out the piece and as a "joke", keep it or throw it away, making repairs to the horse very difficult. She thanked me and said she'd tell her supervisor. When I came back to the carousel about two hours later, the staff had removed the loose piece (which is a good thing) and roped off the horse so no one would ride it. The operator again thanked me and said that the horse would be worked on the next day.
All well and good, but what about the rest of them? The whole herd is in need of a MAJOR overhaul before they fall completely apart. What happened to cause this? Only one thing that I can think of: they are no longer bothering with the climate control part of the building. Extreme heat and cold, along with humidity have been allowed to set in and wreak havoc on the wood. The expanding and contracting of the wood due to extreme changes in temperature causes the century-old glue to fail, in turn causing joint and seam separation. In one word: Neglect.
This deterioration didn't need to happen. If only they had invested a little more care, the ride would most likely still be in good shape. Now they will need to spend a minimum of hundreds of thousands of dollars for a proper restoration if they hope to be able to save this carousel. The Washington State Fair has failed Mr. Bollinger. It has failed the public. And most of all, it has failed a very rare, treasure of a gift carousel. I can only hope they will turn this around and make it right before it is too late to save this historic piece of Americana.