FALMOUTH – A red and white striped tent is visible just between rooftops, nestled between a house and garage on tiny Davis Road in the center of Falmouth.
It is just a temporary spot for the colorful merry-go-round named the Carousel of Light that artist Lance Shinkle has handcrafted over about 10 years and that he hopes to give as a gift to the Town of Falmouth and install on Main Street next month.
A Test Ride
On a recent day, Shinkle tested out the mechanism for a Cape Cod Wave reporter.
A couple of kids, Noah, 6, and Henry, 8, grandchildren of Don and Denise Terry of Falmouth, came along for the ride. Don and Denise are board members of Carousel of Light Inc., the group applying for non-profit status that is championing the carousel.
First, with no one on board, Shinkle tested the carousel mechanism, a five-horsepower tractor-style motor painted bright blue attached to gears that spin the carousel and move the horses up and down.
“I call it ‘Greased Lightning,’” Shinkle said. “I try to start it up every morning before any one rides it.”
Once he started the engine, the contraption emitted a grumble and a whir and the carousel lurched to a start, quickly gaining speed, around and around, too fast, then slower.
“It’s a little noisy. I’ve got to work out all the bugs,” Shinkle said.
Then passengers hopped aboard, climbing on to the hand-carved steeds and holding on tight as Shinkle, with a wide smile, worked the controls in the center of the carousel. He seemed to be basking in the pure joy of running the contraption he has spent so many years making.
“It’s always a rush,” he said afterwards.
Donations are being sought through Carousel of Light Inc. to replace the aging canopy above the carousel, as well as for the care and upkeep for the merry-go-round and towards a permanent home for it. About $10,000 has been raised so far.
Shinkle said the location, wherever it is, will need to be spruced up, perhaps with a garden or in a park-like setting. “It can’t just sit by itself in a parking lot,” he said.
“The thing about a carousel, it draws people to it. The shops around it, they’re the ones who make money,” Shinkle said.
A 20-Year Project
Shinkle, a former professional figure skater who is now 67, was a sign maker and artist before embarking on the carousel project 20 years ago. “I was always interested in three-dimensional sculpture,” he said.
His original idea was to use the carousel as a fundraiser for cancer research after his brother-in-law died of cancer. Now the idea is that the merry-go-round can benefit all types of local charities.
Though he seems to work the carousel’s mechanism like a pro, Shinkle said he is not really mechnically inclined.
“There’s really a learning curve,” he said.
So it came as a special gift recently when Mike Fuss of Falmouth, a master mechanic who keeps the Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard operating, introduced himself during a carousel fundraiser and offered to help.
“It was like heaven opened up,” Shinkle said.
Fuss will soon load the carousel into a 40-foot box trailer he owns for storage until a home is found for it.
Nine of the horses from the carousel will continue to be displayed at various banks around town as well as brought out at various events, as a way to let the community know about the project.
The motor and platform for Shinkle’s carousel is an Allen Herschell model dated around 1947 that hadn’t been used for decades when Shinkle found it in 1990 at a salvage yard in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Herschell was considered a top maker of carousels in what is called the “country fair style.”
The salvage yard owner had auctioned off the carousel horses and all that was left was the motor, platform and canopy.
“It was out in a field covered with snow,” Shinkle said.
He asked the guy if it worked and when he found out it did, he purchased it for about $13,000.
The guy gave Shinkle a brief lesson in how the contraption works and Shinkle paid close attention. “There’s really a learning curve,” he said.
To California & Back
The carousel including the 33 horses Shinkle has carved for it has crossed the country twice. About 10 years ago, Shinkle moved from his home in Falmouth out to California to care for his ailing father and had the carousel shipped out with him.
He thought he would find a home for it in California, but it didn’t work out that way. It sat in his father’s garage.
“I always thought it should be in Falmouth. The wood for the horses was milled here,” he said, referring to Cataumet Saw Mill.
So he had it packed up again and shipped back to Falmouth.
The carousel, including the eight-ton mechanism, horses, 2 chariots, and the red-striped tent, arrived in Falmouth on a cold day in March on two semi tractor trailers.
But since arriving, the carousel had not been set up in its entirety until a couple weeks ago for a safety inspection.
With no public place to install it, Shinkle assembled it in his backyard with the help of five waiters from a nearby inn.
The carousel when assembled is 36 feet in diameter, the same size as the carousel at the Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich.
Shinkle said he wasn’t sure if the carousel would fit in his yard, but after “pacing it out,” he thought it might.
It did, just barely.
Structural engineer Mark Glynn of North Tonawanda, New York, came earlier this month to perform a safety inspection on the carousel and gave the thumbs up.
After the inspection, Glynn stated, “This classic mechanism is a wonderful example of Americana, and the hand-carved horses are simply gorgeous. It is structurally in excellent condition.”
Five Styles Of Horses
Most carousel horses these days are made of fiberglass from molds, so the fact that Shinkle’s horses are handcarved of wood, makes them extra special.
In crafting the horses, he took his cues from a 19th century carousel artist named Daniel C. Mueller, who was known as a pioneer in the carving of carousel horses.
“When you look at this, it is nostalgic,” Don Terry said. “The horses are evocative of 150 years ago.”
Shinkle agrees. “It’s a romantic ride, no doubt about it. It’s not like something that turns you upside down,” he said.
Shinkle continues to make horses for the carousel. He wants to have extras on hand so he can exchange them to fix nicks or other damage.
He has carved five different styles—running, flared, flying, bucking bronco, and leading—in three sizes so that when the carousel spins, the viewer can see a variety of horses in different stances at the same time. Each horse weighs about 200 pounds.
A carousel horse in the beginning stages of craft sits in his yard near the carousel. It is made of layers of Eastern white pine laminated together. First Shinkle will carve it with a chain saw, then he will hand chisel, color-dye and paint it.
The children, Noah and Henry, seemed particularly interested in the unfinished horse, which looks like a deconstructed horse-like monster made of wood blocks. Even in its unfinished state, it looks ready to leap.
In addition to the horses, Shinkle has made two carousel “chariots,” that will be a place where seniors or disabled people can sit during the ride.
A calliope will be placed in the center near the motor, along with decorative sculptures, including waves and a mermaid named Bubbles, which is stored for now in Shinkle’s garage.
The carousel also includes “rounding boards,” which are paintings by Shinkle with nautical themes that surround the top of the carousel, and there will be more paintings on the interior, on 12 scenery panels covering the mechanism. Shinkle plans a series of paintings for the rounding boards that depict historic scenic views of Falmouth.
Second Go Round
This is the second time Shinkle has tried to get the carousel installed in town. The first time was 25 years ago when he approached Falmouth businessmen James C. Bowen, Richard Sherman and Troy Clarkson, who formed a board to try to raise money to buy the carousel from the artist and install it in town.
All three plus the Terrys and Shinkle are on the new Carousel of Light Inc. board, along with Falmouth Selectman Mary (Pat) Flynn, landscape designer Lissie Hoffert, school administrator Kay Johnson, Falmouth Chamber of Commerce vice president Michael Kasparian, TD Bank vice president Nick Kleimola, Lance Shinkle’s daughter, landscape designer Chelsea Maffei, DFM Insurance Agency owner Donald McCarthy, insurance executive Linda Sallop, Cisco Systems marketing manager Elizabeth Sherman, and Falmouth Visitor founder and editor Stanton Terrell.
With the third party inspection behind him, Shinkle must now secure a license from the Massachusetts Department of Public Safety to operate the carousel and then to find a temporary location to run it in August. He still needs a permanent location, preferably indoors so it can run year-round.
Board members are optimistic.
“We think we can do this for Falmouth,” Don Terry said.
Terry said he remembers visiting Falmouth as a child, his parents scrapping together the $40 a week needed to rent a cottage. “It was so wonderful. . . .That’s the kind of community that this evokes.”
Terry, who has been talking up the carousel around town said one person he talked to put it perfectly: “A carousel makes a town.”
– Laura M. Reckford