What are the sounds and memories of your childhood? Laughter, running through cornstalks, feeding animals at a petting zoo, riding in a wagon on your way to pick pumpkins, or choosing a Christmas tree with family? How about a carousel? That magical circular ride in which we felt we were floating, the world spinning around us as we rose up and down on majestic horses. The happy organ music became a quintessential theme to some of our happiest childhood moments.
In 1984 when John Roba purchased a 52-acre farm in North Abington Township, he never dreamed what it would become. Hoping to sell a few Christmas trees, the farm opened a ‘choose and cut’ Christmas tree business in 1990.
Twenty-eight years later, John and Sue Roba have grown not only three children, but over 100 acres of Christmas Trees and loads of family fun on two properties.
This year, a Sunflower Park is popping up at Roba’s Family Orchard on Lakeland Drive in Scott Township. Three acres of 25 varieties of sunflowers are blooming. Customers can cut a sunflower to take home. Variations of color make for a beautiful display at varying heights. Strong winds took down some sunflowers. The family got right to work and planted thousands more. Some wind-damaged plants survived. They reach for the sky — resilient, just like the Roba family.
John and Sue work on the farm with their children at their side. Jenn, Jeff and Jake are all involved in running and expanding the two properties.
Partnering with Frecon Cidery in Boyertown, Roba’s added a cider garden on the weekends, serving hard cider by the cup every Saturday and Sunday to Roba’s Orchard guests 21 and older.
Also new this year, is something old. Years ago, John Roba had an idea to buy a carousel. Not too far away, the Catskill Game Farm in New York closed after 73 years and sold their carousel. It ended up in Chicago where it was kept in storage.
“The horses were in phenomenal shape and had been restored, but the rest of it was rusted and had dust an 1/8th inch thick on everything,” Jeff Roba said. “We looked at it and said ‘The horses are nice, it’s got some history, I think we can do it.’ In five months we took this thing from ugly and inoperable to what it is now. It was 100 percent a team effort. We all caught my dad’s vision.” Jeff shared.
The 1952 Alan Herschel carousel found its new home in Scott Township. The Roba family was fortunate that most of it was salvageable. The thrust bearing, motor and canvas top had to be replaced.
“The ride is actually hanging. It doesn’t run on the ground,” said Jeff. “That’s why when you get on it has some bounce to it and when you ride you feel like you’re floating.”
Jeff explained the work that had to go into restoring it.
“Anything that is wood, has pretty much been replaced,” he said. “We kept the sweeps — the red beams that go across the top. They are intricate in terms of the hardware. Two needed to be replaced because the ends had rotted. We were able to buy timber and cut it to length, then lay it next to the old sweep and use it as a template for the new one. We took the hardware off, one piece at a time, and put it on the new sweep to be sure we got it right. We had an idea of how it would all go together, but we didn’t completely understand the carousel. It took time and careful planning to make sure each piece was kept exactly as it was, or replicated, so we could be sure it would operate as it was meant to.”
Anything metal was rusting. Roba’s found a local company that did sandblasting and powder coating and had all the parts treated so they look like new. Although they had limited pictures, effort was given to be true to how the carousel looked originally, even matching paint color. One change will be the pictures mounted on top, which had been of animals from the Catskill Game Farm. Sofie Swetter, a 16-year-old artist who works for Roba’s, is painting new pieces that will have scenes of sunflowers, pumpkins, and apples.
“That’s our Roba touch on the carousel.” Jeff said with a smile.
The carousel gave years of enjoyment on a farm not far from the Abingtons and now has been given new life. Roba’s nostalgic family orchard and sunflower park take us back to a simpler time, offering opportunities to make memories for years to come.
“My dad had, and still has, the vision that got us this far,” Jeff Roba said. “We are trying to follow in his footsteps and continue to expand and improve the experience for our guests year after year.”
For hours and pricing and to plan your visit, got to robafamilyorchard.com.