Aug. 31, 2001: It's been a tilting, whirling ride for 75 years

  • Article by: CHUCK HAGA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 29, 2007 - 11:10 AM

It doesn't have the stature of Skyscraper or the lurching uncertainty of Chaos, but the Tilt-A-Whirl -- one of the tamest of the State Fair's 68 rides -- has stood the test of time.

And it isn't wobbling.

Family legend has the Tilt-A-Whirl making its debut in Herbert Sellner's kitchen in Faribault, Minn. The prototype involved a chair placed on the kitchen table, with Herbert's boy Art in the chair, and Herbert rocking the table back and forth.

Art enjoyed that, the story goes, so Herbert built a carnival ride along the same principles of random tipping and dipping. That was in 1926, which makes this the 75th anniversary of the Tilt-A-Whirl.

It's still produced only in Faribault by Sellner Manufacturing Co., and two of the company's creations are at the 2001 Minnesota State Fair.

Another story has Herbert's great-granddaughter, Erin, growing so accustomed to the dips and swoons of a Tilt-A-Whirl that she dozed off while riding one when she was 4.

It was at an open house for carnival people, she said. 'I got bored and got on the Tilt-A-Whirl. I rode it all afternoon and fell asleep.'

She can't do that now; it might set a bad precedent for the 45 employees at Sellner Manufacturing, where Erin Sellner Ward, 27, is president. Her husband, Bill Ward, is general manager, and her mother, Tovah Sellner, leads the board of directors.

'And one ride is enough for me these days,' Erin said.

To the fair in '27

Sellner Manufacturing has produced more than 1,000 Tilt-A-Whirl rides, and more than 600 are operating today throughout the United States and abroad, including some from the 1940s and '50s.

The earliest models were of wood. 'They got broken up, used for church pews, or they were put in barns and rotted away,' Sellner Ward said.

The first 14 were built in Herbert's basement and yard. The factory opened in 1927, the year the Tilt-A-Whirl first appeared at the State Fair.

The rides are designed, built and painted in the sprawling factory. They're given a road test there, too -- with sacks of salt for riders, not young volunteers.

The motion, designed to turn children dizzy and giddy if not green, hasn't changed, but the ride is safer and wood has given way to aluminum, steel and fiberglass. Electric power replaced gas motors.

Each Tilt-A-Whirl costs about $250,000. The company produces a few each year, plus about 50 other rides. Spin the Apple, introduced in 1987, was followed by Berry Go Round, Monkey Mayhem and Jumping Jumbos, among others. The newest, Bumble Bee Bop, debuts this fall.

'We take our inspiration from kids' toys,' Sellner Ward said. 'Colors come from what soccer teams are wearing,' highlighted with 'candy' detail paint -- the same iridescent blends that professional drivers use on their race cars.

Most of the rides produced in Faribault go to carnivals and amusement parks, but the company occasionally sells one to an individual.

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