Charles Wallace Parker was born in Griggsville, Illinois in 1864. His family moved to Abilene, Kansas when Parker was 5 years old. He grew up in the wild town of Abilene, the heart of the American Wild West. At the age of 17 he became interested in the amusement business, and bought a high striker device to test the strength of the cowboys visiting Abilene. Later he bought a shooting gallery from Schmeizer Arms Company of Leavenworth, Kansas. In 1892 Parker bought a used Armitage/Herschell track machine and operated it until 1894 when he built his own track machine (almost a direct copy of the Armitage/Herschell) and started the C.W. Parker factory in Abilene. By 1900 he had traveling carnivals in the midwest and was expanding rapidly. He built all types of amusement devices, including the railroad cars to carry them.
His carousels began to evolve through several style changes. He went from the track machines to the jumping carousels, from steam to electric. The carving on the horses began to get more fanciful. Parker continued to grow. By 1905 Parker had four full sized carnivals on tour throughout the country. He also sold equipment to other amusement operators. The Parker factories in Abilene, were a series of relatively small buildings that became more and more crowded. He built more. Eventually some of them began blocking areas that the city planners had surveyed to be streets. A rift began to grow between the Parker operations and the Abilene town leaders. Parker made the decision to move to new quarters in Leavenworth, Kansas.
Parker began moving to a new factory he was building in Leavenworth, in 1911. The new building was a much larger two story brick building located on 4th Street south of the city center. The factory had 10 railroad sidings to hold all of the Parker carnival equipment, and all of the shipments of amusement devices he sent all over the world.
The Parker "Carry-Us-Alls" (his play on words for carousel) continued to be the most important part of the amusement business. He built hundreds of small traveling carousels that were used by carnivals worldwide. He also built five large extravagant "park" machines, designed to be permanently installed in large amusement parks. Only one of those five is still in existence - - in Jantzen Beach Mall, in Portland, Oregon.
Parker "Carry-Us-Alls" went all over the world. Parker used to brag that his "machines could be up and making money, one hour after arriving." His operations grew every year. He produced new products, and attractions. He tried to keep all of his shows "family oriented", with patriotism, apple pie, and motherhood, as key words in his operations. In general he had a good reputation, but he was a businessman dedicated to improving his position in the amusement industry.
About 1914, C.W. Parker began to introduce the new stretched leg and long bodied shape to the horses on his carousels that became his best know figures. By 1917 most of the older designs had been phased out. Most carousels from then on had a horse called "Lillie Belle" on every machine produced. Lillie Belle had a bowed head and wild mane with 3 tendrils of mane pulled across the neck on the larger machines. It also had a bunch of grapes on the hip, and originally a lilly and a bell behind the saddle.
C.W. Parker carvings behind the cantle are some of the more interesting carvings found on carousel horses. His standard carvings were hound's heads, roses, tobacco leaves, bull horns, fish, shields, and ears of corn (from his Kansas heritage). He some times carved strange creatures with gnome like features, and large feet, and he went through a stage about 1906, where he carved dragons, fish, birds, and exotic women. But the ear of corn behind the saddle became his best known carving. His horses were the only ones known that had this carving.
By 1925 the C.W. Parker factory began phasing out the wooden carved horses, and began creating the aluminum cast figures. Although they continued to refurbish old machines with the wooden horses, by 1930 they were casting all aluminum horses on the carousels.
In 1931, C.W. Parker became ill, and his son Paul began to take over the operations of the Parker empire. Of course the world wide depression of the 1930's caused a major pullback of those operations.
C.W. Parker died in 1932, and was buried in the family plot in Abilene, Kansas.
by Jerry Reinhardt