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

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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

 

Restored Tilt-A-Whirl car unveiled in Faribault August 21, 2014

THANKS TO TWO FARIBAULT WOMEN, a group of enthusiastic supporters and a television show, one of America’s most iconic amusement rides, the Tilt-A-Whirl, will now be showcased in downtown Faribault.

Tami Schluter, left, and Peggy Keilen reveal the restored car to an appreciative audience Wednesday evening.

Tami Schluter, left, and Peggy Keilen reveal the restored car to an appreciative audience Wednesday evening.

A restored early 1950s era prototype Tilt-A-Whirl car was unveiled Wednesday evening in Faribault following the airing of “Boy Meets Whirl,” an episode of The History Channel’s American Restoration reality TV show.

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

The Tilt-A-Whirl car, before restoration, was rescued from a junkyard. Photo courtesy of Tami Schluter.

Rick’s Restorations of Las Vegas worked its magic on the aged car after meeting with Faribault resident Tami Schluter. She, along with friend Peggy Keilen, spearheaded efforts to raise monies to restore the car built by Faribault’s Sellner Manufacturing Company. Backers raised $8,500 to refurbish the vintage carnival ride car rescued from, and donated by, Harley’s Auto Salvage.

A portion of the crowd watches "Boy Meets Whirl."

A portion of the crowd who supported the project with monetary and in-kind donations watches “Boy Meets Whirl.”

The Tilt-A-Whirl car, now on temporary display at Mill City Restaurant & Sports Bar—site of the celebration party—will find a permanent home a block away at the corner of (128) Central Avenue and Second Street by the third-generation family shoe store, Burkhartzmeyer Shoes.

Celebrating the restoration and reveal of the 1950s Tilt-A-Whirl car outside Mill City Restaurant.

Celebrating the restoration and reveal of the 1950s Tilt-A-Whirl car outside Mill City Restaurant.

Schluter and Keilen told the crowd of 75 or so gathered for the TV airing and car debut party that the restored Tilt-A-Whirl represents a much-needed icon for this Minnesota community’s historic downtown, a need revealed in a 2011 Faribault Main Street Market study. The two businesswomen—Schluter co-owns the Historic Hutchinson House Bed & Breakfast and Keilen, Faribo Air Conditioning & Heating—say the car will provide a place to sit back, relax and enjoy the beautiful downtown.

Tami Schluter, left, and Peggy Keilen embrace after unveiling the car.

Tami Schluter, left, and Peggy Keilen embrace after unveiling the car.

And the Tilt-A-Whirl car likely will provide plenty of photo ops as it did following Wednesday’s reveal. An enthusiastic Schluter and Keilen posed for numerous photos and expressed their love for Faribault and gratitude to the long list of supporters that include individuals, businesses and local organizations.

Tami Schluter on "Boy Meets Whirl."

Tami Schluter on “Boy Meets Whirl.” She suggested the three pretend to be watching a Minnesota Vikings game while sitting in the car.

Both were especially pleased to bring national attention to Faribault via the television show, one reason Schluter approached American Restoration about the project. Within 12 hours, she heard that the Tilt-A-Whirl proposal was a go.

Tami Schluter's quote reaction when she saw the car for the first time.

Tami Schluter’s quote, as aired on “Boy Meets Whirl,” when she saw the car for the first time.

The women aren’t done yet with Tilt-A-Whirls. They are already focusing on raising funds for restoration of a second 1940s car to be placed several blocks to the north by the State Bank of Faribault.

The 1950s era Tilt-A-Whirl car sits, covered, outside Mill City until after the 9:30 p.m. airing of "Boy Meets Whirl."

The 1950s era Tilt-A-Whirl car sits, covered, outside Mill City before the airing of “Boy Meets Whirl.”

That second restoration, Keilen says, will be done in the Tilt-A-Whirl’s hometown of Faribault.

Sellner Manufacturing, as noted on the car, invented the Tilt-A-Whirl.

Sellner Manufacturing, as noted on the car, invented the Tilt-A-Whirl.

FYI: Sellner Manufacturing, which invented and built the first Tilt-A-Whirl in 1926, was sold in 2011. Gold Star Manufacturing purchased the fiberglass and staging part of the business and, at the time of purchase, contracted with Texas-based buyer Larson International, Inc., to make the fiberglass car portion of the Tilt-A-Whirl.

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 a Tilt-A-Whirl mural in downtown Faribault in 2010.

Faribault also promotes the Tilt-A-Whirl’s origins via a mural along Fourth Street just a block off Central Avenue. It was a 2010 project of The Mural Society of Faribault.

The back of the refurbished Tilt-A-Whirl.

The back of the refurbished Tilt-A-Whirl.

The Rice County Historical Society in Faribault features a permanent exhibit on Sellner Manufacturing Company.

Mill City's new signature Tilt-A-Whirl drink.

Mill City’s new signature Tilt-A-Whirl drink.

And, at Mill City Restaurant & Sports Bar, a Tilt-A-Whirl drink has been added to the bar offerings. It features brandy, Mount Gay Bermuda rum, sweet vermouth, sweet and sour mix, cherries and lemon slices served in a pint jar.

BONUS PHOTO:

Every party needs a cake.

Every party needs a cake.

 

© Copyright 2014 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

 

What does the future hold for the Tilt-A-Whirl January 7, 2011

A downtown Faribault mural depicts the evolution of the Tilt-A-Whirl.

IN AN IRONIC TWIST, or something like that, today’s Faribault Daily News featured this top headline:

Operations cease at Sellner’s

Company created the Tilt-A-Whirl; was Faribault’s longest-running family business”

I read this within 45 minutes of posting “These businesses have been in Faribault for how long.”

I’m scraping egg from my face. But I had no idea, none, nada, that one of Faribault’s oldest businesses is, according to the newspaper article, in the process of being sold to Larson International, Inc., of Plainview, Texas.

You may not be familiar with the name Sellner Manufacturing. But I bet you have ridden the firm’s Tilt-A-Whirl, which is manufactured just blocks from my Faribault home. The company has been making this American icon amusement ride since 1926.

For several years now, Sellner Manufacturing has been struggling with financial difficulties. I’ve read the foreclosure notices in the newspaper. I won’t speculate as to why this happened. I simply don’t know.

I don’t know, either, what this means for the future of the Tilt-A-Whirl. Will it be around for another 85 years?

The Mural Society of Faribault created and placed the Tilt-A-Whirl mural on the side of Jim's Auto & Tire this past fall. It is among five murals in the downtown area.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling