updated 10/30/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 10/30/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST
Indeed, Kaparich's creation—thought to be the country's first hand-carved merry-go-round since 1932—is Missoula's new mane attraction. Since its inaugural spin in May in Caras Park, close to 100,000 visitors have ponied up the 50-cent fare to revel in its ups and downs. "I rode a bucking horse," says Gladys Pancake, 72. "It was the biggest thrill I've had in years."
A Butte, Mont., native who can still recall his first carousel ride at age 4, Kaparich was inspired in 1990 after seeing a 1909 merry-go-round in Spokane, Wash., built by American carver Charles Looff. "Until then, I didn't realize that true carousels had wooden horses," Kaparich says. "I was blown away." With the support of wife Beth, 52, a schoolteacher, Kaparich and his crew spent between 400 and 1,000 hours carving each of the 38 basswood horses and two chariots. "Everyone took so much pride in this," he says. "If I had hired people, it wouldn't be as nice." Now a local hero, Kaparich insists the notoriety was never his intent. "If I provide 3 minutes of happiness on a wooden pony," he says, "that's enough for me."