Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Tilt-A-Whirl tradition continues in Faribault May 13, 2011

The Mural Society of Faribault created and placed this Tilt-A-Whirl mural on the side of Jim's Auto & Tire along Fourth Street in downtown Faribault in the fall of 2010.

AN AMERICAN ICON amusement ride made in Faribault since 1926 will remain here despite the sale of Sellner Manufacturing to a Texas company.

Jim Hermel and Mike Featherston, co-owners of Gold Star Manufacturing, recently purchased the fiberglass and staging portions of Sellner, I learned in a recent e-mail exchange with Hermel.

That’s good news for Faribault, where the Tilt-A-Whirl, perhaps America’s best-known carnival ride, has been made by the Sellner family since 1926.

If you didn’t realize the Tilt-A-Whirl was produced in Faribault, don’t fret your lack of knowledge. Not until I moved in 1984 into a house blocks away from the carnival ride maker, did I even know this icon ride was made in Minnesota, let alone Faribault.

Local State Representative Patti Fritz tried to get the word out in 2007 by introducing a bill to make the Tilt-A-Whirl Minnesota’s official amusement ride. However, that legislation failed.

My community has also missed the mark on tapping into this home-grown carnival ride as a tourist attraction. But now that the fiberglass ride car portion will continue to be produced here, I believe the opportunity still exists to promote the Tilt-A-Whirl. I’ve always envisioned a fun-focused carnival atmosphere museum and gift shop complete with Tilt-A-Whirl rides, cotton candy, popcorn, activities for kids and more.

Given the current economy, I doubt my vision for a Tilt-A-Whirl tourist site will happen any time soon, unless…

For now I’m content with the fact that Faribault-based Gold Star Manufacturing is contracting with Larson International, Inc., of Plainview, Texas, to manufacture the fiberglass cars for the Tilt-A-Whirl and for other amusement rides. The working machinery part of the business went toTexas.

Gold Star Manufacturing shipped its first carnival ride, Bear Affair, to Toronto, Canada, earlier this month.

Dizzy Dragons, one of the carnival rides that Gold Star will continue to manufacture.

Gold Star will also continue to make the fiberglass bodies for other Sellner-created carnival rides: the Bear Affair, Dizzy Dragons, Ships Ahoy and Pumpkin Patch. Another ride is in the works, Hermel says, and three other fiberglass products are in the development stage.

If anyone can succeed at revitalizing a company which fell into financial hardship, Hermel and Featherston would be the men.

Hermel comes to Gold Star Manufacturing with nearly 30 years in the tire business (selling almost 2 million tires, he says) and with 14 years as executive secretary and manager of the Rice County Fair.

“I wanted to get into something that would offer me a challenge,” the 59-year-old Hermel says.

His partner, Mike Featherston, brings a life-time of experience in the outdoor amusement industry to the new company. Featherston and his family own GoldStar Amusements, Inc., a traveling entertainment business with amusement rides, food and games based in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, and Louisiana. GoldStar contracts for the midway at the Rice County Fair.

Featherston was recently elected second vice chair of the Outdoor Amusement Business Association which aims “to encourage the growth and preservation of the outdoor amusement industry through leadership, legislation, education and membership services.”

Now, as co-owner of Gold Star Manufacturing, Featherston is certainly fulfilling one of those missions by keeping an iconic American carnival ride in production, in Faribault. He and Hermel are continuing the legacy of Herb Sellner who built the first nine-car wooden Tilt-A-Whirl 85 years ago.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Bear Affair photo courtesy of Gold Star Manufacturing