CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. | A short walk from Santa's house and the North Pole, in the pale blue building behind Old MacDonald's Farm at Santa's Village Azoosment Park in East Dundee, the park's creative director and Crystal Lake native Dutch Akers labored in the paint shop for more than two months refurbishing 30 antique carousel horses.
The aluminum steeds were made from original casts of wooden designs of the Allan Herschell Co. They were mounted on a 1972 Chance Manufacturing Co. Carousel and had not been refurbished for 40 years.
"I took this on as a personal project," Akers said. "I visited the Navy Pier carousel in Chicago for inspiration. The figures there are more of a menagerie. I wanted a classic and elegant look for our horses."
The carousel features two sets of 15 horses moving in a galloping motion pulling a chariot.
"When you look at a carousel going around, it's not moving because the horses are moving up and down, it is moving because the horses are galloping while they are pulling the chariots," Akers explained.
The chariots are where grandmas and grandpas can sit while the children ride on the horses.
After the 40 years of paint was sandblasted away, Akers primed the casts by filling body blemishes with Bondo.
"As much as you would with body work on a car," he said.
Akers prepared the horses with a white primer and started planning his original paint themes before Thanksgiving. He wanted a realistic feel for the ride, so he chose the horses' colors from the Palomino, Belgium and Appaloosa breeds.
Akers learned painting techniques by trial and error and by watching instructional videos online. He used a combination of hand painting, airbrushing and stenciling to create the colorful patterns and detail. Being an avid Chicago Blackhawks fan, Akers included a grouping of feathers in the Blackhawks colors of black and red on several of the saddles.
On April 5, he applied the last clear coat of polyurethane, a week before the project deadline. The remaining six horses were installed on the carousel by crew members a few days later.
"I'm really proud of my work on this project," Akers said modestly, though he still had a lot on his to-do list before the park's May 12 opening. He already had started refurbishing the two original 15-foot-tall snowmen that welcomed visitors to the park on opening day in 1959.