Monday, August 26, 2013
We woke up this morning to rain—it sure makes you appreciate a hard roof when you are camping in rain, I must say! The tents around us looked kind of forlorn under their rain covers. And I was happy to think that my first plan for the day was a museum, so I didn’t really care too much. We can’t complain, either—we’ve had glorious weather up until now.
We left the campground at around 11 and headed for North Tonawanda, a suburb of Buffalo, to visit the Herschell Carrousel (sic) Factory Museum. We’ve always had a “thing” for carousels, and Herschell was one of the famous classic carousel companies. The museum is set up inside the same factory buildings which were used to carve the animals, construct the carousels, and ship them all over the country and the world. There are large mural-sized photos of the factory when it was in operation, hanging in the same area where the scenes they portray were actually happening. North Tonawanda was home to four carousel companies through the years, all of them associated at one time or another with Allan Herschell, who brought the "new-fangled" idea to his steam engine factory after he visited New York City and saw a carousel in operation there. Within 2 years of manufacturing their first carousel in 1883, carousels had become 50% of their business.
|Early style wooden horses|
There are, of course, a lot of carousel animals—mostly horses, but also menagerie animals such as a zebra, a pig, a dog, an ostrich, and a frog. The relatively simple decoration style of his horses was known as the "County Fair" style.The animals on display are from various time periods, and show some of the evolution of the styles used. For instance, only the early horses had ears perked up; later they were carved laid back against the head. One practical reason for this was that riders would often use the ears to hold on to and break them off. Customers complained about this to Herschell and they redesigned the horses.
|"Pinto" horse with bearskin saddle|
Legs were also tricky. On one hand, they were carved by the apprentice carvers, because they were the easiest part to do. (Journeymen carvers did the bodys, and the Master Carvers did the heads.) But they also broke frequently because people would use them as “steps” to get onto the horses. Eventually the company started making the horses as a composite, with metal legs for increased sturdiness, and wooden bodies. In the carving room, there was a video explaining all about the process in reproducing carved horses. We learned that it is easier for the museum to create reproductions than to purchase original horses and restore them. The frog we saw as part of the carving display was a reproduction—an original sold at auction to a museum for $50,000! One very neat thing is that the museum is actively soliciting woodcarvers who would be interested in demonstrating the art of carving to visitors. They even offer woodcarving classes.
|The Carving Room. Animals were assembled from several pieces.|
I didn’t realize that the first carousels were considered thrill rides for adults, too dangerous for children! In fact, Herschell was the first to come up with the idea for “kiddie rides”—not only a smaller, slower carousel for children, but the classic car ride, boat ride, plane, and mini-train rides which are still standard at kiddie parks today. But the earlier adult-sized carousels were thought by some to be a waste of money, and a source of danger and corrupter of morals! The museum has two operating carousels—a small aluminum one for children, and a large 1916 carousel for us big kids. A ride on the carousel is included with admission. There is also a big collection of Wurlitzer rolls and band-music machines, which were an important part of the carousel mystique. The music is LOUD--the idea being that it would attract customers to the fair, midway, or park where the carousel was installed.
We were more than ready for a late lunch when we left the museum after our carousel ride. (No evidence that our morals had been corrupted, however, LOL!) We discovered that the weather was turning nasty again and we could feel the cold front about to hit. Sure enough, not 10 minutes after we were back in the RV, the skies opened and it poured. We ate our lunch and just let the cloudburst pass over us. By the time we were ready to move again, the rain was stopping.
|A Herschell carousel back home in the factory where it was originally made.|
Our next destination was Lockport, with a lot of wonderful Erie Canal sites to visit. We were too late for the 3pm boat ride on the canal, so we went first to a nearby campground to check in. Then we went to downtown Lockport and parked right beside the canal. We had time to walk a little bit with Roxy before we left on our boat trip.
We headed upriver first—that is, toward Buffalo. The water in the canal comes from the Niagara River (after it plunges over the falls) and flows from Buffalo to Albany, down the Hudson, and into the Atlantic. So we are close to the beginning of the canal here in western New York. The boat went through two locks to get up to the same level as Lake Erie. We traveled a bit farther, going under the “Big Bridge”, a bridge which is 399 feet wide (the widest single-span bridge in the country, I think our guide said) and the “upside down” bridge, a railroad bridge with the supporting framework underneath rather than over the tracks. The guide said it was deliberately built this way by the railroad, because they wanted to make it harder for boats to utilize the canal. Any boat which couldn’t pass under the bridge would be forced to unload and send its cargo on a train from that point.
|Lock gates open for us|
Then we turned around and went through the locks again, this time being lowered back to our starting point. From there we cruised downriver, going under two lifted bridges. One stays lifted (it stopped working some years ago and they decided not to fix it, and to leave it in the raised position.) The other one was down, and it went up to accommodate our boat both times we passed under it. We saw a number of other places of interest, and we asked a lot of questions, taking advantage of our semi-private tour! We were one of only two couples on the entire boat!! The ride was cool (temperature-wise, I mean) but it didn’t rain at all. Maybe the storms have passed us by.
|Lift Bridge going up to let us under. Red lights and a red/white striped barrier warn cars that the bridge is up.|
When the trip was over, it was 7:15. We were getting tired, so back we came to the campground. Tomorrow we are going to have to do some grocery shopping—it’s been quite a while, and our refrigerator is pretty empty. After that, I am not sure which direction we will go!