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Apr-21-2008 01:42printcomments

Carousel Wood Carvers Create Lifetime Memories (VIDEO)

Spending time with the wood carvers is a little bit like stepping into Santa’s toy factory.

Salem, Oregon's Carousel wood carvers
Wood carving volunteers at the popular Salem Riverfront Carousel are always busy with new projects.
Photos and video by Tim King

(SALEM, Ore.) - Salem, Oregon’s Riverfront Carousel draws visitors locally and from throughout the world who want to experience a piece of American fun that endures from the greatest of childhood memories.

The horses and gifts at the Carousel that are hand carved by these volunteers are created and brought to life through hours of concentrated effort. In fact this very group has been working together for several years.

Dr. Joe Winter, a retired dentist and Carousel wood carver, says they are all good friends, "This group, the average time we have been together is probably eight or nine years."

"We’re now the number one tourist attraction in Salem," he added.

Spending time with the wood carvers is a little bit like stepping into Santa’s toy factory. These charming volunteers are the elves, each intent on creating a specific item that carries with it a set of challenges only overcome by a good craftsperson.

They are the same skills that would have been used in an old world toy and craft shop, and each project requires an amazing output of discipline and mastery of technique. The tools of the trade are also like those of another time.

Rough carving leads to intricate details and then sanding and preparation allow for the colorful finishes applies to last a lifetime.

Ruth Burden, who is also a Carousel wood carver, described a work in progress, "She is carving a zebra which will be painted then just like this. This is (like) the zebra that is on the carousel, it is the only thing on the carousel that isn’t a horse."

As far as the amount of time that will go into the zebra before it is actually ready to go out into the shop, Ruth Burden said the carving and sanding and painting takes approximately twenty hours.

The opportunity to create wonderful hand crafted items has been evolution of skills for volunteers like Lois Witherspoon, who shares a passion with these other volunteers to stay productive and generate items that people will treasure for generations.

"I took a class after I retired and they decided I would do alright," Lois said. "I was always good with my hands, and when I applied for the teacher ‘I built a house, and I figure if I can build a house I can carve a horse, so that is what I am doing now.'"

The items these volunteers create accompany the old world atmosphere of the Carousel. They are wide ranging, but they also carry a similar theme consistent with the fun enjoyed by so many children and families here.

The group stays busy with Carousel related projects, horses of all sizes, And these volunteers also help wounded soldiers home from the wars overseas, by creating beautiful and useful, canes to help deal with recoveries and permanent injuries.

The group's organizers were inspired by a similar group in North Carolina, which carved a number of walking canes for injured members of a Marine unit who recently returned to that state.

Everett Koontz is a senior Carousel wood carver who was closely involved in the effort to deliver 100 canes to wounded vets at Fort Lewis, Washington.

"Most of the people we have made canes for, we immediately cut them off to the proper length and they use them. So, they’re very appreciative of it"

These volunteers know keeping this facility up and making improvements relies on not just volunteer efforts, but also on donations. They are hoping that others will step forward with donations to help the Carousel meet some coming goals.

Salem’s Riverfront Carousel is dependent upon contributions from people to make the carousel affordable for all families while they support msny ongoing community events and horse restoration projects.

Volunteers like Joe Winters say the project has relied on volunteer and donation efforts from the beginning and the need is great. He also believes other communities would benefit from similar projects.

"It took hundreds of people to raise funds of all this stuff. And it’s the most uniting thing for a community. I would recommend it to any community of a hundred thousand or so"

He says the current needs of this unique attraction are very important, and hopes the spirit of the community that established the Carousel in the first place, will come to its aid again with donations.

The one member of this group who has been the basis of the carving group from the beginning is Everette Koontz. All of the members of this group are quick to point that out and they all say he has been an inspiration and teacher for them.

Everette’s work has been featured in shows and he also teaches people how to carve all kinds of different items. It is a craft from another time that still has its place today.

The carousel began as the dream of one woman, who inspired an entire community to create a work of art that will stand as a symbol of volunteerism and cooperation for generations to come. They believe that with support from the local community which is all tax deductible, it is more than possible to keep this dream alive.

"This small army of creative, caring volunteers donated more than 16,900 hours of support work in 2006," Carousel Director Marie Bradford said, calling it "an outpouring of devotion worth over a quarter of a million dollars...on average, that amounts to nearly 80 hours, or two full weeks of work for each volunteer."

For some... Like this group of carvers, the hours donated are even considerably more.

There are only 100 carousels left in America today and Salem is fortunate to have one of them. Please support them, you can contact the Carousel at or call them at 503 540-0374.


Watch the special video report by's Tim King on the Carousel wood carving volunteers, brought to you courtesy of and YouTube:


Comments Leave a comment on this story.

All comments and messages are approved by people and self promotional links or unacceptable comments are denied.

Marie Bradford Executive Director Sa May 6, 2008 11:51 am (Pacific time)

Hi Kappy, I want to first apologize for the rude treatment that you and your family received while visiting the carousel. Our goal is to always provide the best customer service to our guest and it's obvious from your comment that you posted that we did not succeed with your family. Your letter will be shared with our staff and volunteers as a reminder the importance of giving great customer service and how a smile and a thank you to our guest really does go a long way. Thank you for the kudos on Mel our carousel operator who does an outstanding job working with our guest. Again thank you for posting your comment. The only way we can improve is by listening to our customers feedback.

Laura Tea-Pelley May 6, 2008 10:46 am (Pacific time)

Thanks for helping to 'keep the dream alive' with the recent story of current happenings at the Carousel. We very much appreciate your giving us play and LOVE the focus on our volunteers - especially the carvers who continue to donate their time, talent and wonderful storytelling to all who visit us! Your article's timing is perfect in honor of National Volunteer Week and the celebration of ALL volunteers who help our community to thrive! Sincerely, Laura Tea-Pelley, SRC Volunteer Coordinator

Kappy April 21, 2008 10:34 pm (Pacific time)

I used to like going there.... But the last few times I have gone I noticed that the way I look has a real impact on the people that work there. The first few times I went we were all dressed up nice as can be and my kids and I were treated like family. The last two times I went we were fresh from softball and the park not dirty but just like you would expect after a fun day at the park.. The lady who I have bought tickets from like 10 times asked me for my ID and had someone come over and verify it... Note She didn't do this to me before and did not do it to anyone else in line.. Then with a snotty look she sold me tickets no thank you no smile not a word.. The only nice person there was the guy letting people on the carousel.. He says to me you want to stand next to your kids to my wife and I?? I say well yeah thank you. No No its no ticket for parents standing on next to there kids go on . As I board I notice the nice lady that was in front of me at the ticket counter and her kid and she gives him 1 token gets on an stands next to her kid... Cool... As soon as the ride starts I see the snotty lady's friend come rushing out to point at me and proceed to tell the only nice person I dealt with hey they didn't buy tickets they need tickets loudly and pointing at me and my wife( who is holding my 13 month old who we bought a ticket for and is strapped on a horse)She was talking so loudly that I could here her over the carousel music and every person in the place looks at us like what jack a$$'s she walks away glaring at me... These are the same old lady's who when we were dressed to go out were so nice to me and my kids... Old lady if you read this you should know that your attitude was unacceptable and that you should not be so judgmental. You sold the lady in front of me 1 ticket for 1 kid and a mom to stand by her and you said nothing to them but you called my entire family out on a fun filled happy day... You made my hart sink... And no my wife didn't bring it up until our kids were fast asleep... We both were very embarrassed.. At your actions... and to the guy who let us on you are one cool dude Thanks Bro. you handled that crabby old lady with a smile..

Betty L. April 21, 2008 1:53 pm (Pacific time)

I have always wondered who carved those beautiful animals, thanks for an enlightening report!

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