Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Community Pride: Showcasing the Tilt-A-Whirl, a Faribault icon August 27, 2015

RED WING IS NOTED for its pottery and shoes. Darwin has the world’s largest ball of twine. And in northern Minnesota, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox draw tourists for lakeside photo ops in Bemidji.

Now my community, too, has an iconic attraction—the Tilt-A-Whirl. It’s been a long-time coming, this recognition that the iconic American carnival ride deserves a place of honor in Faribault. Herbert W. Sellner built his first Tilt-A-Whirl here in 1926 and production continued locally into early 2011 when Sellner Manufacturing was sold to a Texas company.

Herb Sellner invented the Tilt-A-Whirl, made in Faribault beginning in 1926.

Herb Sellner invented the Tilt-A-Whirl, made in Faribault beginning in 1926.

Until I moved into Faribault 31 years ago, just blocks from where the Tilt-A-Whirl was manufactured, I had no idea it was made here. I expect many remain unaware of its roots in this southeastern Minnesota community.

Tami Schluter on "Boy Meets Whirl."

Tami Schluter on “Boy Meets Whirl,” an episode on American Restorations featuring work done on the 1950s vintage Tilt-A-Whirl. A year ago a party was held in Faribault to view the show and unveil the amusement car. Earlier this summer, the car was installed in downtown Faribault.

But thanks to two local businesswomen who took the advice of a consultant following a 2011 Faribault Main Street market study, a restored 1950s Tilt-A-Whirl prototype now sits on a downtown Faribault street corner. And it’s getting the attention Tami Schluter and Peggy Keilen expected, first via the restoration itself, done by Rick’s Restoration of Las Vegas and featured on The History Channel’s American Restoration reality TV show.

The restored 1950s vintage Tilt-A-Whirl has been permanently installed by Burkhartzmeyer Shoes in historic downtown Faribault.

The restored 1950s vintage Tilt-A-Whirl has been permanently installed next to Burkhartzmeyer Shoes in historic downtown Faribault.

And now, with the vintage Tilt-A-Whirl permanently in place at 128 Central Avenue in front of the third-generation family-owned shoe store, Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, locals and visitors alike are sliding into the Tilt-A-Whirl car and posing for photos or taking selfies.

The restored Tilt-A-Whirl sits in downtown Faribault, just two blocks from Buckham Memorial Library.

The restored Tilt-A-Whirl sits in downtown Faribault, just two blocks from Buckham Memorial Library and the Faribault Community Center.

Faribault is claiming an identity as the home of the Tilt-A-Whirl.

Words imprinted upon the table in the Tilt-A-Whirl car honor those involved with the project:

Words imprinted upon the table in the Tilt-A-Whirl car recognize those involved with the project: the Faribault community, the Hutchinson House Bed & Breakfast, Harley’s Auto Salvage, Faribo Air Conditioning & Heating and the Sellner family.

Says Schluter:

“I believe the Tilt brings a feeling of community pride to Faribault. It is certainly a legacy to the 80 years of the ingenuity and creativity of Herb Sellner, members of the Sellner family, its employees and talented local artisans. Besides that, it’s a really fun and whimsical story that brings a smile to just about everyone when reminiscing about past rides.”

The Tilt-A-Whirl car before restoration was rescued from a junkyard.

The 1950s Tilt-A-Whirl car before restoration. Photo courtesy of Tami Schluter.

Not ones to finish a project and then just sit, Schluter and Keilen are now on a mission to restore a second car gifted to Faribault Main Street by Harley’s Auto Salvage. Schluter originally convinced the owners at Harley’s to pull three Tilt-A-Whirl cars from storage for possible refurbishing.

Monies are now being raised to restore this 1940s vintage Tilt-A-Whirl car. Photo courtesy of Tami Schluter.

Monies are now being raised to restore this 1940s vintage Tilt-A-Whirl car. Photo courtesy of Tami Schluter.

Recently, the second Tilt-A-Whirl project was awarded a $500 Community Pride Grant from the Faribault Foundation for restoration of a 1940s vintage car that will rest by the State Bank of Faribault, several blocks to the north of the 1950s car. This time, though, the car will be restored locally by former Sellner employees.

Karen Bussert creates Tilt-A-Whirl themed t-shirts like this one modeled by Faribault native Janet Timmers.

Karen Bussert creates Tilt-A-Whirl themed t-shirts (and sweatshirts) like this one modeled by Faribault native Janet Timmers at a recent Faribault Car Cruise Night. When I spotted the t-shirt, I inquired and Janet directed me to Karen. Janet grew up near Sellner Manufacturing and today lives even closer to the former business. She’s an enthusiastic Tilt-A-Whirl backer, having donated monies toward the first car restoration. I’d love to see this Tilt-A-Whirl apparel sold perhaps at Burkhartzmeyer Shoes and/or other downtown businesses and at the Faribault Chamber office. For now, those interested should contact Karen Bussert at Design Specialties, 19557 Roberds Lake Boulevard, Faribault.

Among those planning to be involved in that restoration is Karen Bussert, a seven-year Sellner employee and now owner of Faribault-based Design Specialties. Bussert created the vinyl lettering and graphics for the first restored car (sending them to Rick’s Restorations) and will do so with the second, too. After Sellner Manufacturing closed, she purchased the screen printing, embroidery and vinyl graphics part of the business, claiming rights to the amusement ride decals. She has templates of the original graphics and still produces them for Larson International, Inc., which manufactures the Tilt-A-Whirl today in Texas along with other formerly made in Faribault spin rides like Dizzy Dragons and Berry Go Round. Bussert also sells Tilt-A-Whirl t-shirts and sweatshirts currently available only at her business.

Signage and seating inside the restored amusement car.

Signage and seating inside the restored amusement car.

With the $500 Community Pride Grant, $2,800 of the $6,500 goal have now been raised toward restoring the second Tilt-A-Whirl. Schluter and Keilen aim to have all of the funds needed for restoration by the end of the year. Tax-deductible donations are accepted at Reliance Bank, 2300 30th St. N.W., Faribault, MN. 55021. Checks should be made payable to the Faribault Foundation and noted for the Tilt-A-Whirl restoration.

The Tilt-A-Whirl faces north toward Central Avenue.

The Tilt-A-Whirl faces north toward Central Avenue and Faribault’s historic downtown.

Like, Schluter, Keilen and the owners and employees of Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, I’ve seen folks gathered at the Tilt-A-Whirl car. It has, indeed, become a Faribault icon and a source of community pride. I expect that interest to grow as word spreads and Faribault markets itself as home of the Tilt-A-Whirl. The possibilities (perhaps a museum and/or an operating Tilt-A-Whirl) exist to make this an even bigger draw.

The Mural Society of Faribault created and placed the Tilt-A-Whirl mural on the side of Jim's Auto & Tire this past fall.

The Mural Society of Faribault created and placed the Tilt-A-Whirl mural on the side of a downtown building in 2010.

FYI: The Tilt-A-Whirl is featured on one of several murals that grace Faribault’s downtown. The mural is displayed on a building along Fourth Street/Minnesota Highway 60, just a block west of Central Avenue.

Tilt-A-Whirl art

Art and lettering on the Tilt-A-Whirl car were created by Karen Bussert of Design Specialties from templates of original Sellner Manufacturing graphics.

If you wish to share your memories and photos of the Tilt-A-Whirl go to facebook.com/tiltawhirlfaribault.

Click here to read a previous post I wrote about another Faribault Foundation Community Pride Grant recipient.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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19 Responses to “Community Pride: Showcasing the Tilt-A-Whirl, a Faribault icon”

  1. treadlemusic Says:

    This ride has been my all-time fave at any/every amusement park I’ve ever been to (from Como Park to Excelsior!!!!!)! That is awesome!!!!!! Another reason to visit Faribault!!!!!!

  2. Erin Honken Says:

    Hi Audrey,
    Two corrections (if I may) the Sellner Manufacturing Company closed it’s doors in January of 2011, not 2000. Also the inventor of the Tilt-A-Whirl was never referred to as “Herb.” He preferred Herbert, and when in print Herbert W.

    I’m really pleased that the second restoration will be done with former employees. We had an extremely talented crew, they’ll do an amazing job!
    -Erin Sellner Honken

  3. Almost Iowa Says:

    Now that was a fun read! I have got to see this!

  4. What an amazing restoration these folks did! I believe that they were initially featured on “Pawn Stars” and there fame has spread from there. And I can see why what a great job.

  5. Jackie Says:

    I want to try and get the Grands there Saturday while we are in Faribault… Audrey has been in a tilt -a- whirl, but I dont think Carson has. Another fun and interesting post on Faribault!

  6. Love it. I used to love the tilt a whirl. It goes around and around but no up and what goes up must come down.

  7. Thread crazy Says:

    Love the Tilt-a-whirl – always loved to ride those at the county fair or park. So glad they decided to have these beautiful cars restored.

  8. […] by Larson International, Inc., in 2011, when the Sellner family decided to exit the business. A restored Tilt-A-Whirl car sits on a corner in the town of Faribault, a reminder of the classic ride invented […]

  9. […] Community Pride: Showcasing The Tilt-A-Whirl, A Faribault Icon (Minnesota Prairie […]


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