By Jill Keppeler
Niagara Gazette — NORTH TONAWANDA — With the snip of a bright orange ribbon and a stampede of small feet, the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum's Kiddieland exhibit opened to the public Saturday, bringing to fruition years of work and dreams on behalf on the museum and its volunteers.
The first ride to start spinning was the 1949 pony cart, which once ran at Page's Whistle Pig in the Town of Niagara, followed by the 1946 car and firetruck ride donated by Sam Hummel of North Carolina. The 1961 helicopter and 1957 boat ride soon followed until all four rides, laden with children, were in brightly colored motion in the museum's side yard on Thompson Street in North Tonawanda.
Museum Director Rae Proefrock — who up until minutes before the ribbon-cutting was actually giving the car ride a final scrub — eventually took a brief break ... and a deep breath.
"It feels very good," she said. "I just feel like I'm floating. It's just so fun to finally see kids on there."
Proefrock lauded all of these who put their time and effort into making the exhibit — referred to as Kiddieland Testing Park because the company used to invite children to test out the rides before they were shipped out — a reality, including volunteers Al Baker and Craig Stock and others who worked ceaselessly on the mechanics of the venerable rides, each of which was made right in North Tonawanda.
Stock, who lives right around the corner from the museum, was on site Saturday, down on a knee and peering at the workings of the car ride even as his granddaughter, Madison Burns, 2 1/2, rode around and around on it, waving and calling to him.
He downplayed his role in the park with a smile, preferring to give credit elsewhere.
"I didn't do anything compared to these guys. They're the heroes," he said. "We had a lot of things to get ready, but everything's solid. We're just making it so it runs and the kids have a good time. The little ones, you can see the smiles on their faces.
"Working on them here, we had even more adults stop and ask, 'When is this going to be open?' It brings the kid out in everyone," Stock said, watching as Madison rode a green pony cart around its track, a huge grin on her face.
Ed Janulionis, a museum board member who runs the Allen Herschell Company and helped spearhead the project, called it the culmination of a "five-year journey." While it could have opened last year, he said, the extra time — and the $180,000 or so donated through the Robert W. Bowen Fund via the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo — made it possible to have the exhibit just the way the museum hoped it would be.
In all, Kiddieland cost about $350,000, Janulionis said. "If you added the volunteer hours, you're probably talking another $100,000 or more. That's how big this project turned out to be. I think it's been worth it.
"This is great for the community. I'm hoping the community does take advantage of this. It's for them."
On opening day, a steady stream of children filed onto the rides as their parents and grandparents took photos from the fences, including the Hapeman family of North Tonawanda. Jessica Hapeman watched Chase and Tyler, 3, on the boat ride, where they vigorously rang the brass bells on their boat as it moved in circles through the water.
"I think it's great," she said. "We were here last week to check it out; we didn't realize it hadn't opened yet. They couldn't wait to come back. I think it's wonderful, what they've done here."
"We'd never been inside; I think this will bring a lot of people in. And they offer so much inside that I didn't know about. We'll be back during a colder or snowy day."
Inside the museum, Audrey Balsdon, 5, of the Town of Tonawanda and Colin Carlucci, 5, of Kenmore, took a break from the outdoor Kiddieland rides to take a spin on the 1940s kiddie carrousel and play with some of the items in the children's gallery.
"It's awesome," Carlucci said. "I like all of the rides there. I really liked the planes (helicopters)."
Jackie Martin-Balsdon said that Audrey visited the museum recently and got a glimpse of the new rides before they started operation.
"We had to come today," she said, "because she's been talking about it all week."IF YOU GO • WHAT: Kiddieland opening weekend • WHEN: Noon to 4 p.m. today, weekends through October, weather permitting • WHERE: Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum, 180 Thompson St., North Tonawanda • COST: Admission to the museum is $6 adults, $5 seniors and $3 children ages 2 to 16 • FOR MORE INFO: Call 693-1885 or visit carrouselmuseum.org.