Nestled in beautiful Chahinkapa Park here in our city is the fully restored and operable Prairie Rose Carousel.

Built in 1926 by Spillman Engineering, the carousel is a two-row, portable, jumping mechanism with 20 wooden horses and two chariots. The original wooden clutch and bearings are beautifully restored and in excellent working condition. Rounding boards are restored with paintings of local scenes reminiscent of the same era.

Lighted mirrors adorn the top of the carousel, restored in a decor patterned after the renovated design of the carousel. The carousel was never cannibalized. The horses are all original to the machine. Even the 288 incandescent lights were never replaced by fluorescent tubes. The original parts that could not be used for safety reasons including original electrical wiring is represented in the carousel’s history cases displayed in the Prairie Rose Carousel Building. The original boardwalk-type platform is in its earliest form beneath a new wooden deck that was installed to meet safety standards.

The Prairie Rose Carousel building houses the carousel and museum displays showcasing the carousel in earlier times. There are original glass horse eyes, saddle jewels and broken wooden hooves. The nails pulled from the rotted wood were saved during restoration giving the visitors an appreciation for the work involved and the many years that the carousel operated.

A photograph from the 1930’s shows this carousel operating at one of its locations in upstate New York. Together with the display of antique brass rings, and actual ride tickets, the carousel of long ago comes to life in the Prairie Rose.

How it began

When Roger Jensen and Jim Oliver, Wahpeton, took on the project of finding and restoring an antique carousel, their search took them around the United States. Their hopes were growing dim when a lead came about a carousel in Minnesota. After tracking down the owner of the carousel, Roger Hildebrand in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, they were delighted that it was complete and original. The machinery and horses were there and in restorable shape. It was purchased and a new search was on for the money and the people who had the talent to restore it.

The restoration

Fortunately, Lonnie Halverson and Delores Berg, two very talented local residents, were willing to begin the restoration. They were the key artists responsible for the majority of the restoration process.

After 20-plus coats of paint were stripped, the horses were brought to Lonnie. Many of them had to have legs, teeth, tails, saddles and more, re-carved. In addition, many of them had a case of wood rot. All of the rotten and damaged wood was removed and Lonnie carved new pieces in their place.

Dozens of nails were removed from each horse demonstrative of the traveling machines of the era. When the woodwork was completed, (estimated to be 60 — 80 hours each) the horses were taken to be painted. Delores painted each of them to have a different personality and flare spending up to 50 hours on each horse. Her flair for fantasy and artistry as well as a keen attention to detail gave new life to the 20 horses. Hundreds of prairie roses adorn the carousel itself and many more throughout the building decor. The carousel in its renovated state was named for the North Dakota State flower.

The carousel building is of exquisite octagon design built new for the carousel. It sports a cupola on top with a horse weathervane. It has a spruce wood tongue-and-groove planked ceiling. The state flags grace the ceiling just below fixed stained glass windows.

The front of the building has glass doors with an elliptical transom window. Large double-hung grilled windows on two sides, donning ruffled curtains, provides a welcoming atmosphere while allowing natural light to best enhance the colors of the Prairie Rose Carousel.

This year-round structure is heated and air conditioned, allowing children and adults to enjoy the Prairie Rose Carousel in all weather. Designed by Roger Jensen, construction began in May 1992 and was made possible by the generous help of the Odd Fellows, Rebekah’s, the United Way of Richland-Wilkin and numerous others. Countless donations of time and materials enabled the completion of the building and the renovation of the carousel by Oct. 15, 1992. Framed donor boards pay tribute to those many hours from volunteers and in-kind labor.

The horses

The horses were reconstructed by Lonnie Halverson and painted by Delores Berg. Each has a specific theme designed for the name their sponsors gave them.

The band organ

Built by Lance Johnson in 1960, the band organ is a Johnson No.125.

Throughout the years the Prairie Rose has given hundreds of thousands of rides. Some maintenance is needed on the building to keep these precious horses in good shape. The doors, rounding boards, and other items are in need of repair. If you would like to donate to the carousel fund you may do so by calling the zoo, donating online, or sending a gift to:

Prairie Rose Carousel Fund

Chahinkapa Zoo

PO Box 1325

Wahpeton, ND 58074

Also remember that just by buying a ride ticket you help support the Prairie Rose Carousel!

Holidays at the Prairie Rose are very special and you can join us for Santa at the Carousel from 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 7 and Save the Earth Tree at the Ehnstrom Nature Center!

Kathy Diekman is director of Chahinkapa Zoo.

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