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After major carousel breakdown, Red River Zoo officials hope to be back in the saddle soon

The Diederich Family Carousel has been called "the heart of the zoo" and is popular with zoo visitors and even birthday party and wedding guests. But when it came to a halt this summer, the zoo had to get creative amid "sizeable revenue losses."

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The 94-year-old carousel housed at the Red River Zoo in south Fargo.
David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO — July 5 was a summer day like any other at the Red River Zoo. The crowds meandered along the winding paths to the Carousel Pavilion for a chance to cool off and take a ride on the nearly century-old carousel. The old-timey music played and the painted horses went round and round — until suddenly they didn't.

"They just jumped. They're hooked up on the top on the same wire, so it's an abnormal movement of the horse, but they jumped and then the whole thing just came to a stop," Red River Zoo executive director Sally Jacobson said.

No one was hurt when the carousel came to an immediate stop. But they found the 94-year-old carousel had a huge crack in the middle piece — something too major for the zoo staff to repair on its own. Because of the age of the ride, a new center piece would have to be specially manufactured and that would take months.

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Jay Carney and Red River Zoo Director Sally Jacobson point out the crack in the carousel framework that is in need repair.
David Samson / The Forum

The carousel had gone around for the last time in the summer of '22.

Jacobson had to deliver the bad news to people who had booked the Carousel Pavilion for upcoming birthday parties, weddings and other events.

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"Even though it was out of our control, of course, people were disappointed," Jacobson said. "But we had to make sure the party guests were happy, so we got creative."

But the troubles didn't end there.

"Within days of the carousel breaking, unrelated, our basement of the Carousel Pavilion flooded and backed up and it took out our heating and cooling system," Jacobson said. "That was out for three, four weeks in the middle of summer. So we've experienced, I would say, sizable revenue losses."

It's been a concern for Jay Carney, not only because he's a member of the Red River Zoo board of directors but because he's the grandson of Warren Diederich, the Fargo businessman who donated the carousel to the zoo in 1998.

"He talked about how when he was a child in Fergus Falls, there was a carousel at one of the local businesses and it stuck with him forever," Carney said."It had the flashing lights, the horses, it was a fun time. He wanted to give that back to the community."

Warren and Irene Diederich
Warren and Irene Diederich in front of the carousel they donated to the Red River Zoological Society in 1998.
Contributed / Special to The Forum

In 1995, Warren and Irene Diederich purchased the 1928 Allan Herschell Carousel from a man in Iowa. Then the couple, along with their family and employees at Industrial Builders, restored the carousel as a gift to the community.

The zoo was the perfect spot, said Jacobson.

"It is the heart of the zoo. It's magical for children and magical sometimes for adults. My grandmother rode it when she was in her 80s and it was just awesome to see her face light up. She felt like a kid again," she said.

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Carney said he's committed to helping fix the carousel for his grandfather.

"Yes, 100%, yes, sure. That's the way my entire family feels. We definitely want to continue to support it as much as we can for as long as we can," Carney said.

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Organizers kept details close to the vest, but promised the display would be "something spectacular."

Fortunately, the cost of the actual repair of the carousel is being covered, but Jacobson said it doesn't make up for the other loss of revenue during what she said has been "a little bit of a rough summer."

"The other expenses — the revenue loss, the labor expense needed for taking the carousel apart and of course the zoo being nonprofit, and now we're going to head into our winter season. We could sure use help to build our nest egg for the winter," she said.

Carney said the anticipated date for the new middle piece of the carousel to arrive here is Oct. 1, but there are no guarantees.

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Jay Carney and Red River Zoo director Sally Jacobson look over the history of the carousel housed at the zoo.
David Samson / The Forum

"Also, how long is it going to take to disassemble everything?" Jacobson said. "Once we disassemble everything, we're going to make sure that everything's thoroughly clean and make sure everything's in perfect order when we put it back together. So that's going to be a huge undertaking."

But a huge undertaking deserves a huge party, so Jacobson said they plan to have some kind of reopening event when the carousel is back in working order.

If you'd like to assist the Red River Zoo in covering lost revenue from the carousel breakdown this summer, visit the zoo's website at www.redriverzoo.org.

Related Topics: FARGORED RIVER ZOOHISTORY
Tracy Briggs is an Emmy-nominated News, Lifestyle and History reporter with Forum Communications with more than 35 years of experience, in broadcast, print and digital journalism.
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