The Carousel of Happiness


The Carousel of Happiness

Vietnam War veteran carves and operates a merry-go-round to remember

By Hannah Carroll and Lauren Novosat

In the quaint, mountainous community of Nederland, Colo., whose town slogan is ‘life is better up here’, out-of-commission train cars are converted into hip coffee houses, locals are affectionately referred to as ‘Ned Heads,’ and you can buy a ticket to happiness for less than $5.

The Carousel of Happiness, a restored piece of history, is one of Nederland’s main attractions. The wooden wonder has served the community and visitors from around the world since 2010, providing over one million rides and inspiring even more smiles. The carousel spins 56 handcarved animals to the cheery tunes of a 1913 Wurlitzer organ. Passage to ride with the whimsical menagerie costs just $3—but no one is turned away if they can’t pay. 

The carousel’s story begins in Vietnam. While serving overseas, marine Scott Harrison received a care package from his sister containing socks, food, and a music box that played the melody of Chopin’s “Tristesse.” Holding the small box to his ear, Scott was carried out of the rice paddies to a faraway place. He thought of a beautiful carousel spinning in a mountain meadow. After returning home to Colorado, he began a 26-year-long journey of realizing that vision. When Scott heard of an abandoned carousel frame in Utah, he quickly bought it and brought it to his hometown.

An Asian black bear after a coat of primer. 

During the golden age of carousels in America, thousands of merry-go-rounds peppered the landscape, many featuring handcarved wooden animals. Big names from that era included Charles Looff in Coney Island, Marcus Illions in New York, and Gustav Dentzel in Philadelphia. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, most of the vintage carousels that remained were dismantled and sold separately to collectors, mainly because the parts were more valuable than their sum. Today, carousel art has undergone a small revival, with many of the old frames being restored and populated with newly carved animals. 

Since horses have long been the star of most traditional merry-go-rounds, Scott made a deliberate effort to carve other animals for his. Among the varied creatures featured on the Carousel of Happiness, you’ll find a dolphin, giraffe, peacock, and even an alpaca wearing pink ballet shoes. Each animal has a story, found on the carousel’s website. Scott carved smaller characters to hang from the rafters and decorate the inside of the building that houses the ride. 

When he began, Scott had little woodworking experience. He taught himself how to use knives, chisels, gouges, mallets, and power tools.

A new floor for the attraction was built using the remnants of a yellow pine, which had been cut down in 1890 and used as cribbing for whiskey barrels at a Seagram’s® plant. All the carousel’s original bearings, gears, and metalwork have been restored, as well as the electric motor and controller, to conform to modern standards. Visitors can watch the century-old gears turn from a room above the ride. 

People from all walks of life—children and adults, able-bodied and differently abled (the space next to the carousel’s gorilla is the perfect size for a wheelchair)—are welcome to enjoy Scott’s handcarved creations. Posted just outside the ride’s entrance is a sign that reads “Don’t Delay Joy.” After learning firsthand how precious life is, that’s all Scott asks of his visitors.

For more information, visit 

Scott shares a moment with one of his animal carvings.


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