Project Description

Al G. Barnes Air Calliope

(1) The wagon was built in the early 20’s, sometime after the 1920 season. Bill Woodcock was on the Barnes show in 1920 and reports that the show had two air calliopes that season, both on the show at the same time, but that this one had not yet appeared. It is believed that the air calliope shown in the illustration was built at Barnes quarters in Venice, California in the winter of 1920-21. This particular wagon is the last air calliope to appear on that show. Barnes had at least three other air calliopes earlier, including one mounted on a truck.

(1923 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 10 – photo # 30D – Al G. Barnes Parade in CA. – Dr. Chester Hoyt collection)

During the winter of 1920-1921, several new parade wagons were constructed using carvings obtained from the Bode Wagon Works of Cincinnati. If this assumption is correct then 1921 would be the first season on the show for the new air calliope. In parade it was drawn by a pony hitch. It continued on the show even after parades were cut out in mid season 1924, and we have reason to believe it remained on the show through the 1928 season, which was the last one the show was under the ownership of the late Al G. Barnes.

(1920s – Joseph Bradbury Album # 10 – photo # 29D – Al G. Barnes Air Calliope – Wm. Woodcock Sr. collection)

The circus was sold to Bert Bowers, representing the American Circus Corporation (Jerry Mugivan, Bert Bowers, and Edward Ballard) on January 5, 1929 for $150,000. Most historians think the air calliope was carried on the road in 1929, the only season the show was operated by the Corporation. In September 1929 all of the five circuses owned by the American Circus Corporation were sold to John Ringling. Some observers place the air calliope on the Barnes show in both 1930 and 1931, although photographic proof seems to be lacking. Agreement seems to be unanimous that by 1932 the wagon was retired and was probably dismantled at the old Baldwin Park, California quarters.

(!) Excerpts from the Circus Wagon History File, Bandwagon, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Mar-Apr), 1960, pp. 20-21.

By Joseph Bradbury