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.
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.
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.
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.
Faribault is claiming an identity as the home of the Tilt-A-Whirl.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you wish to share your memories and photos of the Tilt-A-Whirl go to facebook.com/tiltawhirlfaribault.
© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling