Downtown Hanford's Carousel is a Walk Down Memory Lane
Oct 19, 2016 11:00AM
● By Jordan Venema
Meet Me at the Carousel
By Jordan Venema
Imagine a world before movies, iPhones, video games – Pokemon Go, even. What did people do for fun, those who seemed to live in the frames of sepia-tone photographs, from a time when the post-Depression country seemingly was covered in a layer of dust that had swept from the Midwest? It’s easy to imagine the early 20th century as something bleak (it wasn’t), but still, through the grey past chimes a tune that turns something deep inside us. The color and song of the carousel probably saw its heyday when such a ride was still a novelty, and yet even now, despite all our modern distractions and stimuli, the carousel still excites us.
If you really think about it, a carousel is a ride about as boring as it gets. You sit on a wooden horse that turns in circles, and if you’re lucky, sometimes it rises and descends along a pole, mimicking a horse’s canter. But there’s a magic about a carousel, and even children who have grown up in the age of technology feel the lure of its music.
A bit of that magic can still be found in the Civic Center Park in Hanford, where an original 1932 Allan Herschell Carousel still spins.
“There were like 6,000 of these made back in the day,” says Mike Bertaina of the Hanford Chamber of Commerce, which manages the carousel. He says there are only some 200 left.
The 36-foot carousel and its 30 horses found its first home in Visalia’s Mooney Grove, but it moved to Hanford in 1979, when developer Max Walden was awarded a contract to refurbish Hanford’s old courthouse.
“I have no idea why,” Bertaina says with a laugh, “but he made it part of the refurbishment to bring the carousel from Mooney’s Grove over. I think he just thought it would be a really cool thing to draw people downtown.”
The year Hanford acquired the carousel, Bertaina was working with the city and he was asked by the city manager to help install the horses.
“There’s not a whole lot of people in Hanford who know how to tear a carousel apart and put it back together,” says Bertaina. “So I spent a week with these guys learning how to put it back together.”
More than 30 years later, Bertaina is still operating the carousel, which sits outside the office of the Chamber of Commerce.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that somebody doesn’t poke their head in the door and ask when the carousel is running. We’ll just go out there and open it up, even if it’s two kids. I’m never going to turn a kid down that wants a ride,” says Bertaina.
For a dollar a go, not many passengers will turn that ride down, either. The carousel runs pretty regularly on Thursday nights from about 5 to 9pm, during farmers market between May and September. The carousel also operates Sundays from noon to 4pm “as long as the weather is good,” says Bertaina.
The Chamber also hosts field trips for schools between Fresno and Bakersfield, where students come to Hanford by train. Children are picked up at the train station and ferried to the carousel in a 1950s Studebaker fire truck. “And of course they have to go to Superior Dairy and get their ice cream,” Bertaina says. In May 2015, they gave 7,200 rides just for school kids.
The ride might only cost a buck, but the cost of keeping up the carousel is high.
“They’re not cheap, and the city provides maintenance every morning before we operate it.” Also, he says, “because ours is outside, it gets hot, cold, then it rains, then it’s foggy. The horses take a beating.”
In an interesting turn, to save costs, the chamber had the horses refurbished and painted at Avenal Prison.
“There are some very talented people there, and they came back beautiful. The prisoners asked if they could name the horses, but I didn’t want to get names back like Bib Bubba,” Bertaina says with a laugh. Still, they agreed and in the end the names were rather pedestrian (or equestrian): Michelle, Stormy, Zorro.
And according to Bertaina, people like those specific horses.
“People will want to ride Stormy and if somebody is on that horse, they’ll wait. People in their 30s even now want to come back and make sure we have that same horse here,” he says.
Which makes a buck seem pretty cheap, when people are getting a ride not just on their favorite horse, but also down Memory Lane. It’s also an opportunity to share with their kids that simple but magical pleasure of riding the merry-go-round, which in Hanford anyway, is a one-of-a-kind experience, with a one-of-a-kind carousel.
113 Court St., Hanford (Chamber of Commerce)
(559) 582-0483 • $1 per ride • Find them on Facebook