By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Think about some of your earliest childhood memories, and chances are they were spent on a carnival ride — maybe even on a Tilt-A-Whirl.

About 70 million people ride a Tilt-A-Whirl each year. And one city in Rice County is known as the “birthplace of the Tilt-A-Whirl.”

In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen takes us to Faribault for a spin through history.

“If you say Tilt-A-Whirl, everybody know it. No matter where you are in the country,” Tami Schluter said.

And if you circle back on the history of this iconic ride, it’ll lead you to the middle of Rice County.

“It was actually invented by a local guy named Herbert Sellner. He was kind of an inventor of sort anyways,” Tami said.

In 1922, Sellner put his son in a chair with wheels, then put the chair on a kitchen table and spun it — and the Tilt A Whirl was born. Sellner began making and selling the full-size version of the ride at his factory in Faribault.

It’s a story Tami and Doug Schluter know well. They own the Historic Hutchinson House in town.

“When we ask our bed and breakfast guests, ‘have you ever ridden a Tilt-A-Whirl?’ It always leads in with a smile,” Doug said.

“Owning a bed and breakfast and wanting to promote it, we thought what can we do to get Faribault on the map a little bit?”

And the Schluter’s weren’t the first to wonder that. A city full of history was about to take tourists for a ride.

“They were good memories. Very good memories,” Peggy Keilen said. “We always went on that ride as kids, and we still do today.”

Peggy also wondered why they weren’t promoting their whirling icon. She told Tami and Tami contacted Cody Pettipiece of Harley’s Auto Salvage. He had some of Sellner’s old Tilt a Whirl tubs on his lot. His grandfather had plans for them.

“He thought it would be a great idea to place these Tilt-A-Whirl rides throughout the community. And he never had the opportunity to do that because he passed away,” said Cody.

So Cody donated the tubs with the condition that they would always stay in Faribault and never be sold. One of them was actually refurbished in an episode of American Restoration on the History Channel.

“The production company called and said, ‘this is perfect for us. We’d love to do it’,” Doug said.

In 2015, the tubs were unveiled on each end of downtown.

And just like at a carnival or fair, they instantly drew a crowd. Holiday photos, wedding pics, and the occasional selfie have become a familiar site for business owners.

“It’s really been a lot of fun. It’s really been a boon to downtown. Getting people back downtown,” Bruce Burkhartzmeyer of Burkhartzmeyer Shoes said.

Present to past. With the tubs, came the memories.

“An elderly woman, probably in her 80’s, and she was telling her granddaughter that’s where grandpa gave me my first kiss. And she was crying and that was just really a special thing for her. Those stories I just love to hear,” said Peggy.

There are plans for a third tub, outside the new distillery.

Bemidji has Paul and Babe. Blue Earth has the Jolly Green Giant. Faribault has an iconic ride. And those who helped make it happen, are pretty happy they gave it a whirl.

“What better way to sell Faribault than to say this is where it all started,” said Tami.

The group who has helped get the tubs set up in Faribault, said they want to make sure any future restoration projects involve former Sellner employees.

Anyone interested in participating in the group’s fundraising effort can send tax-deductible donations to: Faribault Foundation c/o Reliance Bank, 2300 30th St. NW, Faribault, MN 55021.

Simply indicate “Tilt” in the memo section of your check.

John Lauritsen

Comments (2)
  1. Tami Schluter says:

    Thanks for telling one of Faribault’s favorite American Stories! Your report captured the passion for the project perfectly!