Herman: The Kiddie Acres carousel spins again

Back in July I told you that after about four decades and countless birthday parties, Joe and Marina Herring were retiring and closing their Kiddie Acres, a small North Austin amusement park that has a special place in the our town’s collective memory bank.

I told you the rides were being auctioned. And in September, I told you that Charlie Ford had bought the carousel. I detailed how he and his son Ray and some hired help spent a sweaty, sweltering summer week or so dismantling the carousel and hauling the parts to Charlie’s Northwest Austin home, where he planned to get it up and spinning, an achievement that would put him in the conversation for coolest grandpa in town.

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Charlie and I had some good laughs back then about the task at hand. He had a plan and a plethora of parts, but no schedule. And we all know about the perils that can be encountered by the best-laid plans.

Back in the summer, as Charlie and crew prepared to load up the final parts for the trip from Kiddie Acres to his home, I posed this question, one based on a career built on skepticism: “What are the chances this is still laying around as parts, oh, say, two years from now?”

“Probably pretty good chances,” he replied with a smile.

His humor belied his ingenuity and determination. Charlie was wrong, way wrong.

Monday at his house, with the Hollies’ classic “On A Carousel” as the soundtrack, Ray, 30, pushed the button, and Charlie, 66, watched with a broad smile as a 20-horse carousel loaded with kids and former kids enjoyed the first of many rides that day.

He had invited friends, family and neighbors to participate as he celebrated reaching his goal of being the only person on his block with a carousel.

Ray Ford said the biggest challenge in putting the carousel back together was the colorful canopy that sits atop it and is the last part that gets put back on. The Herrings kept the original but provided a replacement that turned out not to be quite right so the Fords had to pack it up and ship it back to Fred’s Tents and Canopies Inc. (“Our Business is Covering Your Business”) in upstate New York and await a replacement.

“It’s just a lot of trial and error,” Ray said of putting a carousel back together.

The Herrings were invited to the Monday event but were out of town. Charlie can’t wait for them to see their old carousel in a new place, reborn and making new memories — including for some kids who don’t remember the first time they rode it at Kiddie Acres.

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David Lundstedt and wife Julia Hilder heard about the Monday event and brought daughter Natalia, 13. It’s their family tradition to recreate photos. About 10 years ago, Natalia was on the carousel at a friend’s Kiddie Acres birthday party. The family has a photo of Natalia and dad on a black horse on the carousel at that long-ago party (that Natalia doesn’t remember). On Monday, dad and daughter picked out a black horse and got on to recreate the old photo as mom snapped away.

“When we heard that he was restoring this, we remembered that day very well,” Hilder told me.

Lundstedt told me he’s a “carousel aficionado,” so I asked him why he didn’t bid on this one when it was on the auction block.

“I don’t have this acreage,” he told me, “and I’m not handy like he is.”

Nearby, Rocky Ford, Charlie’s 89-year-old mom, smiled and couldn’t take her eyes off the spinning carousel and the delighted children. She said the first she heard about her son buying a carousel was when she read about it in the newspaper.

“I thought, ‘Oh Charlie, you’ve done it again,’” she told me, adding that she was enjoying watching how much her son was enjoying the day.

Ford, who used to have an air conditioning business here in town, figures he’s put $15,000 or $16,000 into the carousel. Well worth it, he said.

“It’s about the price of a car,” he said. “And I’d rather have this than a car.”

(Note: It’s possible Charlie hasn’t done any new car shopping recently.)

Charlie’s done this right, right down to the carousel music and the tickets he had printed up that say, “Good for One Free Ride.”

“I’m just as happy as I can be,” Charlie said as he stood on the spinning carousel amid smiling and chattering kids, including his 9-year-old granddaughter Oliviana. “This is what my son and I worked on for months. Nothing like a happy kid, is there?”

No, there’s not, regardless of their age.

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