McLouth festival salutes modern-day patriots
Three-year-old Travis Bartlett took every ride he could on the Liberty Carousel at Saturday's Patriots' Day celebration in McLouth.
His mother, Nancy Bartlett, quit counting after his 20th turn.
Travis came dressed as "Pecos Bill" for the day, wearing western gear that included a "Junior Jefferson County Sheriff" star-shaped gold badge. As he leaned back on the heel of one cowboy boot and fiddled with the toy gun in his black leather holster, Travis voiced his approval of the carousel:
"Yeah, good," the lad said, and then pointed out his favorite horses -- "the black one and the red one."
The carousel was only a small part of the day's festivities that also included two parades -- one specifically for children -- a quilt show, food and crafts and a high school musical production, and, of course, veterans as honored guests. The carousel was a fitting addition.
Cliff Weeks, an organizer of McLouth's fifth annual Patriots' Day celebration, said the event pulled the community together.
"It's a blessing to a small town to have things like this happen," Weeks said. "Families can get together and talk with friends and have a good enjoyable time."
Participants included the grand marshals, who rode the parade route in classic convertibles. This year's grand marshals were Stan and Fern Braksick, John and Zelma Sanders and Maxine Voelker.
As the day was winding down, Beverly and Rick Muzzy took a breather as they sat in the shade.
"We had good attendance," said Beverly, who helped plan this year's Patriots' Day celebration.
"Anybody that's been here before said that this was the most they've seen attending and participating in the parade," Muzzy said.
Included in the parade each year is a horse-drawn trolley pulling area veterans. This year about 25 veterans, including several from Tonganoxie, rode. Also on it were at least two McLouth-area residents who have loved ones currently serving in the military.
Each veteran received a free ride on the carousel, compliments of the McLouth recreation commission.
The carousel went over well, Muzzy said.
"The carousel was the real big thing," she said. "It was a novelty."
A real draw
From the moment it arrived in town on Friday to when it was taken apart late Saturday afternoon, the carousel drew interest, Muzzy said.
School children on their way home Friday stopped and watched.
"The men had the horses set aside so the kids could see the KU and K-State horses and the zebra," Muzzy said.
Officially, the tickets to ride the carousel were $1 each.
"But they probably gave away more rides than they charged," Muzzy said.
At about 3 p.m. Saturday, the carousel took its last spin in downtown McLouth. From then on until the last piece was loaded in the truck, volunteers, spearheaded by Jerry Reinhardt, who lives in Stilwell, dismantled the carousel, piece by piece.
This wasn't the refurbished carousel's maiden voyage, but it was close to it.
"It's been operated one other time at Leavenworth's Riverfest last September," Reinhardt said. "We had terrible weather, it rained all day long, but we still got $700."
About 30 people have participated in the restoration of this 1950 carousel, which has aluminum horses, as well as in the restoration of a 1913 carousel, which has wooden horses.
Both carousels, purchased in other towns, have returned to their hometown. They were manufactured by the Parker Carousel Company, which originated in Abilene and relocated to Leavenworth in 1911.
The Liberty carousel is 30 feet in diameter, the 1913 model is 40 feet, and is taller.
While the volunteers were immersed in restoring the older carousel, members of the volunteer association located the 1950 model in Fort Scott. The auction ad said it was in "ready-to-run condition," Reinhardt said with a grin.
"When we got there it was a mess," Reinhardt said. "All the wood floors were rotten, there was a tree growing through it. Every single piece of wood in the machine was gone."
But the bright spot was, enough of the wood remained that could be used for patterns.
The club members interrupted their work on the 1913 carousel to refurbish the newer one.
"This was the best darn morale booster we could ever do," Reinhardt said. "All at once we had a carousel to run."
The volunteers have received some grants and are in the process of procuring more grants as they ready for construction of a carousel museum in Leavenworth.
But it's not just the money that matters.
"We have fun with it," Reinhardt said. "When you look at the kids' faces as it's going around, you know that's what has made it all worthwhile."
As Reinhardt spoke, volunteers all around him -- including 3-year-old Travis Bartlett, his mother and his best friend -- were working with the volunteers to take the carousel apart. Also stopping by to help were Staci Braksick, from McLouth, and her friend, Kenny Cook, from Hutchinson.
On the other side of the carousel, Louie Klemp, a Leavenworth carousel volunteer who takes on the task of climbing overhead to put up and take down the canvas top, called out that the canvas roof was ready to come down.
Reinhardt said Klemp, who is younger than he, was one of the group's younger members.
"This is called the over-the-hill gang," Reinhardt said, chuckling. "I'm probably one of the youngest and I'm 78."
As the volunteers took down the carousel, they carefully parked the aluminum horses near the loading truck. The paint glistened in the sunshine, paint that until a year ago didn't exist. The horses, too, were in sad shape when the carousel was purchased.
Mary Ellen Walker and Norma Graham painted the horses -- all 20 of them -- in Walker's basement.
"All I did was paint, paint, paint," Walker said.
Others got in on the act. Mabel Tate, who lives in Leavenworth, said her husband, Lawrence, stripped three coats of paint off the wooden beams of the carousel. Mabel laughed good-naturedly about her husband's post-retirement career: "He's the oldest stripper in town."
The volunteers say each worker contributes talents.
"There are a bunch of geniuses up there," said Mabel Tate. "What one doesn't know the others know."
For instance, retired welder Jim Smith has been a boon to the group. If it's made of metal he can fix it. And the 84-year-old Smith worked with the rest of the group in McLouth, staying until the last horse was loaded into a truck. Smith acknowledged he wasn't always that energetic, saying he'd taken a nap in the cab of the truck earlier in the day.
New blood needed
"We need new members," Tate said. "We need young people, young blood -- all their knees are giving out."
The volunteers credit Bernie and Bettie Phillips for starting the entire project when they purchased the 1913 carousel from a judge in Indiana. Bernie has since died, but Bettie attended Saturday's celebration.
"I made sure she got a free ride," said Vernon Ochs, who with his wife, Joanne Ochs, works on the carousel project. The Ochs live in Leavenworth.
But as the day wound up and the carousel came down, it was the children's smiles the volunteers remembered most.
Reinhardt chuckled as he glanced across the way at the 3-year-old boy who rode the carousel all day, then stayed to help take it down.
"Pecos Bill, he was our biggest customer," Reinhardt said. "He rode this thing almost every time we ran it this afternoon. I don't know how many rides he got -- a bunch."