Bill Brown

The Carousel Guy

Day after day, William "Bill" Brown makes the world go round. Known around town as the "carousel guy", Bill has operated the carousel in San Diego's Balboa Park since 1972.

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Over his 47 years of working at the carousel, Bill has only missed two weekends of operating due to the flu, an experience which prompted him to getting a flu shot every year.

Just like Bill has become part of the community's fabric, the carousel has become a dependable constant in his own life. It helped him through difficult periods when he was caring for his sick parents. "It was good to have this constant during a time of change."

The carousel was hand carved, hand painted, and assembled in New York by Herschell-Spillman in 1910 before making its way to San Diego in 1915. This pair of tuxedo-and-bow-tie wearing frogs are the only carousel animals of their era to wear human clothing.

Bill used to ride the carousel when he was a child. He would hang around and eventually summoned the nerve to ask the lady at the ticket counter about the minimum age required to work at the carousel: 16 years old. That was in 1972. He's been there ever since.

Bill eventually moved through his apprenticeship to become the head operator, a job that requires a varied skillset. In addition to being friendly and personable, you must also be mechanically minded in order to fix anything that goes wrong in the machinery. "You have to be good with machines, and good with people," he says.

The engine driving the carousel requires daily maintenance to keep the ride running smoothly. Following the original protocol, Bill and his team spend a minimum of 30 minutes every day greasing and oiling the original motor's parts.

He's also become quite the artist, extensively researching and teaching himself historical carousel painting techniques in order to restore 100+ year old paint. He's repainted and restored almost all of the animals on the carousel.

As the menagerie of animals whirs by, a so-called "band organ," complete with drums and cymbals in addition to the organ pipes, provides the soundtrack.

The tunes come from the original 120 military band music rolls, which are neatly stacked and organized in labeled boxes.

Above all the joyous ruckus of the carousel, there are still "magic moments" that make time stand still for Bill—the moment is when, for the first time, a small child climbs up onto a carousel animal and begins to feel it move, an expression of wonder lifts to their face, realizing that the fun has just begun.

"I strongly believe that your mental health affects your physical health," says Bill. "Sharing a good time with customers keeps me in a good mood." He believes that the happiness of working at the carousel, seeing kids having fun and joyful parents watching their children, has kept him healthy.

How long will he continue with the carousel? "It would be kinda cool to go to 50 years," he was abashed, "It's my secret goal, and there you have it!"

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