Project Description

Al G. Barnes Electric Bandwagon

The winter quarters at Venice, California under superintendent Charles Cook, must have been quite a busy place the winter of 1915-16. That winter he is given credit for designing the two steel arenas. They were elevated some four feet, arranged in sections to pack in one wagon which when set up helped to support the arenas. He also built five auto trucks into dens, the air calliope, and the principle bandwagon pictured above about which the review said “The unique feature of the parade was the use of 5 auto trucks, some of which were dens. (1)

The principle Bandwagon is a vast, indeed magnificently carved creation, mounted on an Alco chassis, so designed as to hide all mechanical parts, even the driver being invisible except when viewed directly from the front. This is the Electric Bandwagon about which in some thirty-five years of the circus going, and viewing of collectors’ photos programs, etc., I have found so little information. I have written this article hoping that we may someday have the whole history. From Ed Woeckener, bandmaster for some ten years on the Barnes show and whose bandsmen rode this wagon all the years from 1916 to 1922, I was able to get only the information that it was more comfortable on the band than a springless horse-drawn wagon and that it was quite a novelty and mystery to the children, especially as the means of motivation could not be seen.

(1916 – JTB # 60, photo # 23A – Electric Bandwagon – Eddie Woechener, Band Director, standing in front – C. Beerntsen photo)

In making inquiry from people on the west coast particularly, I have just this much information. The Alco chassis was evidently one of those battery driven, snub nosed trucks popular in the early days of the auto. In building the wagon Mr. Cook left nothing uncovered except the four truck wheels which were solid rubber tired. The driver being inside looked out through a screen, and here was the one big drawback to this wagon which Mr. Cook evidently overlooked. The driver couldn’t see out the sides, therefore in close turns, someone had to go ahead of the wagon and guide him around these turns. Being battery driven gave the wagon its name, “The Electric Bandwagon.”

It was a huge wagon, as near as I can tell, about 12 feet high and about 22 feet long, and it is too bad the colored film had not been invented as from the photograph the wagon appears to, have been very colorfully painted.

Being one of the first mechanical wagons to be specifically built as a feature attraction, I feel it has its place in circus history.

(1) Excerpts from the Bandwagon, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Mar-Apr), 1958, p. 6
By Frank J. Pouska