Above: Caroll, Ken and Jaynie)
Once upon a time – 1950 to be exact, the same year that Children's Fairyland in Oakland opened its fairy gates for the first time - a young man named Ken Vetterli, who was operating a carousel in Capitola, saw a beautiful young woman named Carol riding the carousel and asked her for a date. It must have gone pretty well, because they married the next year.
And carousels kept popping up in their lives. Flash forward 24 years to 1974. Ken, who by now was vice president of an Oakland-based firm called the Flecto Paint Company, decided Flecto should purchase a tiny, child-sized carousel that had been built in, yes, 1950, and use it to showcase the company's latest product, a revolutionary new gloss called Varathane.
The little carousel was in pretty dilapidated shape, but after six months of hard work they restored it to its former glory. In November 1975 the bright, shining new carousel, bearing a sign reading "Flecto," made its debut at a trade show in Chicago It was a hit from day one, and was in constant use at trade shows and other promotional events until it was finally retired 10 years later and its parts stored in crates.
Now, flash forward again to 2002, this time to Children's Fairyland, where the Walrus and the Carpenter seal pond had outlived its usefulness after 50 years.
"We loved our rescued sea lions, but the neighbors were complaining about their barking," says Fairyland's executive director, C.J. Hirschfield. "So we found them new homes and looked around for something to take their place."
Out of the blue, a phone call came from a representative of the Flecto Paint Company. Ken Vetterli was long retired by then, but the guy wanted to know if Fairyland would be interested in Flecto's carousel.
Would they? And how! There were no written instructions on how to reassemble the contraption, but members of the Lake Merritt Breakfast Club, the organization that built Fairyland in the first place, figured how to do it.
Once again, the carousel was a hit from day one. "It was the perfect size for very young children between 28 and 54 inches tall," says Hirschfield. "Adults had to stand on the sidelines and wave."
But by last year the Flecto Carousel was showing its age again. "Just like the Velveteen Rabbit, it had been worn down by years of kids' love and attention," says Hirschfield.
They did a Google search for Flecto, but Flecto was no more. It had been taken over by a company in Illinois that also owns Rust-Oleum, and Varathane is now a Rust-Oleum product.
Undaunted, Fairyland's plucky director of development, Cindy Sandoval, found Rust-Oleum's corporate email address and sent them a blind email asking if they'd be interested in advising Fairyland on another restoration.
Twenty-four hours later, the answer came back from Liz Krauthammer, Rust-Oleum's senior brand manager. Not only would they provide expertise, they'd take charge of the project and pay for the whole thing, to boot.
Shannon Taylor, Fairyland's gifted director of art and restoration, picked out the color scheme for the horses and, with advice from Rust-Oleum's experts, painted the horses in vibrant new colors and restored the deck.
"They paid for that, too," says Hirschfield.
Last November, Hirschfield, who writes a column of her own in the Piedmont Post, wrote one about the restoration's progress. To her surprise, she got a phone call a few days later.
It was Ken Vetterli, the man who started it all in 1974, who now lives down south in Claremont. It turned out that her column had been picked up by an online trade journal, and Ken's son Jim – another Flecto veteran - spotted it and passed it on to him.
"I often wondered what happened to the carousel," he told her. "What makes it even more special is that my great-granddaughter Jaynie, who lives in Walnut Creek, has been to Fairyland many times and must have ridden on it."
The restored Flecto Carousel was formally opened to the public last Saturday. Ken and Carol – who, by the way, will celebrate their 65th anniversary this summer - and many members of the extended family flew here for the occasion, including their daughter Janet, who came all the way from Northampton, Massachusetts.
Also attending were two former Flecto employees – Suzanne Layden, one of the first people to ride the carousel at its 1975 debut at the Chicago trade fair, and Georgette Pratt, who worked in the accounting department.
"Flecto was a lot more than a job," Ken explains.
The guest of honor, of course, was 5-year-old Jaynie, who took the first ride on the new carousel. And the second. And the third. And the fourth. She rode four different horses and named each one – Cupcake, Jewell, Apple, and Orange Blossom. Hirschfield vows they will keep those names forever.
Krauthammer was unable to attend, but she was at Fairyland's annual gala last summer, where she announced that the whole thing has been so much fun, Rust-Oleum has decided to "adopt" and restore one of Fairyland's sets each year.
So how does it all feel?
"I feel swell," says Vetterli. "That's my generation's word for 'awesome."