Skip to main content
Visit the Midday Edition homepage

First Person: Balboa Park Carousel Operator Has Worked There Since He Was 16, Now He's 60

September 11, 2017 1:14 p.m.

First Person: Balboa Park Carousel Operator Has Worked There Since He Was 16, Now He's 60


Bill Brown, operator, Balboa Park Carousel

Related Story: First Person: Balboa Park Carousel Operator Has Worked There Since He Was 16, Now He's 60


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

It is time for the latest installment of "First Person" . Not many people work at the same place from the first day of work until retirement but Bill Brown has. He has worked at the Balboa Park carousel as he was 16 and he is 60. This summer, the rents of Balboa Park purchased the carousel. They are in the midst of a capital campaign to raise remain dollars to pay for the carousel and begin restoration. Here is Brown on his and the carousel history.

My name is Bill Brown and I am operating the carousel for almost 45 years. I used to like to go down there when I was a child. I noticed how much fun those that worked there were having. I asked how old you had to be in she says 16. As soon as I was 16, I came down and I have been there ever since.

[ MUSIC ] I love interacting with the public, especially the smaller members of the public. I have great experiences with them. One of my favorites is around Christmas a few years ago. A young man came up to me. He was all excited. He had something important to tell me. Tell guess what. I said what. He said, Santa is not real. I said, no way. Are you sure? He said yes. He is a myth, like the dragons.

My mom told me.

I said what? Dragons are not real either? I thought dragons were real.

He slaps his hand on his forehead and puts it on the ground and shakes his head like he was thinking. Why am I talking to Bill? He thinks dragons are real. It is a fine job, interacting with young people. I see a lot of people I remember as kids who are adults who bring there children here and it is neat. It is handcarved and it was built in New York. That is where the factory was. The animals are handcarved. The machine is put it together and they would ship them out over the United States. Is a complete wooden carousel and there are not many left in the United States. They are still in existence and we still play the brass renegade. There is only a handful in the United States that do that but you sit on the outside animal and the arm swings out. As you go by I, you catch the rings. There is a lot of a lot of rings, whoever gets the brass ring gets a free ride.

That was invented in France by nice who were jousting. They did not want to wear out the steam so they built a wooden carousel pulled by a plow horse or something and they practiced spearing the rings to get accuracy together. That is how the carousel developed to a ride for people and that is were the brass ring game came from.


The carousel was built in 1910 in New York. It was shipped originally to Los Angeles, Luna Park. In 1913, it was brought to Coronado, tent city. The carousel was there near the water but then in 1915, there was a big deal in Balboa Park. It was the California expedition to celebrate the opening of the California -- the canal. There was thousands of people in a park. They brought the carousel that exposition. It was there until 1917. It was there for a few years and in 1922, it went back to the park. It has been in the Balboa Park since 1922 but in San Diego since 1913. It has been around for a long time.

It was called a mastery carousel. Ours not only has horses but other animals as well. In fact, they have a pair of frogs. They are famous because they are wearing human clothing. They have tuxedos. Of any carousel maker, that is the only carousel made with human clothing on it.

I have been working at the carousel for 45 years because it was as much fun as when I got it.

It is a challenge to keep it going. If a part breaks, you cannot run to Home Depot and get a new one. You have to have one custom made and sometimes when something goes wrong, you have to be like Sherlock Holmes to figure out what is going on. It is a challenge. I like a challenge. And hopefully we can keep it going for a while longer. I hope to be there another five or 10 years hopefully. I am 60 years old but who knows how long I can continue but it is so much fun. I like to do it as long as the camp. I am always passing along what I know because that is the way it was handed down. The guy before me taught me what I know and he was only there for 10 years. He was a rookie compared to myself and the gentleman before him. It was Virginia's father. He worked there as long as I have. We had this bridge in between us. A gentleman named Monty taught me everything I know and it will be my job to pass along my knowledge to the next person.

That was Bill Brown. He has worked at the carousel for almost 45 years. That was produced by Brooke Ruth.