NAIT staff help bring rare 60-year-old carousel back to life

Ten years and more than 1,300 parts later – and countless happy children to come

For the past six years, Gord Neufeld has spent much of his free time helping to bring a rare 1959 Herschel Spillman children’s carousel – one of only two currently in operation across the globe – back to life.

Neufeld, a mechanic in NAIT’s Automotive Service Technician program, is one of some 60 volunteers who lent their expertise and technical skills to restoring the Edmonton Valley Zoo’s beloved children’s carousel to working order – preserving the original aesthetics while modernizing the mechanics to ensure it will run for years to come.

The Conservation Carousel Project was no small task. With 25 new hand-carved and painted zoo animals and two chariots, hardwood decking, decorative panels, electrical system, lighting, sound and PA system, and an updated drive system and a wheelchair ramp, the restoration project was more like an overhaul; approximately 1,360 pieces and components receiving attention.

All told, the volunteer crew spent well over 20,000 hours spanning ten years on the project.

Approximately 200 of those hours can be accredited to Neufeld, whose skills as both a mechanic and a machinist, and access to NAIT shops – not to mention the expertise of co-workers he leaned on – were put to work in the project. The attraction reopened on Oct. 13, 2022. Here’s a look at what it took to get the carousel turning once again.

The mechanic and the merry-go-round

edmonton valley zoo conservation carousel before restoration

Neufeld’s first task was to build 25 metal caps to cover where the new support poles meet the carousel floor. This started with a computer-aided design (CAD) to produce a test sample on a 3D printer. After that, Neufeld used his skills as a Machinist (class of ’22) to make the caps using brass bar stock and hardwood.

new brass caps for edmonton valley zoo carousel“I love metalwork,” says Neufeld.

“I got involved with Fort Edmonton when they needed somebody to restore an old 1900s drill press.

"Ever since, it just kind of snowballed into continuing to help the volunteer group for Fort Edmonton and the Edmonton Valley Zoo.”

Neufeld didn’t work alone, enlisting the help of NAIT colleague and cabinetmaker Lee Walch (Cabinetmaker ’12) to make sure the hardwood in the caps matched the carousel’s new hardwood flooring, which Walch sourced from South America and laid.

Neufeld also worked on rebuilding worn-out nuts and other parts, matching them as closely as possible to the original components. He even built a small hoist to lift and secure the carousel’s extremely heavy central mast.

Hoist built by NAIT staff member gord neufeld to lift central mast of valley zoo carouselNeufeld also volunteered his time to document the dimensions of every piece of the carousel.

“Once the original carousel was disassembled, I went in every Saturday for seven weeks and sat there with my measuring equipment and laptop to create a CAD drawing of each individual component.”

Neufeld used those drawings to create what became the official carousel structural blueprint that was used by the Valley Zoo to obtain licensing through the Alberta Elevating Devices and Amusement Rides Safety Association, deeming the ride safe. 

The last piece Neufeld worked on was building a wheelchair ramp, making the ride accessible for all abilities.

While there were challenges throughout the project, Neufeld embraced them.

“We had a lot of autonomy in that we were discovering how to restore the carousel as we went along,” he says. “While that was tricky at times, I enjoyed the work and love the challenge of delivering a high-quality finished product.”

wheelchair ramp for edmonton valley zoo carousel

Neufeld also enjoyed working with fellow volunteers, including those from NAIT.

“Everyone at NAIT who worked on this project was a huge help. The knowledge and skills they had along with their complete willingness to help was just huge.”

Other NAIT staff volunteers include Bernie Budinski, Eric Beyer (Machinist ’15) and Victor Dyck (Millwright ’19, Machinist ’05).

Several members of NAIT’s alumni community also contributed including, Glen Gibson (Boilermaker ’91), Gord MacDonald (Management ’73), Dorota Wolski (Electrical Engineering Technician ’15) and Cole Perrott (Instrumentation Engineering Technician ’21, Electrical Engineering Technician ’15).

edmonton valley zoo carousel restored

Doug Warren, a long-time veteran volunteer with the carousel project, considered the support essential to the project. “All of the volunteers are important to us,” says Warren, who worked with Neufeld on Fort Edmonton projects and helped to involve NAIT staff with the zoo’s initiative.

“The response from people at NAIT has been very timely and crucial in keeping us moving.”

With the carousel fully restored and operating, Neufeld has mixed feelings about his spare time being freed up again.

“It was a fun project to work on,” he says “I was proud that I had specific skill sets that were needed, and that I could help solve unique problems. I’m very proud to see the carousel up and running, but I’m sad that the journey to get here is over. I’m already looking forward to the next challenge.”

edmonton valley zoo carousel restored

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