The wooden animals, sanded and painted to resemble the 109-year-old originals they replaced, are waiting for visitors at the end of a restored railroad line in Pottstown.
The horses, giraffes, and reindeer on the Derek Scott Saylor Memorial Carousel are part of a merry-go-round meant to be more than an amusement.
The attraction - and the similarly restored old train that will drop visitors at its doorstep - are the centerpieces of a downtown revitalization effort for a slumping Montgomery County borough taking steps toward a comeback.
The carousel and train are scheduled to officially begin operations next fall.
"This is one of the oldest iron-making valleys in the world, rich in culture and history that is completely undiscovered," said Nathaniel Guest, executive director of the new Colebrookdale Railroad, an 8.3-mile-line tourist train that links Pottstown and Boyertown.
Guest, along with municipal and tourism officials, are betting the railroad and carousel will draw families and tourists looking for fun in a place they might not have considered before.
Pottstown, once a thriving industrial town, has been in a decades-long economic slump since businesses such as Bethlehem Steel left the borough.
The recent opening of restaurants and tech companies on High Street, the town's main thoroughfare, have provided a glimmer of hope. Organizers are optimistic the carousel and railroad will spur even more growth.
Feasibility studies completed for both projects suggested that 20,000 to 30,000 visitors would ride the train, and 200,000 would spin on the carousel each year.
Both projects have been years in the making.
The Carousel at Pottstown, the nonprofit restoring the 1905 merry-go-round, began more than a decade ago after a carousel rented as part of a special event in Pottstown drew countless families.
"We saw parents bringing their children to this carousel on a cold, windy March day," and they kept coming, said George Wausnock, president of the nonprofit. "We thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could have a carousel?' "
So Wausnock - then the president of the Pottstown Historical Society - and his colleagues began working. They found an available carousel that had been built by Philadelphia Toboggan Co., a leading maker of roller coasters.
The carousel had most recently been at a park in Mount Gretna, Pa.; before that, it was at parks in Ohio, Kentucky, and Connecticut. The historical society spent $25,000 to buy the carousel even though the wooden animals had been sold off. Then, restoration and fund-raising to supply the nearly $3 million needed to complete the project began - and is still underway. So far, nearly $1.2 million has been raised.
Ed Roth, a master carver who has worked for Disney, re-created 51 animals for the merry-go-round. They were then sanded and painted by volunteers under the direction of Alan MacBain, the project's art director.
The carousel is housed in a borough-owned former welding factory rented for $1 a year. Organizers plan to expand the building to include a banquet facility and hope visitors will also take in a nearby miniature golf course and historic Pottsgrove Manor, the residence of the borough's founding family.
Railroad is saved
Pottstown is already showing signs that good news may be in the offing. Hotel occupancy rates have increased 11 percent from 2013 to 2014, said Bill Fitzgerald, president of the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board.
At the other end of Pottstown's tourist train line, Boyertown, a borough in Berks County, had undergone a similar downturn in economic fortunes but not as severe. Its business district has bright spots, Fitzgerald said.
When a freight railroad running between Boyertown and Pottstown was threatened with abandonment, the potential negative impact propelled officials to save it.
The railroad, chartered in 1853, traverses a scenic route along the Manatawny and Ironstone Creeks, across historic bridges, past Pottsgrove Manor, and between towering rock cuts filled with the magnetic iron ore that drew Thomas A. Edison to the area more than a century ago. He was working on an invention involving the ore that never panned out.
In 2008, the commissioners voted to buy the railroad for $1.3 million and enlisted Guest - a lawyer and railroad enthusiast with a degree in historic preservation - to turn it into a tourism line.
Guest and another nonprofit formed to operate the train line began raising money. They found cars dating to 1910 that had operated on railroads in Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Canada.
So far, the Colebrookdale line has four cars (dining, coach, open, and caboose) seating 150, but it is expected to add more. It began informal runs along what it calls the Secret Valley Scenic Recreation and Heritage Corridor in September, and is offering holiday rides through Christmas.
The project, estimated to cost about $10 million, has its naysayers.
"People have said, 'What is the county doing spending $1.5 million on a rail line with no customers?' " Scott said.
But so far, some train runs have sold out, visitors have stopped to shop in Boyertown, and Scott is optimistic. Pottstown officials hope for the same result when passengers step off near the carousel.
"We think this will be good for Pottstown," Wausnock said. "We've gone through a depressed period, and we are slowly coming out."