Project Description

Atlas and Neptune Calliope

The photo below shows the calliope that Al G. Barnes used in 1924 and later, and evidently it was built to replace the earlier wagon. Just when the new one was put into use is not definitely known, but we do know it must have been between the 1920 and 1924 seasons. Likewise we don’t know the origin of this wagon, nor who built it, but my guess is that it was built at the Barnes quarters using fancy carvings of Neptune, Atlas, and other mythological characters, furnished by some wagon builder or woodworking shop. It is a fact that in the early 20’s Bode Wagon Works furnished Barnes with some carvings for wagons that had been constructed by the show. In 1924 Dick Allen played the calliope and it was pulled in parade by an elephant hitch. The final regular street parade of the Al G. Barnes Circus was held July 14, 1924 at Denver, Colo. Even though no parades were given the balance of the 1924 and the 1925 season, the calliope was carried for lot concerts.

(1924 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 20 – photo # 87C – Al G. Barnes parade in Eau Claire, WI. June 18, 1924 – Dick Allen on Steam calliope)

Walker Morris, who furnished this photo, also has photos showing the calliope on the show in 1925 so we know definitely it was there that season. Circus Historical Society member, Hardy O’Neal says he saw the Barnes show in Shreveport, La. in both 1927 and 1928 and the calliope was there both years. I have seen no photographic proof of it being there in 1927 and 1928, and could find no reference to it being on the show in the Billboard files for those years, but I’ll take Hardy’s word that it was there. No reason it shouldn’t have been there in 1928 because the inventory of equipment when Mugivan, Bowers, and Ballard purchased the show from Barnes in 1928 definitely lists a steam calliope among the property.

We are reasonably sure it was not carried in 1929, the one year the American Circus Corporation operated the show, nor was it carried anytime from 1930 through 1938 seasons when Ringling interests owned the show.

It is not definitely known just what happened to the wagon. In 1939 MGM studio constructed a chariot type wagon that carried a steam calliope instrument for use in the movie, “Chad Hanna.” After the filming, this chariot type calliope was then stored at Jimmy Wood’s lot in Venice, Calif., where several other old Barnes bandwagons and tableaux were located. This chariot type calliope was reported to have still been in Venice a few years ago, now owned by the Chamber of Commerce. Many fans have been of the erroneous opinion that this chariot wagon was a Barnes original, but such was not the case. I think the instrument was from the Barnes steamer, which was probably dismantled sometime prior to 1939.

(1) Bandwagon, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Mar-Apr), 1959, pp. 7-8

By Joseph Bradbury