Bandwagon, Vol. 7, No. 5 (Sep-Oct), 1963. Note: Only some articles are included in this online edition. Not all illustrations are included. The Circus Historical Society does not guarantee the accuracy of information contained in the information in these online articles. Information should always be checked with additional sources.
This article, written by a trouper, concerns life on a fast moving rough and tumble grift show of the early nineteens. The Kit Carson Buffalo Ranch Wild West Show was owned and operated by Thomas F. Wiedemann. J. Augustus Jones had toured a 14 car wild west show in 1910 under the title of Jones Bros. Buffalo Ranch. At the end of that season in November Wiedemann purchased most of this equipment and changed the name to Kit Carson Buffalo Ranch opening in the spring of 1911. The show was on the road for four years.
It differed front most wild west shows of that period in that it presented a combined circus and wild west program in a big top as opposed to the usual wild west arena. The show featured many outstanding circus and trained animal acts, and carried a large band. It paraded every day.
The show traveled on 12 cars in 1911, and in 1912 used one advance car, six flats, five stocks and five coaches totaling 17 cars. The big top in 1912 was a 120 ft. with three 30s and one forty. The side show that year was a 70 with three 30s. That same year the show carried three elephants, Old Lou, Rubber and Lena; 2 camels, 56 head of baggage stock and 60 head of ring and bronk stock. The winter quarters of the show was in Harrisburg, Illinois. But the show stayed in Birmingham, Alabama, during the winter of 1913 and 1914.
The years from 1911 to 1914 were the last big days of the wild west shows. Some of the larger shows in those years were: Buffalo Bill Pawnee Bill, 59 cars; Miller & Arlington 101 Ranch. 33 cars; Young Buffalo, 21 cars; Oklahoma Ranch, 17 cars; California Frank, 11 cars; Indian Pete's, 12 cars; Prairie Lillie & Nebraska Bill, 10 cars; Dickey's Circle D, 10 cars; Wyoming Bill (Welsh Bros.), 10 cars. In addition there were a number of two and three car shows and even some overland mud shows offering wild west.
But these were rough years for the wild westers. Oklahoma Ranch and California Frank lasted but one year each, Young Buffalo's last year was 1914 and even the great Two Bills show closed for good on July 22, 1913.
The Kit Carson show closed on October 25, 1914, and was shipped to Cincinnati, Ohio. It was placed in receivership and was sold at auction on December 10, 1914, and March 20, 1915, at Terrace Park, Ohio, probably on the old John Robinson quarters grounds. The sale brought a total of $4,468.75. This was the end of the Kit Carson title.
The Buffalo Ranch title was revived by Art Mix for a truck wild west show in 1947. It opened and closed at South Bend, Indiana, on May 2 of that year.
In 1915 Tom Wiedemann was manager of the Barton & Bailey World Celebrated Shows, a 17 car outfit operated by John A. Barton and Harry Bailey, using equipment from the Hall farm. This show lasted only a few months, and that is the last record of Mr. Wiedemann. - Fred D. Pfening, Jr.
It was in April, 1911, when I again found myself working a awhile in the Union Stock Yards at Kansas City. I was now working as a "dock rider," which is a slightly better job than a cattle herder. A dock rider is a man who rides his horse and drives the cattle from one pen to another, or from the cars to different Commission Companies' pens by an overhead cattle run that is covered and runs over tracks and pens. These runs are called docks and connect the scattered pens.
This was the kind of work I had been doing. It was awful cold that winter. I rode in all kinds of weather. Winter in Kansas City with the wind that blows from three big rivers and carries the dampness from the Missouri, the Blue, and the Kaw Rivers, seems to cut right through any kind of heavy clothing and gets inside a man's bones.
While riding dock early one springlike morning I saw in the railroad yards a big bright orange colored baggage car lettered, "Kit Carson Buffalo Ranch Wild West Show," and below in smaller letters, "Advertising Car No. 1."
I rode over to the car and inside it were three or four bill posters all busy folding paper. I asked them where the show was playing and they told me in Centralia, Illinois. Then I asked if they could use some bronc riders and was informed that their show could always use a good bronc rider. Two days later was the date of the Centralia engagement and that morning found me and my old saddle and stuff alighting from a passenger train. The first sight that greeted my eyes was the Great Kit Carson Show unloading their train, and their wagons and stock being transferred to the show lot.
Now folks, I had heard a lot about this Kit Carson Show and about how wild it was. Action and excitement was what I craved, and this show was said to have plenty of both at all times.
I landed on the lot and made tracks for the horse tent, where a bunch of "big hats" were in earnest conversation.
"Who is ramroddin' the Wild West department on this show?" I asked.
One of the waddies pointed to a short, heavy-set cowboy sitting just inside the dressing-room sidewall on his twenty-four-inch Taylor trunk, the contents of which were his forty-five years' gatherings.
Walking over, I put out my hand and said, "Hinkle's my name."
"Mine's Boggs," says he. "Henry Boggs, chief of the cowboys for this outfit. What can I do for you?"
"I understand you need some bronc riders," I answered.
Boggs kinda smiled and, turning to the bunch of cowboys who had by this time gathered around, he winked and remarked, "Windmill has been waiting for him" then turning to me again, said, "Yes, I can use you. $15.00 per week, upper berth and grub." "Well, you've hired a hand," says I, "so put me on the payroll."
When the flag on the cookhouse was raised for lunch, I was Johnny-on-the-spot and I was given a seat at a table where there were nineteen other cowboys besides myself, but from the remarks that were being handed out I judged that I was the center attraction.
One of the boys said, "Wonder if they ordered him from Montgomery Ward or Sears and Roebuck?"
Another says, "Old Windmill will send him back to the mail order house in a hurry."
And still another said, "I hear old Windmill nickerin' for him now."
I hurried my meal and made believe that I didn't know what they were driving at. I know they thought I was a four-flusher and I knew that the "old Windmill" they spoke so much about was an outlaw bronc I had met on the range, and a real one, too, also that old Windmill and I were soon to meet again and the sooner we met the better I would like it.
I was standing under the horse tent, looking the stock over, when the boss got back from dinner. He cut me a little roan for my saddle horse. Then he showed me a real familiar blocky built sorrel horse, weighing about ten-fifty, and said,
"This is one of the easy buckers. You can ride him this afternoon." I knew right then I had met the much talked about Windmill before on a ranch in Texas.
About that time a bugle call was heard, meaning to saddle up, also that the front doors to the big show had opened. I unpacked my saddle and threw it on the little roan, then proceeded to get ready for my first performance with the Kit Carson Buffalo Ranch Wild West Show.
Well, just as with all shows, this one opened with the "Grand Entry" by the entire company. Cowboys, cowgirls, Cossacks, Indians, and Mexicans. While we were riding around the arena, I heard several remarks directed at me about this horse, Windmill.
One usher hollered out, "Say, Henry, you better get his address so you will know where to send the corpse."
Well, by this time all this was getting on my nerves and I wanted to find out something about this horse Windmill and if he had gathered any unfamiliar wise tricks. About then I noticed among the Indians an old chief by the name of "John-Bull-Man," who had worked the year before on the Circle D Ranch when I worked there. So after the entry was over, I rode my pony up along side him.
"Ho colo," I said, which is Sioux language meaning "Hello, my friend."
By speaking what little Sioux talk I knew and making signs, I found out that the sorrel horse really was the horse Windmill and a bad bucker that always dumped his rider.
"Does the old horse hold his feet?" I asked.
The Indian looked me straight in the eye for a minute and replied, "Heap much buck, turn much quick. You watch ropes."
From this I understand all I wanted to know and I decided right then and there that I wasn't going to let that horse drape my carcass over any of the "guy ropes," or wrap me around any of the quarter poles. I was going to watch every jump that horse made and ride him to a finish.
Well, after the trick riding, "stage coach hold up" and robbery, the hanging of the "horse thief" and numerous other acts, came the bucking horse riding. Henry, riding the big "snubbing horse" and leading old Windmill, entered the arena and proceeded to snub Windmill up close to his saddle horn so I could saddle him.
The announcer bawled out, "Next event, riding of the outlaw bucking horses. First rider, Texas Slim, from Texas, will attempt to ride old Windmill. Now, ladies and gents, everybody please step back away from the ropes."
When I heard this I knew it must be one of the horses tricks to buck right up to the ropes, then turn back sort of quick-like, leaving his rider to go on alone, but I wasn't going to let it worry me none. I piled my saddle up on the horse's back and cinched it down.
This done, I backed away from the horse for a second and noticed that about every teamster, razor-back, and canvas man with the show, had come in the back entrance to see old Windmill throw me. So, after pulling up my chaps, and seeing that my spurs were OK, I proceeded to mount and gave the order to "cut him loose."
Old Windmill lost no time getting away from the snubbing horse. He bucked and bellered, twisted and whirled, and then headed straight for the ropes. Well, the fun began. The horse bucked as fast as he could, just like he was going to buck right through the ropes. When he was about to hit them, he ducked his head between his forelegs and turned right back in under himself. I was looking for some trick like this, and by digging my rowels into the cinch and straining back in my saddle, I fooled ole Windmill. And the show folks, too.
The horse seemed to know that he had been rode, for he trotted up to the snubbing horse and I stepped off, after which applause greeted me from about every seat in the tent, but the show folks and the cowboys didn't say one word. Or make a sound.
Several other horses were rode and the show was over. It was then I was told that I was the first one to ride old Windmill under a big top, that he had always thrown his rider when he left the snubbing horse and commenced whirling. But if he failed to throw them there, he was sure to leave them at the ropes when he turned back. No doubt, if the fellows had not talked so much about Windmill and I had not got the information from the old Indian about "turn heap quick," old Windmill would probably have left me sitting or lying on the ground, as he did the others before me. Well, it was the same routine for the night show, only I rode another bucker named "Wampus." I was the only one to right that night.
Just as I climbed aboard the horse, I noticed that the side wall had been dropped and that they were taking the guard ropes down. Upon hitting the saddle, I gave orders to "cut in" and the horse bucked straight to the back end of the tent.
Just then a whistle blew. The big show was over. A six-horse team hooked to a big heavy wagon, drove in the back door of the tent and my bronc bucked straight into them, tangling me all up in the lines and falling all over me, messing me up somewhat.
I managed to kick my stirrups loose, letting the old pony go, and crawled out from under the six up team. The driver started cussin' and then the boss teamster rode up.
"Kid," said he, "You'd better get a route card; this is a fast stepping show."
Now, by this time the driver and his helper had the greys straightened out and so the driver crawled down off the wagon and said,
"I'm going t'give him a route card right now." So saying, he hit at me, but I ducked, caught him square on the jaw and he went down. At this, the boss hustler rode his horse over me, messing me up some more.
While all this had been going on, the cowboys had caught the bucker I had rode, unsaddled him for me, and brought me my saddle pony to ride to the cars. Henry and the boss hostler kind of patched things up after Henry explained that it was a bronc I was riding that bucked into the big team and that I did not do it on purpose. Henry said that he needed me and that the boss hostler needed his drivers, that it took all of us to make the show move and then we all shook hands. Just then the boss-canvasman came up.
"Better keep your cowboys around on the lot," he said. "Looking for a Hey Rube tonight."
"What for?" asked Henry.
"Oh, one of them grifters made a touch from some town monkeys for a couple of grand. The monkey wanted his dough back and got kinda tough, so one of the side shows boys slugged him. The towners started to cut the kid show down, but the coppers kinda got 'em quieted down now. They left the lot, but they said they was coming back."
So that was why they were pushing the show so fast. They wanted to get loaded and out of town.
Well, the boss lined us up on our horses and we waited till the tent was down and off the lot before we started to the cars. The cowboys had to take the buffalo, two in number, seven steers, and six buckers to the cars, and, as luck would have it, the boss told me to lead the largest of the buffalo and to stay behind the rest of the bunch as the old buffalo would hook at the horses sometimes.
We left the lot and was going nicely, had made it to the railroad yards, and started up the tracks toward the stock cars, when suddenly the riders that were in front of me whirled their horses and started back the way we had come.
Someone hollered, "Look out!"
Just then the big buffalo charged my horse, knocking him over on top of me and both horse and buffalo proceeded to mess me up some more. I managed to get away from them as they got to their feet and started after the other stock. I followed on foot trying to figure out what was the matter and why the boys had acted like they did.
The sound of running horses feet drowned out all other sounds and it happened that I looked back and saw a crowd of about fifty men coming all armed with clubs and bricks. I increased my speed, but it seemed to me like every one of them hit the mark. I could not run very fast, as I was too bunged up from my encounter at the lot with the six-up greys, and then later with the buffalo. So when the crowd finally gained on me and caught me, there was nothing for me to do but talk and I was not able to do much of that. However, when the crowd saw how bad I was skinned and bruised, they let me go, and lit out after the others.
From the talk I had heard they were looking for the party who had hit the town man. It seemed that someone had told them that one of the cowboys had put on a small hat and gone out in front of the show to meet his girl and that it was this cowboy who had slugged the towner when the trouble had started with the grifter.
All the show was loaded now except the wild west stock, and all the town men were waiting at the train for the cowboys to come.
I had started walking to the train when Ben Beckley, one of the cowboys, overtook me with my saddle horse, minus the big buffalo that had been tied to the saddle horn. (The brute had broken loose.)
"Let's go clean up on these monkeys," says Ben, and with that, he shook out his lariat rope, looping one end of it over my saddle horn and tying the other end to his own saddle horn.
The crowd had moved down in the railroad yards now and were standing between two rows of box cars that were about feet apart.
"You ride on one side of them, Hinkle," says Ben, "and I will ride on the other side. Hold the rope about two feet from the ground in between us, so it will catch them at about their knees. This will bring them down."
Well, we went through that crowd in short order, and it wasn't long until we had most of them on the ground.
The other cowboys had gone to the stock cars and loaded their horses and, when Ben and I rode up, the train crew loaded our horses for us so that Ben could take me to the privilege car for the show Doc to kinda patch me up.
In just a few minutes the show train started to rolling and after the Doc had patched me up, I was taken in tow by the porter and shown to my berth. I was so stiff and sore the porter had to help me into it.
This ended my first day's work with the Kit Carson Buffalo Wild West Show. Action and excitement was what I had craved and so far action and excitement was what I had got, plus several cuts, bruises and a black eye.
I did not sleep much that night and 7 o'clock the next morning found us in Mexico, Missouri. All the cowboys went to the stock cars, unloaded the stock, saddled their ponies, and headed for the circus lot, which was about a mile or so from the cars.
This show, like all "grift shows" (meaning cheating, thieving), always showed outside the city limits on account of high license in town, also to keep from having to "fix" two sets of officials, city and county, in order that the short-change grifters could work.
We arrived at the lot and had to wait for about an hour for the horse canvas to go up so we could have some place to put our stock. We had our horses tied in their places when the flag on the cook tent went up, and the grand rush started for grub.
Right after breakfast the bugle blew to saddle up and get ready for parade. By rushing I had time to wash, shave, change to a clean shirt, and just caught the tail end of the parade as it was leaving the lot. We made the parade, about four miles in all, and back to the lot once more, we tied up our horses.
The flag on the cook tent was up, announcing lunch. After eating I went to the dressing-room, doctored my cuts and bruises and lay down to take a little rest. I had hardly got stretched out good when the bugle sounded. The front doors were open. I got up just as the boss came in and singled out Hank Linton.
"Hank," says the boss, "you better take Hinkle up to the connection with you. This is a pretty tough town and the grifters might need a little help." Turning to the rest of the boys, he said, "The rest of you boys hurry and get to your places. Going to have a turn-away today. Seat them high to start." This meant that the cowboys were to act as ushers, showing the people to their seats. And to seat the early comers on the top seats so as to make room for those that followed.
Hank and I made our way to the connection and, when I asked him what I was to do, he said,
"You'll find out! Stay with me and do as I do."
The people had started to come in pretty fast and right between the menagerie tent and the main tent there was a high canvas side-wall stretched, making a long alley-like place that the people had to go through after leaving the menagerie to get to the main tent. This was called the "connection."
I noticed that three or four men with leather bags around their necks were hollering, "Reserved seat tickets here. All the best acts take place directly in front of the reserved seats."
These men were the quick change artists, or connection men, and one of them I recognized as Lum. Now old Lum was considered one of the smartest grifters in the business. The leather bag banging from his shoulder was about half full of silver and rather heavy, just as he intended it should be. A farmer came through the connection on his way to the main tent. Lum stopped him saying.
"Brother, I have so much silver in this bag that it is, getting heavy. Looks like everybody that buys a reserved seat ticket gives me silver. If you will give me a ten dollar bill, I will give you ten dollars in silver and give you a reserved seat ticket free."
The farmer said, "sure," and taking his wallet from his inside coat pocket, he peeled a ten-spot from his roll and handed it to Lum, who very carefully folded the bill right before the man's eyes and then put it in his own vest pocket. He kept talking to the man, trying to get his mind off the money.
Finally the farmer said, "You forgot to give me the ticket and silver."
Lum smiled. "That's right," he said, "so I did." Opening up the leather bag he counted ten silver dollars, laid them in the man's hand and then stuck the promised ticket in the man's top coat pocket. The man started to walk away when Lum called him back.
"Hey, brother, said Lum, "you can keep the ticket, but the office wagon has just sent me word they need silver bad. Kindly let me have the silver and here, you take your ten."
The man returned the ten silver dollars and then Lum reached into his vest pocket, brought out a folded bill, and handed it to the man. Lum then pushed the man and told him he would have to hurry as the show was just starting. The man put the bill in his pocket without touching it and started off once more. Lum walked after him and touching him on the shoulder, said,
"Friend, I think I gave you the wrong ticket. Let me see it."
As the man looked down in his pocket for the ticket, Lum went into the man's inside pocket and took the man's billfold. As he did this, he kinda fell over against the man, saying,
"Excuse me! Some fool ran into me.”
Lum looked at the ticket, handed the man another ticket, and hurried him along so he could "see all the show."
The folded bill that Lum had handed to the man was not the ten at all, but a one-dollar-bill folded and ready for the occasion. Lum had a double pocket and the ten-dollar bill had been put in one side of the pocket and the one-dollar bill taken apparently from the same pocket, but actually from the other side of the double pocket.
I had watched all this with interest and now Hank and I started talking. I was wondering what we were supposed to do when I looked toward the big tent and saw seven or eight men coming toward the connection, and coming fast. Says I to myself, "What's up now?" I soon found out.
One of the men had a one-dollar bill in his hand, and rushing up to one of the connection men, shouted, "Here, you! Give me my ten-dollar bill and do it quick. You can't get away with that stuff here in this town. We are not all fools."
I could see that the connection worker was doing some quick thinking, "Now, friend," say he, "let me explain."
"No explanation is necessary! I want my money right now!" the farmer said.
I looked around and saw that all the other connection workers had disappeared under the sidewall and had left this one man there alone with the seven or eight town men to argue it out as best he could. I also saw that the town men were getting angrier every minute and about ready to start a fight.
"Come on," says Hank, "let's go over and stop this argument." We strolled over to where the bunch was and Hank stepped in between the connection man and the town men and says, "Here, what's all the trouble about?" When Hank stepped in, the connection man stepped out. Right out under the sidewall and out of sight.
I had not found out what it was all about, when the man who had been short-changed, dough-popped Hank in the jaw and the fight was on. Now Hank sure could fight and he was giving the town man a good whipping when the whole bunch jumped on him at the same time. I was awful sore from my many "accidents" of the day before, but I dug in as best I could and tried to stop it by using both my fists, both my feet, and both spurs. Suddenly I saw the most beautiful collection of stars I had ever seen. Well, when I recovered my senses, I also saw a big deputy sheriff had put a pair of handcuffs on me and he then proceeded to lead Hank and me off to jail.
Upon our arrival at the jail the legal adjuster for the show was waiting for us, and he immediately fixed things up for our release.
When I arrived back at the lot, the show was about half over and the first person I met was the show doctor, who did some more patching up on me. I was beginning to take on the appearance of a patch-work quilt.
Well, Doe had hardly got through working on me when in busts Henry, the chief cowboy.
"Hinkle," says he, "you can ride old Windmill this afternoon and you won't have to ride tonight. Good crowd this afternoon and we want to give them suckers a good show. Hate to ask it of you, but no one else will ride him."
Henry had said, "You can ride old Windmill," as if he thought he was doing me a big favor. I was not so sure that I could get the job done in the condition I was in, but I was going to do my dangdest.
I went into the big top, saddled and managed to get aboard the old horse, and gave orders to "cut 'im loose." I think old Windmill must have sensed that I was awful sore, because he sure did buck. He had me all over him, in fact every place but off, but I lucked out and rode him.
The afternoon show was now over and the flag on the cook tent was up once more, so we made our way to grub. I was just getting good and interested in eating when some town fellow stuck his head in at the top of the sidewall, right close to the cowboys' table and stood there watching us eat.
One of the cowboys, Wild Jim Lynch, said, "yes, sir, we are humans - eat with knives and forks and everything."
The town fellow did not offer to move and so one of the cowboys picked up a big baked potato and threw it at the man, hitting him right square in the eye. The head disappeared quicker than a turtle can get his head into his shell.
I looked out and saw that quite a bunch of town people had gathered around the fellow who had stopped the potato with his eye, also that the said eye was closed and swelling fast. The town people was doing quite a lot of talking and pretty soon some of the young smart alecks started in to cutting the guy ropes that held the cook tent up. The waiters and a few of the canvas-men went out to stop them and it wasn't long until there was a fine free-for-all fight in progress.
Someone hollered, "Hey Rube!" I wondered who Rube was and I soon found out. Everyone on the show must have been named Rube, for they all came running, armed with laying-out pins, stakes, and everything they could get their hands on.
I did not go out where the big fight was, as I decided that I had had enough for that one day, but I stood there where I could see it all. Cowboys, hostlers, actors, front door men, and all together gave the towners the devil.
It was about all over when I started for the dressing tent and I heard someone say, "there he is." Looking around I saw the same fellow who had the trouble in the connection. I wanted to run but I couldn't, because I was too sore.
Well, they overtook me and started to jump on me. I knew I was in for it, unless I could out-talk them. I was just too sore to fight. While I was talking my fastest and best, one of them deliberately stuck his fist in my mouth. Sore or not sore, the fight was on again, I didn't think that I could be lucky enough to whip the whole bunch of them, but I was going to hold out as long as I could, or at least until some help arrived.
Just then up rushed Wild Jim Lynch, the fightingest cowboy that ever lived, some of the cowboys and a few of the Indians and they soon had the towners on the run, with the exception of the fellow who had hit me in the mouth. I had managed to hold onto this fellow, and it was my intention to give him the same dose he had given me. I got all the cowboys around me and explained what this guy had done, how he had hit me in my mouth.
"Now," says I, "I don't want any of you birds to butt in. Just don't let him run, cause I can't run after him. But I want to show this guy that I can stick my fist in his mouth just as good as he stuck his in my mouth."
Well, the boys promised a fair deal and so the town man and I went to it. Believe me or not, it sure did take a long time to get my fist in that bird's mouth, but I finally accomplished the feat and he went down for the count.
By this time I really was sore. My lip was swollen and if there were any spots on me that had not been bruised before, they sure were now. Once more I made tracks for the doctor. I was getting to be a regular customer for Doc, who told me to sit down, that he would soon be through dressing the cuts and bruises of the other show folks who had gotten a few licks in the battle at the cook's tent. I was sure glad the show had their own doctor.
Pretty soon my turn came and Doc did some more patch work on me. This time on my lip. Before he had accomplished this, the bugle blew to saddle up for the night show.
When I arrived at the dressing tent, the boss came in, hollering, “no connection. All kinkers seat 'em high 'cause they're coming tonight. Everybody cut. Railroading tonight! Shakedown! Take care of yourselves."
When the cowboys left the dressing tent and went to the stake rope to get their horses, everyone had done away with his big hat and boots. They were wearing small hats and low-cut shoes. I could not understand this, but before the night was over I sure found out their reason. I found myself the only man dressed in cowboy regalia. Big hat, chaps, and boots.
We made it to the cars all right and as soon as the stock was loaded, the cowboys, little hats and all, disappeared.
The sleeping cars were spotted across the road from the loading runs where the wagons were being loaded on the flatcars. As I hobbled past them, I noticed that there was quite a crowd around, but there were no women or children in the crowd, which was unusual. This sure struck me as rather strange and I says to myself, "something is going to happen here."
I had already had enough entertainment and excitement for the two days I had been with the show, so I made my way toward the sleepers.
Just as I got across the road from the runs, some of the town people were so delighted to see me with my big hat and chaps, that they proceeded to greet me with a shower of sticks and stones.
A half-brick hit me on top of my hat and it bounced off. As I stopped to pick it up, something struck me in the seat of my pants, knocking me forward. The forty-five Colts that I had stuck in my shirt and forgotten all about fell to the ground. I had my back turned to the crowd and as I stooped over to pick up my gun, I looked between my legs and saw, about ten feet behind me, the same fellow that had popped me in the mouth. He had another fellow with him and they were both armed with clubs. They charged at me, so I emptied the round of forty-five blanks at them. I know that some of the wads from the blanks must have burned them, for they turned and beat a hasty retreat. Knowing I had done gone and played hell now, but no use to worry about it, I took the empty shells from the gun and put in another round of blanks.
I was just about to start for the car once more when I heard a commotion at the runs and looking closer, I could see that trouble had broke out over there just as the train crew was putting the last wagon over the runs to the flat cars. I decided that I would stay and see what happened and walked over a little closer, I was surprised to see Hand, Wild Jim Lynch and the other cowboys, still wearing their little hats, right in the crowd with the town folks. It looked like every time Hank or one of the other cowboys raised an arm, someone would go down.
Upon looking closer, I could see that each cowboy was armed with a laying-out pin (a steel rod about eighteen inches long and one quarter of an inch thick) which the canvasman uses in staking, or laying out the tents.
While the fight was in progress, part of the train crew finished loading the train and the train master, Harry Parrish, gave the order to get out of town just as the sheriff and some of his deputies drove up in a buggy. The fight soon stopped.
The train was now coupled up and the engineer gave the "high-ball" whistle, so I ran the best I could and managed to board the privilege car platform, where I stood on the steps waiting to see what would happen next. Here came five or six men running as fast as they could. It was the cowboys. Right behind them came the crowd, throwing everything at them.
Well, the boys managed to get aboard all right and just as the train crossed over the main line a shower of brickbats greeted me, one of them hitting me in the stomach, nearly knocking me off the steps.
I once more brought the forty-five, loaded with blanks, into action, to my sorrow. My blanks were answered by real bullets. None of them hit me, but they came too close for comfort, so I ran into the privilege car and with the others I got down low and listened to the shots and the bullets whizzing over our heads.
Outside of a few bruises the show folks were none the worse off after the night's fight, but the privilege car was badly shot up and had to have an entire new set of windows.
Well, from there on to the next town the crap tables, poker tables, and slot machines, also the lunch counter, did a good business, and as I was actually too sore to make it to my berth, I sat in the car listening to each one tell how many he had knocked down. Every once in a while someone would say to me, "want to sell your big hat and boots?"
(The second half of this article will appear in the November-December issue.)
Introduction - This series of articles, which really began last issue with the Baldwin Park story, is intended to portray some of the famous landmarks in the history of the American circus. Subjects such as old winter quarters, homes of famous showmen, and specific locales of circus historical events will be featured. In coming issues the Hall Farm at Lancaster, the winter quarters at West Baden, Terrace Park, Rochester, and Peru, will be covered. We intend to acquaint the reader with the circus history of these places, give a general description of it as it was in the past and as it is today. Some of the places described, are today, pretty much intact such as the old Baraboo and Peru quarters. Others, while considerably changed, still have some evidence of their past history, such as the old Hall Farm and the Granger quarters, while still others such as the old quarters at Bridgeport and Sarasota are now completely gone. Last, but not least, complete directions and at times, maps, will be used to enable that particular kind of circus historian, if he so desires, to make a pilgrimage to these places so full of circus history. The latter will be vastly appreciated by anyone who has ever travelled and attempted to find his way to a particular old circus locality by asking directions of natives on the scene.
Photo 1. Africa tableau, Granger quarters, April 1925. Photo by Ben J. Kubly.
Today, very little remains at the old Fred Buchanan winter quarters near Granger, Iowa, but for 25 years in the earlier part of this century it was an active circus locality. Back in the mid 40's noted author, Tom Duncan, became so fascinated with the old Granger quarters which he had visited and noted the rotting old animal barns, the almost disintegrated old China tableau, and the graves of elephants that had been buried on the land, that he was so inspired to write a best seller called "Gus the Great." Fictional names and places are used but even to the novice of circus history this novel deals with the life of the colorful showman, Fred Buchanan, with much of the setting taking place at the old Granger home and quarters.
The quarters were 16 miles northwest of Des Moines and 2 miles southeast of Granger and can easily be located on the map printed here.
From his large two story white frame home and farm at Granger, Fred Buchanan launched a rather good sized wagon circus in the spring of 1906 using the old title of Yankee Robinson Shows. Earlier, back in the 90's, Buchanan had put out a small mud circus called Buchanan Bros. for a couple of seasons. The Yank show, as it was commonly called, was destined to grow quickly and prosper and soon became a leader in the medium size circus field in the midwest. In mid-season 1908 the show was converted to rails and from then on was constantly enlarging. During the years 1908-20 it was a neat looking show with good equipment and featured a fine street parade. Two old Barnum & Bailey mirror tableau wagons that had been with that show in Europe were acquired and used as bandwagons during these years.
Photo 3. Superb closeup view of the China tableau, Granger quarters, April 1925. Photo by Ben J. Kubly.
The Yankee Robinson show always had a large midway and carried several pit shows and at times had both a ferris wheel and a merry-go-round. At times the show had a reputation of being a red hot grifter and had its share of heat, hey rubes, and clems. Many stands, however, were played clean and the show repeated for years under the same title. Buchanan was a respected person in civic and political circles in Iowa and for many years his shows were well received in that state. He was a shrewd showman and tradition has it was a faultless weather prophet and could smell a rain or storm coming quicker than anyone. It is probably in the realm of fiction thought about the oft told story that if Fred could sense a bad storm or rain coming he wouldn't even unload the train but would proceed to the next stand.
For many years Fred's brothers, W. T. and C. W. were associated with him in the management of his shows.
The Buchanan quarters were located in a rural area and were often referred to in the trade publications as the "Buchanan circus farm" or just "farm." Buildings were constructed in close proximity to the home house to serve for the various quarters storage areas and shops. Many acres of farm land provided feed for the animals and pasture for the horses and ponies. The farm was located on the Des Moines and Central Iowa Inter-Urban Railway, an electric line that ran from Des Moines to Perry that was completed in 1906. The track ran several hundred feet on west side from the home house and a wooden platform was erected with a sign naming the stop as "Yanktown." A side track was run parallel to the main line on the far side from the home house and quarters. Various accounts in the Billboard have listed the length of the side track, which was used to store the show's rail equipment, from 3000 ft. to a mile which seems way too much. However the siding was ample to hold a 30 car train and from available accounts consisted of a single track running beside the main line and at no time did the show ever have a series of tracks winding into the quarters proper as was at Bridgeport, Sarasota, and other places. The rail cars remained on the siding all winter and were repaired and repainted right there except when it was necessary to send cars into Des Moines for shop type work.
Roland Tiebor, noted seal trainer, who was at Granger in years 1918-20, recalls that during the time Buchanan had the Yankee Robinson show on the road that most of the buildings were erected along the east side of the inter-urban tracks with the home house back further up on a hill. One single building was across on the west side of the tracks and was used by "Camel Dutch" Narfaski to house a few animals. Tiebor says that later in the 20's after Robbins Bros. was wintered there they built new buildings further back up on the hill past Buchanan's home and let the old buildings by the tracks go to pieces.
Photo 4. France tableau, Granger quarters, April 1925. Photo by Ben J. Kubly.
The Dec. 23, 1916, Billboard in an article describing the Yankee Robinson quarters at Granger stated that there were 20 buildings on the farm used to house the circus and that the farm was lighted by electric power obtained from the inter-urban company. The story mentioned that a new addition to the animal barn had been completed and also that a 50 horse barn had been erected in the upper part of the farm. The old blacksmith and paint shop was to be used again that winter but in the summer a new building for that purpose would be erected.
In the fall of 1920 Buchanan sold the Yankee Robinson show in Mugivan and Bowers and delivered it to them at the Hall Farm in Lancaster, Mo. For the next two winters there was no circus activity at Granger. In 1922 Buchanan managed the Patterson Four Ring Wild Animal Circus for James Patterson and after the season went to Granger where he framed a new 15 car circus which he put out in 1923 using the title of World Bros. Circus.
Following the 1923 season World Bros. went into quarters at the Hall Farm in Lancaster. The title was changed and the show appeared in 1924 as Robbins Bros. Circus. The season was a good one and after it closed the show went back to Granger to winter.
During the winter of 1924-25 a new administration building was erected and the offices were decorated with photos of famous circus owners such as W. W. Cole, B. E. Wallace, Barnum, Bailey, Mugivan and Bowers. Also built was a large bunk house or "hotel" for employees to be fed and housed. Note the photo showing this "Robbins Bros. Hotel" Ben J. Kubly says he once spent a few nights at the place just prior to leaving with the advance car to begin the 1926 season.
The Jan. 16, 1926, Billboard stated that each year Buchanan was adding a new building or so to the farm and just recently a huge blacksmith shop had been completed and during the coming year a new and modern ring barn would be built. The following week's issue mentioned that the show had a total of 20 buildings at the quarters and that the wagon shop had recently built a new seal den, stake driver, stake and chain wagon, canvas wagon, property wagon, and had overhauled and rebuilt a dozen more other large baggage wagons. It said that the paint shop was a new two story structure. The writer said that the side tracks, now loaded down with the circus train, gave the approaching visitor a view of quite a circus city.
Bill Woodcock says that when he was in Granger in 1926 that the elephant barn had by then a tank in the corner for the hippo, Miss Iowa, but the barn itself was quite small for the ten bulls kept there; Ena, Vera Columbia, Trilby, Tony, Margaret, Blanche, Katie, Jenny and Babe. Woodcock says several elephants died at the quarters during the years and were buried back up the hill called Gobbler's Knob.
During the late 20's the show continued to make improvements at the Granger headquarters. In January 1929, the camel barn and coral was enlarged. The wagon shops were first class and could turn out major construction projects and the Feb. 23, 1929, Billboard said that the show had just completed a huge new hippo den for Miss Iowa. This is the long, pot bellied cage, that Cole Bros. had in period 1935-37. Also during the late 20's Buchanan obtained from the Ringling-Barnum quarters in Bridgeport the famous Two Hemispheres Bandwagon, the old Barnum & Bailey clown and horn steam calliope, the old Barnum & Bailey hippo den which he used on Robbins Bros. to carry elk and other hoofed animals, and a couple of ex Ringling tableau dens, and perhaps a ticket wagon. Bandwagon readers should be familiar with the famous Spellman tableau wagons Buchanan had obtained in 1925. (See F. J. Spellman article, Jan.-Feb., 1962, Bandwagon).
By the 1930 season the show was at its peak. The retention of the large and colorful street parade after most circuses had abandoned theirs made the show a great favorite with the circus fans and general public alike. Each spring newsreel cameramen would flock to Granger to film the last minute activities and loading of the show. During the winter and early spring the quarters were a popular place, with scores of visitors from nearby Des Moines each weekend.
The show went out for the 1930 season on 30 cars with an excellent parade and performance. Due to bad business caused by the depression, that had now set in in earnest, the show in mid-season 1930, cut the train to 20 cars and sent the 10 surplus cars back to Granger quarters. Famed parade wagons in this equipment coming back to Granger included the Panama, China and South America wagons of the Spellman set, the Barnum & Bailey hippo den and the Two Hemispheres wagon. The show concluded the 1930 season with a hot, dry and poor business tour of the west going almost to the Pacific coast and was finally able to limp back into winter quarters at the Hall Farm in Lancaster made possible, so tradition says, only through money obtained from William P. Hall.
The Robbins show never returned to Granger. It was cut to 15 cars and made the tour in 1931 until it closed in September in Mobile for good and the equipment returned to the Hall Farm in Lancaster, where it was stored until later sold to Adkins and Terrell for their Cole Bros. Circus which went out in 1935.
Following the sudden Robbins Bros. closing in 1931 which was marred by the "Redlighting" of the show's workmen from the moving train that night resulting in the death of one man and injury to several, Fred Buchanan seemed to then vanish from the pages of the trade publications. He was said to have been a silent partner in some motorized circus operations in the early 30's but his general whereabouts became clothed in mystery. Whether he is still living, or now dead, no one seems to know for sure.
Likewise clothed in mystery in the disposition made of his farm in Granger and especially of the 10 cars of circus property that went there in mid season 1930. So far as is definitely known, of the equipment going to Granger that summer, only one wagon remains to this day. In early 1933 the late Jacob Wagner, prominent circus fan of Des Moines, saddened at the condition of the beautiful old Two Hemispheres wagon standing out in the open, now without wheels, and gradually going to rot and ruin, led a movement locally to have it rescued. New wheels were secured and the wagon was moved to a building on the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines. What arrangements with Buchanan were made is not known. Today the wagon has been completely restored and is at the Circus Hall of Fame at Sarasota. It is assumed the rest of the wagons at Granger just rotted away and fell apart. The old Forepaugh Lion Chariot bandwagon shown in the photo with the Two Hemispheres was used as the lead bandwagon on World Bros. in 1923 and Robbins Bros. in 1924 and for 1925 was equipped with a steam calliope and was used as such until replaced by the old Barnum & Bailey steamer in 1929. It is a shame this old Forepaugh wagon couldn't have been rescued with the Two Hemispheres. A photo showing the sad condition of the Panama, South America, and Barnum & Bailey hippo den in the Granger graveyard was printed in the Jan.-Feb., 1962, Bandwagon. No definite details as to the final disposition of the rail equipment left at Granger has come to light either. It can only be assumed they fell into ruin also. The buildings at the farm remained for a time, but through the years most of them have been destroyed, although a few remain to this day. The old Buchanan home burned about 1947 and was replaced by a smaller dwelling.
In 1949 the railroad switched to diesel operations and the electric wires of the inter-urban were removed. Passenger service had died after World War II. The railroad, now known as the Des Moines and Central Iowa Railroad, still runs from Des Moines as far as Granger and passes by the old quarters site as it did always. It operates a freight daily.
Don Smith visited the old quarters in 1952 and found and photographed a single old baggage wagon resting in the weeds some distance from the main buildings. The wagon shown here had traces of orange paint with white or aluminum title, with the wheels white and trimmed in blue. Don also said he had heard on several occasions that the old China wagon (also mentioned by Tom Duncan) was standing in a field near Granger but that he explored every road nearby for several miles and no one knew anything about it. From last reports the old baggage wagon Don saw is now gone and with it the last traces of the old Buchanan circuses of Granger, unless some miraculous "find" of one of the old wagons, safely housed back in someone's barn or shed, is to come to light one of these days, comparable to the discovery of the old F. J. Taylor bandwagon by the Circus World Museum in 1961. Don says at the time he also visited the Iowa Historical Museum in Des Moines and was told that two old covered wagons there were obtained from the Buchanan show.
Don probably was the last CHS member to visit the old Granger quarters and give a report on it until this past Spring when, at my request, William A. Temple of Des Moines, made a trip out to the place to pinpoint its location and to report on what, if anything, remained.
Temple's report is so complete and interesting, it is printed here intact. He also recalls an earlier trip to the farm in the late 20's as well as the one made in April, 1963. Actually the fact that the railroad still ran was a surprise to us all. Near the conclusion of "Gus the Great," old Gus makes a last visit back to his old quarters farm and walks down the abandoned road bed of the inter-urban line. From this we gathered that the tracks, wires, and everything were now gone. However, only the wires themselves are now gone as the tracks still remain as always.
The complete report from William Temple is as follows:
"You will be interested to know, that I drove out to see the old circus farm, and found it much easier to find this time that it was some 30 or more years ago. I shall never forget the experience we had at the farm on that Spring Sunday about 10 days before it was to go on the road. There were many visitors there roaming about. There was no admission charge to the farm. The animals were still in their winter building; had not been transferred to their wagon cages. While my wife and I were looking at a lion at one end of the house, everything went silent, and the lion struck a rigid stance. I sensed something had happened, and told my wife it would be a good idea if we got out! From another door we saw a woman being led away. The whole back of her clothing had been torn away and she was bleeding profusely. Talking to friends she had backed up too close to the front of a cage for a leopard which had reached out and clawed her back. A prominent society woman, she survived, but died, presumably from other causes, within a year.
At that time it was difficult to find the circus farm on a dirt road and circuitous route from Granger, and the trip was not advisable in rainy weather.
Not long ago I drove out to Granger, which is 21 miles northwest of Des Moines. Now the farm is on the newly paved and rerouted State Highways Numbers 141 and 60. I drove into Granger, population 300, and inquired at a filling station. The Conoco man told me I had driven past the farm on my way out. The circus farm is still on the inter-urban rail line to Perry, as it was then, but now the trolley wires have been removed and passenger service discontinued. A diesel engine still hauls daily freight trains over the rails. The road is known as the Des Moines and Central Iowa Railroad Co. The Conoco man directed me back along the highway, just a mile, the first farm on the left after the intersection of No. 60 and 141. I had gone past it driving to Granger; had even looked at it with wonder, but thought it further from town. There is nothing now to indicate it was once the circus farm. The rail tracks are about 50 feet from the highway and run parallel to the highway. The tracks were covered with enough weeds that I did not notice them while driving out. I kept looking for trolley wires. There is no sign there now to indicate this once was a stop. Regarding your 1940 reference to an army camp I know only this. Granger is the next rail stop beyond Herrold which in World War I was the far terminal of Camp Dodge. Camp Dodge, built during World War I, extended along the inter-urban tracks for about six miles from Camp Dodge station to Herrold. I visited Camp Dodge many times, but the camp being so close to Des Moines, I was not inducted into the service there, but was sent to your state, at Camp Forrest down the road from Ogelthorp at Chattanooga. Most of the original Camp Dodge has been torn down, but there still are paved roads leading to nowhere out through the corn fields. A very small portion is retained by the Iowa National Guard. During World War II some new buildings were built to be used as an induction leader. After having been to France with the AEF, I was discharged at Camp Dodge.
There is no indication now that there might have been a siding for the circus train. I have a faint recollection that I saw flats lined up at the farm gate years ago. I drove into the circus farm and up a lane some 300 feet from the tracks to the farm house. There was a car in the driveway; some farm animals in a barnyard, but no other signs of life. I turned around and sat in the car just looking. Eventually a woman, perhaps 35 or 40 years of age, came out of the house to see what I wanted. She indicated she knew nothing of the circus and said there was little left to see. She said she and her husband had lived there only about 15 years, and knew nothing about the circus except what she had heard from her father-in-law. She was Mrs. Fitzsimmons, and said her father-in-law lived just down the road.
When I told her about having visited the Animal House back up on the hill, she said there was nothing left except some cement work, a pit where they had kept the hippo. I asked if I might be intruding if I went back up the hill to see it, and she said to go ahead. There were three large dogs with her, but said only one was cross, but it had quieted down by now. (One reason I had stayed in the car). I opened the barnyard gate and went up through a feed lot in which were a dozen cows and numerous young pigs. The animal house was further back than I had remembered. I saw several cement floors somewhat covered with dirt. One was long enough to have been the old animal house. There were no foundations visible around the cement. At the end of one platform there was an old shed filled with farm machinery, but nothing inside looked like it ever housed any animals. Near it was the hippo pit. It was about 3 feet deep, perhaps 6 feet wide and 8 feet long, with steps at one end leading to a concrete platform about 6 feet square. All around the edge was a strong concrete foundation in which the steel bars of the cage had been inserted when the cement was poured. Now the one-inch bars had been broken or cut off about an inch above the surface. The line of bars left no doubt it had been a strong cage. Nearby there was the broken remains of a concrete water tank about 6 feet in diameter. Among all the things that fill a farm yard, machinery, chicken coops, I saw nothing that looked like it once belonged to a circus.
Near the farm home was a large red barn that I faintly remembered, and across from the house was a long white shed filled with farm machinery that Mr. F. said had been the circus office. Nowhere on any building was a sign of any kind. I told Mrs. F. I thought the home had been larger, and she said the old home had burned down. She said she and her husband, when they were newly married, had lived in a grain shed while building the new home. This would indicate the old home had burned some 16 years ago. She said she knew of no old wagons anywhere on the farm, either in any of the barns or sheds or in the fields. Elsewhere, someone told me the graders had moved a circus wagon in the field when they put the highway thru, but no one seems to know further about it.
When I told Mrs. F. about the book, 'Gus the Great,' and the farm and home suspected as being part of the book's, locale, she said she had read part of the book, but wasn't much interested.
The longer I looked at the place while talking to Mrs. F., the more the lane, the trees, the office and red barn began to look more familiar, and I definitely remembered the inter-urban tracks in front of the farm.
I honestly didn't think there was anything that could be photographed out there when I made the trip."
Photo 18. Rare view of Granger quarters about 1915 showing Yankee Robinson gable top ticket wagon, steam calliope, and mirror tableau wagon. Note theater advertising on ticket wagon. Chalmer Condon Collection.
For help on this article I would like to thank William Temple for the fine "leg work" he did in getting a current report on the old quarters; to Don Smith for furnishing us his notes and photo file of his 1952 visit; Bill Woodcock, who contacted Roland Tiebor and others for information plus that of his own; and especially are we grateful to member Ben J. Kubly for again providing us with the excellent photos from his personal collection, and to Fred Pfening for general aid and assistance in preparation of this article.
Getting detailed information about the Granger quarters in the period following 1930 was extremely difficult. Several of the older fans still living in the area did not respond to our letters, and no information could be found concerning disposition of the large collection of photos of the Granger quarters once owned by the late Jacob Wagner. We especially tried to find photos showing the rail equipment parked at the quarters as well as other subject matter but to no avail. This difficulty of finding data and photos illustrates the urgent need for CHS to record articles of this type with sufficient illustrations in the Bandwagon where they can be preserved for posterity and can be used for reference in the years to come. Thirty years ago finding in formation and illustrations for this article would have been a snap, but through the years as the older fans who were familiar with the place die out, lose interest, and are "lost" into society, the information, photos, and data they might have had thus passes into oblivion with them, making it a most difficult task for the latter date historian to operate effectively. We especially want more photos taken at the old Granger quarters to complete this coverage. If you have any, please let us know, so they might be printed in a later supplement.
On Saturday, May 18, your reviewer and his wife set out on a circus weekend to visit new friends and old. On Saturday we were on the new Von Bros. Circus. On Sunday we renewed old acquaintances on the Beatty show.
When we left our home in Ramsey, New Jersey, the rain was pouring down, and the weather forecast predicted more. However, by the time we reached Washington, New Jersey, where the Von Bros. Circus was playing, it was becoming a beautiful circus day.
As we arrived on the Von Bros. Circus lot, we were greeted by Steve Fanning, and a few minutes later by Marjorie "Irish" Hill. Fanning is running the "Hippo" pit show on the midway. The show is mounted on a semi-trailer with a sleeper in front. The show is well painted and it brightened up the still dark day. The show goes for 15 cents and was getting its share of business.
At the head of the midway was a lightweight semi-trailer that housed the combination ticket office and sleeper where friendly "Mom" Vonderheid was reigning. Conspicuously posted was a sign that told of ticket prices: $1.50 for adults, $1.00 for children. After a few words from her, we walked down the midway.
Directly behind the ticket wagon was an eight sweep pony ride with four ponies. The ride cost 15 cents and is the property of Buck Steele, a partner in the show.
Progressing down the midway, we saw the concession lineup. Two joints, each 10x20, were open and ready for business. Behind them was the concession semi-trailer, which recently was received from dealer Johnny Canole.
Directly opposite was the side show. There were five banners, all new, four of which proclaimed the animal wonders inside, while the fifth was an entrance banner. The white top, a 50 with two 20's, was purchased from Mills Bros. It was a bale ring top, made by American Tent Co. of Norfolk, Va. It had three red and white center poles and eight foot sidewalls. Inside there was a light weight cage truck with nine cages. Cage animal lineup was as follows: Five bears in three cages, and in one cage each were one tiger, two lion cubs, two wolves, one leopard, two lions, and another pair of lions together. On the front of the trailer was a freezer for the meat. Other stock included six horses, two of which were used in the show, an American buffalo, a goat, a llama and one bull, "Stormy."
The side show physical equipment is owned by Henry Vonderheid, but the stock and its transportation is owned by Buck Steele.
At the end of the midway is the marquee formerly on the King Show. It is a 20x40 blue top. Generally there is a neat appearance on the midway. It is fairly well lit, and the pit show and side show banners flash up the midway considerably.
The big top behind the marquee is fairly new. It is white trimmed in red and blue and has worn fairly well. The bale ring top has four red center poles with red, white and blue quarter poles and red and white side poles. The top, made by Norfolk Tent Co., is an 80 foot round with 40 foot center and two 30 feet end pieces.
The interior is colorful. Along the track is a ticket box; reserved seat tickets are 50 cents. The seating capacity is about 1400 when all the blues and the chair grandstand are used. The blues are eight high while the grandstand is six high. The grandstand has a gay red, yellow and blue curtain around it. The top and grandstand are all new, and used only once before this season at the circus-carnival date in Philadelphia in 1962. The grandstand itself is unique because few shows carry one inch marine plywood for bibles. These are painted with marine paint which is holding out very well. Chairs were recently bought from an importer.
The performance is concentrated in the center ring and ring three closest to the people. There are bulb clusters on each pole, and the seven lights in each cluster provide adequate lighting. There is also one spotlight on some acts. The end ring curbs are blue and white; the center ring curb is red and white.
The performance runs about sixty minutes. The music is supplied by Helen Wilson, who plays a variety of circus tunes on her own electric organ. The show is strengthened by her playing.
The performance is basically animal acts, but a good variety has been chosen. The program is in the center ring unless otherwise noted:
1. Grand entry: mounted rider, various performers and animals.
2. Steele's trained bears; Bucky Steele, Jr.
3. Ring 3 - Namendils perch act; two men and a boy.
4. Ladders in each ring; Rosa Marques and Marjorie "Irish" Hill are two of the three girls.
5. Hal Jones and six dogs. They end in long mount!
6. Ring 3 - Iron Jaw; Rosa Marques.
7. Clown gag. Ends with confetti in audience.
8. Four Linders - hand balancing.
9. Ring 3 - Stormy the elephant.
10. Hal Jones - trained pongo, dog and goat.
11. All rings - Spanish web. Same three girls.
12. D'Artagne Chimps (2) - trainer Ed Wilson.
13. On track - Hal Jones' hind leg walking dog, "Queenie."
14. One track - Steele's high jumping horses.
The circus is a pooling of talents of two men, Buck Steele and Henry Vonderheid. All the stock and their equipment belong to Steele, and are easily recognized by the white with red stripe paint job. Vonderheid has contributed six units, four of which are for the big top and side show. The remaining two are the pit show and cookhouse. Steele furnishes six units, and along with one unit privately owned and Vonderheid's six the show moves on twelve units with one in advance. All but three trucks are semis: they are a Ford pickup, a Chevy combination water wagon and stake driver, and the advance truck. The trucks are fairly well painted, and the stake driver is neatly lettered, "Von Bros. Circus."
In the list that follows the first six trucks are Steele's, the next six Vonderheid's, and the last is privately owned.
1. Cage with nine cages - Ford (blue).
2. Stock - GMC (blue).
3. Props and sleeper - GMC (blue)
4. Office and sleeper - Ford (blue)
5. Lo boy flatbed - grandstand lumber - GMC diesel (blue).
6. Ford pickup (blue)
7. Van with lumber for blues and grandstand - Dodge (blue).
8. Power plant - carries 35 KW caterpillar diesel - White (blue).
9. Hippo Pit Show - Chev (red).
10. Cookhouse - GMC (blue).
11. Chevy flat bed-stake driver and water wagon; pulls trailer with John Deere caterpillar tractor with fork lift on front (red).
12. Advance - Chev (red).
13. Concession - Ford.
The show is able to meet all time deadlines, providing no truck breaks down as happened on the day we reviewed the show and the matinee was
Owners - Henry Vonderheid and Buck Steele
Office - Mrs. "Mom" Vonderheid
Cookhouse - Pat Cavaugh
Canvas Boss - Blackie March
Electrical Dept. - Bernie Lindemann
Musical Director - Helen Wilson
Announcer and Equestrian Director - Buck Steele
The show opened in Berwick, Penna., on April 27. After three weeks in Pennsylvania it came to New Jersey for two weeks. The route then returns to Pennsylvania. In prospect is a tour of Newfoundland during the hot months of July and August.
The show plays phone promotions, but will accept lot and license contracts. When we reviewed the circus, a phone promotion was used, but due to threatening weather and the show's late arrival, attendance was down. It was under the Police Athletic League sponsorship, who provided the Coca-Cola Grounds in Washington, N.J., which is locally well-known. Parking facilities were available.
The show uses stock paper, and is fairly well billed. One man handles the advance.
So many of these articles end on a depressing note in effect that such and such a beautiful bandwagon was lost in a fire, accidental or intentional, or abandoned to rot and ruin, but this one will end on a far happier note. All of the four wagons shown in the illustrations are carefully preserved in the Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota where they may be seen daily by visiting admirers. Three of them have been fully restored to their former glory and the other one will be in time. Member Mel Miller, who is curator of the Museum, has seen to it that the restoration has been done correctly and that the wagons retain as nearly as possible their original appearance.
Photo: The Five Graces is shown here newly painted for the 1937 tour of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. Taken in Peru quarters on April 4, 1937 by Burt Wilson.
The "queen" of the tableau wagons at the Ringling Museum is the beautiful old Forepaugh wagon, commonly called the Five Graces. It is most familiar to wagon historians. For those who want the best account available of the early history of the wagon I would refer them to member Richard E. Conover's excellent little publication "The Telescoping Tableaus," in which the author has given the most complete and accurate account of it to date. Best evidence is that the wagon was built by Sebastian in 1878 for Adam Forepaugh. The designers evidently tried to copy an earlier telescoping tableau wagon imported from England by Howes Great London Show, commonly called the Globe Wagon. All accounts seem to tell us the Five Graces, like the Globe Wagon, was originally a telescoper, but to date no photos have turned up to prove that fact. Our earliest photos show it in essentially the same form as it is today. The wagon served on the Adam Forepaugh show until James A. Bailey purchased the show in 1890. Exactly when the wagon was moved over to the Barnum & Bailey show I don't know but it was on that show during the 1898-1902 European tour and was used as the 40 horse lead bandwagon.
When the show returned to the States for the 1903 season the new Two Hemispheres wagon took over as the lead bandwagon with the 40 horse team but it is assumed the Five Graces was present in this giant parade which was given for the 1903 and 1904 seasons. Barnum & Bailey did not parade in 1905 for sure and probably not in 1906 or 1907 either. Whether the wagon was still carried on the road or remained in Bridgeport quarters during these years I don't know. After Ringling purchased the show they restored the parade for the 1908 and succeeding seasons and it is assumed the Five Graces was again used in the Barnum & Bailey parades. Sometime in the period 1908-12 the wagon was moved over to the Ringling Bros. show. For sure it was there for the 1912 through 1918 seasons. In 1919 and 1920 it was in the final street parades of the RBBB Combined Shows and then was stored at Bridgeport from 1921 to 1927.
The Five Graces and the United States were the only two bandwagons retained by Ringling-Barnum, the others being sold to Christy Bros., Robbins Bros., the Floyd and Howard King shows, and carnivals in the 1920's. These two were moved to the new Sarasota quarters in 1927. Eventually the old United States wagon was left to rot and ruin but fortunately that fate did not befall the Five Graces.
In 1934 the wagon was sent to Peru and that season served as the No. 1 bandwagon in the Hagenbeck-Wallace street parade. As regular parades were eliminated in 1935 the wagon remained in Peru quarters and in 1936 the show did not go out at all. In 1937 the wagon went out on the Hagenbeck-Wallace show that was leased by Arlington and Hatch and later by Howard Y. Bary where it remained for the short time that daily street parades were given. Then it was returned to Peru quarters where it remained until shipped to Sarasota about 1943.
In 1945 it was fitted with modern gears and dual pneumatic tires and went on the road with Ringling-Barnum where it appeared in the spec. In March that year it rolled again through the streets of New York City in the big war bond parade. From 1946 to 1948 it was stored in Sarasota quarters until it was moved to the newly established Museum of the American Circus on the grounds of the John Ringling estate. In 1956 it was moved back to quarters to appear in a TV program and remained there for a couple of years but finally in 1959 it was sent back to the museum on extended loan. Off came the pneumatic tires and back on went the traditional sunburst wheels. It has been completely restored, painted red with the carvings done in gold leaf, and looks just like a million.
Photo: Lion and Snake or Lion's Bride Bandwagon, Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, season of 1917. Photo by W. Hope Tilley.
The wagon called the Lion and Snake, or Lion's Bride, was built by Bode in the winter of 1904-05 for the Carl Hagenbeck Trained Animal Show and served on that circus for the 1905 and 1906 seasons. B. E. Wallace purchased the Hagenbeck show following the 1906 season and in 1907 the wagon was on the new combined Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. It remained on that show through the 1925 season. In the early years of the combine the show had two huge chariot type bandwagons, one of Carl Hagenbeck and one of Great Wallace origin. One of these was used as the No. 1 lead bandwagon for several years but from about 1915 on through the final parade season of 1925 the Lion and Snake was the No. 1 bandwagon.
From 1926-33 the wagon was stored at Peru quarters but in 1934 it was renovated and used in the Hagenbeck-Wallace parade that year. Again it was stored at Peru for 1935 and 1936 but is believed to have been out for a short time in early season 1937 on Hagenbeck-Wallace while the show paraded. Later it was sent back to quarters where it remained until moved to Sarasota about 1943. In 1945 it was equipped with steel gears and pneumatic tires and was carried on the road by Ringling-Barnum where it also was used in the spec and in the war bond parade in New York. Like the Five Graces it made the move to the new circus museum, back to quarters, and then back in 1959 to the museum where it was reequipped with steel tired sunbursts and completely restored. Presently it is brilliantly painted red with gold leaf carvings.
Photo: This photo by E. J. Kelty was taken of the Gladiator and Lion tab while on Hagenbeck-Wallace in 1934. Pfening Collection.
What wagon historians call the Gladiator and Lion wagon was built for Mugivan and Bowers by Sullivan and Eagle of Peru about 1916 and was placed on their John Robinson Circus. My earliest dated photo is 1917 on that show. It is possible the wagon could have been constructed a year or so earlier than 1916 but most wagon historians doubt it. The wagon was on the John Robinson Circus through the 1922 season. For 1923 the wagon was taken off the Robinson show. It was placed on the Sells-Floto Circus for the 1924 and 1925 seasons and some speculate it might have been on that show in 1923. Bill Woodcock suspects the wagon remained in Peru quarters that season. He says that when he left Peru in the Spring of 1923 with the John Robinson show that he noted the Gladiator & Lion wagon in the wagon sheds still unpainted. At the time, the Sells-Floto canvas outfit that did not go with that show to the Chicago Coliseum, indoor opening stand, was at Peru about ready to roll. He figures that if the wagon was to go with the show that it would have been repainted and standing ready with the other Sells-Floto equipment. Upon elimination of street parades by Sells-Floto for the 1926 and succeeding seasons the wagon was stored at Peru until it was fixed up again to go in the 1934 Hagenbeck-Wallace parade. From 1935 until 1944 it was stored at Peru and then moved to Sarasota where like the Five Graces and Lion and Snake wagons it was equipped with steel gears, dual pneumatics, and went out with Ringling-Barnum in 1945 for spec and the war bond parade in New York. It then followed the route of the other two and in 1959 was fitted again with sunburst wheels, completely restored, and is presently painted red with gold leaf carvings. Researcher note: the Gladiator and Lion wagon was not built in 1916. It was on HGL 1914 or earlier.
Photo: Carl Hagenback Lion Tableau with Continental Band up, Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, season of 1917. Photo by W. Hope Tilley.
The rather short Carl Hagenbeck Lion tableau was built for that show in the winter of 1904-05 by Bode and served during the 1905 and 1906 seasons. Note the central carving on the side has the lettering "Carl Hagenbeck Co. Trained Animal Show." In 1907 it was on Hagenbeck-Wallace and remained there through the final parade season of 1925. It was then stored at Peru until it reappeared in 1934 in the big Hagenbeck-Wallace street parade. Following that season it was stored at Peru until moved to Sarasota in 1944. Hagenbeck-Wallace gave a few parades in 1935 and then in 1957 for a short time in early season a street parade was featured. I have been unable to spot in photos either the Lion and Snake, Gladiator and Lion, or Carl Hagenbeck Lion wagons on the show those two seasons but will readily grant the possibility one or more could have been there. Likewise in the period following 1925 some tableau wagons continued on the various American Circus Corp. units, being used for baggage purposes, and although I personally do not have photographic evidence of any of these being on the road during that period, again will concede the possibility of them being there.
In 1948 the Carl Hagenbeck Lion wagon went over to the new circus museum and like the others back to quarters for the TV show and then back on loan to the Ringling Circus Museum in 1959. It still has the gears and wheels on it that it had in 1934 while on Hagenbeck-Wallace. As yet it has not been renovated and repainted but even so, knowing that it has the same appearance and color scheme as it did in 1934, although somewhat shop worn of course creates in its viewer a compelling sense of nostalgia. It will be fully restored in time.
The Two Jesters steam calliope at the museum has been restored and painted white with gold leaf carvings. This wagon was covered in this column in the Nov.-Dec., 1958, Bandwagon. The Sells-Floto Elephant Bandwagon also at the museum has not yet been restored but will be in the near future. It was covered in this column in the Nov., 1957, Bandwagon. The famous old Ringling bell wagon at the museum will be featured in a later column. The complete up to date list of the wagon collection at the museum is as follows:
Wagon Collection of Ringling Circus Museum (May, 1963) Parade Wagons
Forepaugh "Five Graces" Bandwagon
Ringling Bros. Bell wagon
Sells-Floto "Jesters" Steam calliope wagon
Hagenbeck -Wallace "Lion's Bride" (Lion and Snake) Bandwagon
American Circus Corporation's "Lion and Gladiator" Bandwagon
Carl Hagenbeck "Lion" Tableau Wagon
Sells-Floto "Elephant" Bandwagon
RBBB Animal Cage, No. 70
Ringling Bros. Animal Cage, RBBB No. 71
Ringling Bros. Animal Cage, RBBB No. 73
Ringling Bros. "White" Ticket Wagon, RBBB No. 122
Col. Tim McCoy Wild West Show Ticket Wagon (formerly RBBB No.'s 103 and 14)
RBBB No. 5 (old, wood) Cookhouse, performers' tables and dishes
RBBB No. 5 (steel) Cookhouse, performers' tables and dishes
RBBB No. 6 (old, steel-aluminum, solid rubber tires) Cookhouse
RBBB No. 6 (late), Cookhouse, dishwasher - now on loan to Education Dept.
RBBB No. 9, Blacksmith
RBBB No. 14 Commissary (old body rebuilt)
Barnes No. 24 Commissary
RBBB No. 27 Mechanical Grandstand
RBB No. 30 Ringstock
Barnes No. 48, Clown props
RBBB No. 55, Performer's trunk wagon
RBBB No. 59, Performer's trunk wagon
RBBB No. 61, Props
RBBB No. 64, Wardrobe - Tailor's Shop
Barnes No. 76, Ringstock - Harness -maker
RBBB No. 81, Wild Animal Cage, backyard
RBBB No. 93, Wild Animal Cage
Barnes No. 99, Props
RBBB No. 105, Electric Dept.
Barnes No. 110, Electric Generator
RBBB No. 114, Electric Dept.
RBBB No. 115, Sideshow Bannerline
RBBB No. 116, Sideshow Bannerline
RBBB No. 119, Sideshow Bannerline
RBBB No. 120, Sideshow Bannerline
RBBB No. 125, Wardrobe
RBBB No. 138, Flat-bed, jacks
RBBB "Gilly" wagon
Al G. Barnes and RBBB Mack Truck Chassis and Body, RBB No. 138
For the 1918 season the Cook Bros. Overland Circus, out of Trenton, N.J., reported they had 40 baggage horses, 30 shetland ponies, 20 ring horses and were using an 80 ft. round end top with two 30 ft. middles for a big top, and a 50 ft. round end with two 30 ft. middles for the side show. Other tents included a horse top, dressing tent, dining room and a kitchen. The show's advance crews worked ahead of the show driving two autos. - From Don Marck's Note Book
The Adam Forepaugh & Sells Bros. Circus arrived in Pittsfield, Mass., from North Adams. Actually the show came in on Sunday morning, but they didn't open until Monday, May 29, 1899. After setting up the circus on the fair grounds they washed the wagons and animals so that all were bright and shiny for the parade the next morning. Both an afternoon and an evening show were presented before they left that night.
No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or means
Last modified February 2006.
without written permission of the author and the Circus Historical Society, Inc.
Last modified February 2006.