Norris Chambers Old Timer's Tales

Merry-Go-Rounds Are Fun!

by Norris Chambers

   Large sums of money are spent each year for toys - electric autos, trains, see-saws, merry-go-rounds, etc. These items are very entertaining, and children enjoy them, just as they have enjoyed playthings for centuries. But children have a way of finding something, or making something, to play with whether it is provided or not.

  During the "great" depression days in which I grew up, we made many things to play with. We didn't have money to buy it, so if we couldn't make it, we just didn't have it. This is the way it was with toys when Clifton and I had a yearning for a merry-go-round. So we started building one.

  We determined early in the project that power was not available. There was no electricity, and we didn't have any gasoline engines available at the time. The only power available was horse power, or in our case it was mule power.

  After long consultation, we arrived at what we thought was a workable plan. The first thing was to go to the pasture and find old "Buck," one of our trusted mules. We harnessed him and, carrying an axe and dragging a single tree, we headed for the woods.

  After what seemed like hours of chopping, we had two long, straight poles about twenty feet long cut and trimmed. Old Buck willingly dragged them to our carnival grounds just east of the barn. There was a large live oak tree there about two feet in diameter. It was undoubtedly over a hundred years old. We had rigged trolley wires from its top branches and had hung numerous swings from its spreading limbs. It must have been at least sixty feet tall.

  We took a large, flat sandstone rock and with a hammer chipped out a shallow hole in its center. We then buried the rock so that the top surface was about even with the surrounding ground. We situated it so that it was directly beneath a horizontal fork in a limb about twenty feet above the ground. We sharpened one end of a log with the axe and placed the point in the hole in the rock. We then raised it and placed it between the fork. A strong leather throng held in place and it was free to turn. There had to be a place to ride, so we took the other pole and tied it to the upright about three feet from the ground, spacing it equally on each side. Nice, flat board seats were then nailed to each end with a "hold on" bar in front. A small cable was connected from in front of each seat to the upright pole about three or feet from the top. This provided a brace that held the horizontal pole level.

  After applying a liberal amount of axle grease to the bottom pivot in the rock and the top shaft between the limb fork, it turned freely when pushed around and around. This was a lot of fun with a kid on each seat, and one or more pushing it around and around.

  But we decided that we needed some sort of motive power. Our brilliant idea was to take a long piece of pliable cable and fasten it to the top of the upright pole, then string it through a pulley on a limb several feet away. We ran the cable to the ground and intended to connect a large, wooden box filled with rock. But we had a simpler and quicker idea. We had seen an old drilling bit that had been abandoned by a drilling operation, so we had old Buck drag it to our carnival grounds. It weighed several hundred pounds. We tied the cable to it, and started turning the merry-go-round. Just as we expected, the weight was raised by the cable as it wound around the pole. When we had it wound to the pulley, we jumped on the seats and let it unwind.

  That was a wild ride. It didn't last too long, but it was very fast. When the weight hit the ground, the whirl-a-gig kept going and wound it up some in the opposite direction. Then it stopped and started turning backward. When you got off of this ride, you were so dizzy you couldn't walk straight for awhile. If a cop had come by, he might have given you a sobriety test.

  Anyway, this was a very popular ride, and kids came from everywhere to see it and ride it.

  When we got older and wiser and more capable of doing things, we built another ride that was based on the ferris wheel principle.

  We powered it with a Model T Ford engine, and it was really a masterpiece. Our carnival grounds had several see-saws and swings and a few "walking wires." A walking wire was to practice wire walking, and some of us got to be very good wire walkers. It is surprisingly easy to learn to walk a wire, especially if you start with a balance pole, as most professional wire walkers use when high above the ground. The principle is simple. The pole is pretty heavy, and inertia keeps it from moving quickly. To balance yourself on a wire, all you have to do is stand on it and make your legs and hips limber. Hold on the pole and it will be as steady as a stair rail. It can't move fast enough to let you fall, so you have a nice hand hold. When you become more experienced, you can dispense with the pole and use your arms in the same manner.

  When I was working in the oil field, I won a $5.00 bet. I wagered that I could walk up a guy wire to the top of the floor shelter on a rig...a height of about twenty feet. A fellow worker was quick to bet that I couldn't do it, even with a twenty-one foot joint of 1" pipe for a balance pole. It was just like holding on to a solid support, and my buddy was the victim of an old trick.

  The moral to that story is, don't ever bet on another man's trick.

  Fun is where you find it - and it can always be found if you only look for it!


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