Horse Heaven Bickleton museum celebrates 100-year-old wooden carousel, showcases history of eastern Klickitat County

By Trista Crossley


Every year, during the second full weekend in June, Bickleton, Wash., is overrun with horses, but only some of them are real.

Tucked away on the west end of the Horse Heaven Hills in eastern Klickitat County, Bickleton, population 90, features an impressive list of gems: it hosts one of the state’s oldest rodeos; is the home of the state’s oldest, still-operating tavern; and is the self-proclaimed bluebird capital of the world. But the diamond in the town’s collection is the fully restored, fully operational, wooden, 1905 Herschell-Spillman Steam Riding Gallery Track Machine, the only type of this carousel on the West Coast and only one of 13 in the entire U.S.

Most of the time, the carousel is displayed indoors at the Alder Creek Pioneer Carousel Museum in downtown Bickleton, where visitors can marvel over the 24 wooden horses and four chariots. Once a year, coinciding with the annual Alder Creek Pioneer Association Picnic and Rodeo, the carousel is moved to a nearby park where visitors can take rides on it. 

Sandra Powers and Lynn Mains are part of the volunteer, five-member board that operates the museum and, by extension, the carousel.

“In the olden days, they left (the carousel) on in Cleveland Park. Wood and weather don’t go together. It was in horrific disrepair,” said Mains. 

Restoration work began in the late 1960s and slowly gathered steam through the early 2000s. By 2003, all of the horses had been restored, and attention turned to the chariots. At this point, Powers said, the community had some inkling about the value of the carousel and started looking for a place to store it indoors. In 2005, the county purchased land for a museum, which was built the next year, thanks to local legislators who included money in the state’s capital budget. The museum opened in 2007, with the carousel as the centerpiece. Very quickly, however, the museum began to outgrow the space. In 2018, again with funding from the state’s capital budget, the museum expanded, more than doubling its space.

Carousel aside, the museum focuses on the history of eastern Klickitat County and includes displays on the history of wheat farming; Native Americans; a military wall of honor; a collection of indigenous taxidermic wildlife; branding irons; old tools; arrowheads; a music parlor and barbershop; and books on area genealogy. The museum often features special exhibits, such as a 500-piece display of Pyrex dishes that is currently on loan to the institution.

“The carousel horses are what got us the money. They are the root of it all,” Mains said.

“People have been very generous with their donations,” Powers added. “Some of our displays are overriding (the carousel). There is so much history in here.”  

Keeping the area’s history accessible is important to both Mains and Powers.

“I think children need to come into some place like this. Children today have no idea how people lived at one time,” Powers said. “I’m a history buff, so I think the history is important. You need to know what’s happened in our area.”

The museum is open from the first full weekend of April to the last weekend of September, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday from noon until 4 p.m. Tickets cost $5 for adults and $1 for children. The Alder Creek Pioneer Carousel Museum is located at 4 East Market Street in Bickleton and can be reached at Please note, except for the aforementioned weekend in June, the carousel horses can only be viewed at the museum, not ridden.  

Wooden carousel was purchased in 1929 for $500

According to the Alder Creek Pioneer Carousel Museum, the town’s Herschell-Spillman Steam Riding Gallery Track Machine first opened at the Oaks Amusement Park in Portland, Ore., in 1905. (Fun fact: Oaks Park is one of the oldest, continually operating amusement parks in the U.S.). The carousel was manufactured in North Tonawanda, N.Y., between 1890 and 1905. It is a two-row, portable track machine, meaning there is no overhead mechanism. The horses are rocked by an arm that connects from a rocker bar below the horses. The carousel is driven by tires on a track beneath the deck, and the machine is run by a belt from an external engine.

In 1929, the Alder Creek Pioneer Association formed a committee to purchase a merry-go-round. Four members went to Portland and spent four days dismantling and loading the carousel onto a railroad boxcar, which was sent to Roosevelt, Wash. At Roosevelt, the carousel was loaded onto trucks, brought to Bickleton’s Cleveland Park, and reassembled. Total cost of the carousel, band organ, and steam engine was $500. It opened that same year at the 19th annual Pioneer Picnic and Rodeo, bringing in $268.98 with rides costing 5 cents each. The local newspaper, the Bickleton News, declared, “Alder Creek Pioneer Association has purchased its own merry-go-round, which is bigger and better than any ever set up in Klickitat County.”

Originally, the carousel was powered by a steam engine that operated at 120 pounds of steam pressure with a water temperature of 356 F. The boiler held 90 gallons of water and used five to 10 gallons per hour. It took one and a half hours to develop enough steam pressure to give rides. Eventually, the steam engine was replaced by a belt-drive tractor, then a belt-driven electric motor, and now a cable driven by an electric motor.

In early 2004, the original steam engine was found and purchased for $3,200. The band organ is a Wurlitzer Model 3534 and is original to the carousel. It was imported from Germany in the late 1890s. It is a 31-key, hand-cranked organ, but is sadly believed to be beyond repair.

Restoration work on the carousel has been funded by pin sales, memorials, donations, and grants from the National Carousel Association, the American Carousel Society, and Klickitat County Economic Development.