Two cars and a van with young children sat patiently in St Augustine this afternoon, as Jim Soules made the final adjustments on the J&S Carousel at Davenport Park and readied the popular ride for the first round after its triumphant return from the maintenance barn.
Soules took Historic City News editor Michael Gold behind the scenes, so our readers could get a glimpse of the scope of repairs recently completed.
Working on the C. W. Parker, 1927 frame, new wood carousel, is a labor of love for Soules; who inherited the old-fashioned carnival ride from his brother, Jerry.
At the time of his death, Gerald Soules was living in North Las Vegas and working at the Circus, Circus Hotel and Casino performing a dog act under the big top. One night, in June of 1992, a man broke in to Jerry’s home, burglarized the trailer then murdered him.
Jim Soules was employed as a deputy sheriff and K-9 trainer in south Florida when he got word of what had happened to Jerry. The sheriff gave him time off to travel to Nevada and assist local authorities in their investigation. Jerry’s killer was found, convicted and now serving his prison sentence.
When Jim Soules returned to Florida, the ride, reminiscent of old time circuses and county fairs, was in service at a zoo in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Soules brought the portable carousel to St. Augustine, and, after some minor controversies and objections, received approval and a lease from the City of St. Augustine.
Soules says operating the ride is something he does for his brother’s memory. “I operate the ride for Jerry,” Soules said. “There’s no way you could pay salaries, rent, and operating expenses for $1.00 a ride and think you were going to make a profit.”
When asked, Soules said that his children all have jobs and he doesn’t think they would want to run the carousel when he gets ready to retire — again. Soules, assisted by Wilson Machine Shop in St. Augustine and one other employee, does all the engineering and repairs on the ride required to keep the it safe and fun for his loyal patrons. “I don’t think I’ll sell it,” Soules told Historic City News. “I’ve probably got another twenty years in me.”
Soules has a shop at his St. Augustine home; which is where the recent repairs and refitting was completed. “It takes about three hours to break the ride down, then about four or five hours to set it back up,” said Soules. “It’s been about ten years since the last time we had to take it all apart.”
As a reporter, I got an education about the St. Augustine landmark — and a lot about the history of rides of its type. Did you know, for example, that there is a difference between a “carousel” and a “merry-go-round” and a “roundup”? A roundup travels clockwise, while the merry-go-round and carousel travel counterclockwise.
So, what’s the difference between a merry-go-round and carousel? The St. Augustine ride is a carousel — it is made up of a lead horse, stationary horses, “jumpers”, as well as two “chariots”. A merry-go-round can have other animals such as camels, zebra, and elephants — as well as horses.
Soules explained that the term “carousel” is a modernization of the term “carry us all” — which dates back to the time of Ponce de Leon’s discovery of Florida and founding of Menendez’ settlement at St. Augustine.
In the 16th century through the early 1600’s in Europe, the king would allow one horse to lead the turnstile; operated during the day by an ox. Attached to the pickets of the turnstile, which was designed to mill grain, were hung swings; which allowing the children an entertaining evening ride.
The J&S Carousel can carry 20 riders on horseback — four more riders in the chariots. The weight of the ride is balanced between the horses and the circulating core — the total weight is 10,200 pounds, Soules said.
“The carousel is like a big umbrella,” Soules explained. “All the horses and platform hang from the canopy above. Ribs from the center stabilize the ride to keep it from swaying.”
You can visit J&S Carousel, located at 180 San Marco Avenue in St. Augustine, during regular operating hours; Sunday through Thursday from 10:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. The schedule resumes today and the fare is still only $1.00 per ride.
Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer