Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Second restored carnival car debuts in Faribault, birthplace of the Tilt-A-Whirl July 12, 2017

Signage and seating inside a restored Tilt-A-Whirl car installed in downtown Faribault in June 2015. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.


SEVERAL BLOCKS FROM MY FARIBAULT home, laborers once built the iconic Tilt-A-Whirl and lesser-known amusement rides. Occasionally I spotted oversized bears, dragons and other animal-themed spin rides aboard flatbed trailers exiting the Frog Town neighborhood, location of Sellner Manufacturing.


The Dizzy Dragon was once also made in Faribault. This ride and other versions of it are now built by Larson International, Inc. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


There Herbert Sellner, inventor of the Tilt-A-Whirl, opened his manufacturing company. From 1926 until its sale to a Texas company in 2011, the business made carnival rides.


The 1950s Tilt-A-Whirl car faces north toward Central Avenue. Here’s the beautiful back. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.


Often I wondered why Faribault didn’t promote the Tilt-A-Whirl. Next to the merry-go-round and the Ferris wheel, it’s likely the most recognized amusement ride spanning generations. The American made ride seemed a natural tourist draw to me. Today, thanks to the efforts of local businesswomen Tami Schluter (of the Historic Hutchinson House B & B) and Peggy Keilen (of Faribo Air Conditioning & Heating), there’s an increased awareness of the Tilt-A-Whirl’s origins in my southeastern Minnesota community.


A restored 1950s vintage Tilt-A-Whirl has been permanently installed by Burkhartzmeyer Shoes in historic downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.


In August 2014, the pair unveiled a 1950s Tilt-A-Whirl prototype car restored by Rick’s Restoration of Las Vegas and placed next to Burkhartzmeyer Shoes in the heart of historic downtown Faribault.


The second car, before restoration. Photo courtesy of Tami Schluter.


On Thursday, the two will celebrate the refurbishing of another Tilt-A-Whirl car donated by local Harley’s Auto Salvage.


The restored car in place by the State Bank. Photo courtesy of Tami Schluter.


Dedication of that car will take place at noon in front of the State Bank of Faribault, 428 Central Avenue North.


Under Dwight Henning’s hands, a work in progress. Photo courtesy of Tami Schluter.


The reconstructed and primed car. Photo courtesy of Tami Schluter.


Nearly complete. Photo courtesy of Tami Schluter.


Unlike the first car, this car has been restored by former Sellner employees, Dwight Henning of Henning Fiberglass and Karen Bussert of Design Specialties. That involvement of a local craftsman and artist strengthens community pride and ownership, always a bonus with any project.


The first restored Tilt-A-Whirl car sits in downtown Faribault, outside a third-generation family shoe store. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.


There are already hints of a third Tilt-A-Whirl restoration project. The first restored car has proven a photo op tourist attraction down at the shoe store. I expect the car by the bank to also draw attention, probably more, though, from locals than visitors. This car is not restored to vintage, but rather painted/decorated in green, white and gold, the State Bank’s colors. Green and white are also the public school colors of the Faribault Falcons.


Historic info featured on the “table” of the latest restored Tilt-A-Whirl car. Photo courtesy of Tami Schluter.


Schluter and Keilen have worked tirelessly to bring these Tilt-A-Whirl cars to downtown Faribault. They’ve also gotten significant financial support and community backing. Still, it takes someone to initiate.


Karen Bussert creates Tilt-A-Whirl themed t-shirts like this one worn by Faribault native Janet Timmers at a Car Cruise Night. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


I see additional potential here to expand upon what these two have started. For now I envision a seasonal pop-up mini museum showcasing the Tilt-A-Whirl in an empty downtown storefront and/or perhaps a kiosk that includes Tilt-A-Whirl t-shirts. Maybe the local F-Town Brewing Company could craft a beer named after this iconic ride. And, if I’m going to brainstorm here, I may as well dream big. I’d love to see an operating Tilt-A-Whirl find a permanent home in our historic downtown.

TELL ME: How can my community further promote the Tilt-A-Whirl as a tourist attraction? I’d love to hear your ideas.


The Mural Society of Faribault created and placed the Tilt-A-Whirl mural on the side of Jim’s Auto & Tire in downtown Faribault, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


FYI: The Rice County Historical Society includes a small exhibit on Sellner Manufacturing. And a downtown mural features the Tilt-A-Whirl.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


10 Responses to “Second restored carnival car debuts in Faribault, birthplace of the Tilt-A-Whirl”

  1. Almost Iowa Says:

    How about a permanent functioning Tilt-A-Whirl at the Rice County Fair Grounds? It could be run during the fair and at events held on the fair grounds.

    • That location may be better than downtown, especially given the fairground’s location next to the Rice County Historical Society. Of course, there’s always the cost factor…but I said to dream, right?

  2. Bryn Marlow Says:

    Your musings send me to my notes from a recent presentation by Peter Kageyama who came to our small Midwestern city to talk about strategies to strengthen people’s ties to the place they live. I see he has a couple YouTube videos, such as “TEDxIowaCity – Peter Kageyama – For the Love of Cities.” Peter (also author of books on the subject) spoke to us about how fixing potholes catches the mayor’s attention, because people will complain long and loud about such things. But what gets overlooked is the fun side of a community—things that give it a personality, that promote interaction, the engender a spirit of enjoyment and pride, the sort of playful opportunities that make kids happy and their parents smile.

    Good for Fairbauilt for capitalizing on the Tilt-A-Whirl. It seems ready-made for the task at hand. I vote for moreTilt-A-Whirl cars in town. I vote for one that moves somehow—it could be a super-sized swing even, if that’s what’s needed to keep it safe for kids to play on without the supervision of a caretaker. I vote for making the Tilt-A-Whirl the theme of the annual festival. I vote for a YouTube video of as many Fairbault citizens as possible stepping out onto Main Street and whirling around and around. Something that furthers the reputation and shows off a sense of humor. The mural is a great idea. I’d love to have my photo taken in the vintage Tilt-A-Whirl car. You can bet those selfies get shared on social media and help to promote the town. Just seeing the photos of the car itself makes me smile and feel warmly toward the town.

    • Bryn, I deeply appreciate your detailed and thoughtful comment. You’ve shared some valuable information that can help communities build on and promote the positive.

      I’m curious as to your community and how your town is working to promote itself. Examples are always helpful.

      • Bryn Marlow Says:

        I live out in the country, so I get to claim all nearby towns as “home.” Here’s some examples of positive steps they’re taking:

        Small-town Matthews, Indiana, makes hay of their historic covered bridge with an annual Covered Bridge Festival that draws thousands of people each fall. There are vendor booths, carnival rides, flea market booths, food tents, antique engines and more. It’s a BIG thing for a little community and requires the efforts of many, many volunteers.

        Muncie, Indiana, is a city hard-hit by the rust belt collapse of automotive manufacturing jobs. They’ve been doing a number of things over a number of years to build a city that’s lovable:
        • a rails-to-trails system
        • free public concert series
        • improving the quality of their civic theatre presentations
        • a belated cut-loose Mardi Gras celebration is held at night downtown after the weather warms
        • ongoing street and sidewalk improvements help revitalize downtown
        • at the moment, a huge mural is being painted on a blank wall downtown
        • Muncie’s Whitely neighborhood is garnering national attention for its concerted efforts to build community and improve quality of life for residents in a neighborhood hard hit by poverty and crime.
        • Monthly town hall-style meetings, collaboration with police and other city representatives, annual beautification projects, volunteer networks and more inspire and encourage
        • a downtown merchants’ association and downtown development commission remain active
        • a host of volunteer and charitable organizations work separately and sometimes together to pursue aims
        • a grassroots response to the current political climate is formation a group called “pies for peace.” Throughout the year (the location varies each time), residents are invited to bring a homemade pie to share and a few guests and come enjoy a free piece of pie with other local folks, hear a guest speaker and engage in conversation with people around their table on some topic related to celebrating and understanding the diversity in the community.

        Small-town county seat Hartford City, Indiana, has high rates of unemployment and a number of people living at poverty in a town that in living memory of some lifelong residents was once a happening place. They have no money and a near-ghost town for a downtown. They’re struggling. Yet they mount an annual festival complete with parade; they host an annual Civil War reenactment that draws visitors. They converted a couple empty downtown lots to a small park. Churches run outreach ministries; one offers a free supper once a week.

        This area of Indiana is home to Garfield the Cat creator Jim Davis. Several small towns about are graced with a painted statue of Garfield specially created to honor some part of their heritage. Outside the famous Ivanhoe’s Drive In (100 varieties of shakes; 100 varieties of sundaes) in tiny Upland stands a statue of Garfield holding an ice cream cone: opportunities for selfies with the fat cat. Besides the ice cream draw, Upland puts itself on the local must-visit map with a town-wide garage sale each fall.

        “Collectively, build a city that’s lovable,” Peter Kageyama told us. “The burden is on us to put out the positive emotions.” The first step for any community is to assure a functional and safe community. Second, he says, make it comfortable. Third, convivial. Fourth, make it interesting and fun. “When was the last time you saw a goal for a project as FUN?”

        “People love the small things,” he said. A dog park encourages interaction and creates a safe public space. Murals brighten downtown streets—how about a community paint-by-number mural such as the one created by residents of Luddington, Michigan. Public art offers photo ops that garner publicity on social media. Town rituals, celebrations and gatherings foster a sense of community. Providence, Rhode Island, does a number of public events with bonfires along and on the river. In Shelbourn Falls, Mass., the community gathers once a year to have dinner on an antique iron bridge in town. Water features are popular with kids in the summer—and when kids are happy, parents are happy. It doesn’t have to cost a lot, he said. One little town uses a garden hose sprinkler at a downtown park to create a play space for kids.

        Strive to create things that surprise and delight. (And here I think of the Tilt-A-Whirl cars.) “Things have a value beyond their cost,” Peter said. “What is the cost of ugly? What is the cost of boring?”

        He encouraged each of us in his audience to ask the question, “what is my passion? What is my way of getting engaged?”

      • Thank you, thank you, thank you for this detailed comment with specific examples. There are so many great ideas here. I love the idea of setting FUN as the goal for a project. What could be more enticing than FUN?

        But I also appreciate the more serious goals of achieving understanding through Pies for Peace, for example. This could work in my community, which is incredibly diverse. Acceptance is an issue here, one that’s been addressed but still needs much work.

        I hope every one of my blog readers reads your comment and is inspired.

        I am grateful for your insights and ideas.

  3. Valerie Says:

    I am so glad to know they are restoring these historic pieces. I will look for them the next time I’m in Faribault.

  4. This is really neat. I’m sure that the kids really get a kick out of it.

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