Project Description

China Tableau

The China Tableau was one of many box type bodies that were ordered by Frank Spellman in 1917 from the Bode Wagon Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio for his newly formed U.S. Motorized Circus. In the December 12, 1942 issue of Billboard as found on page 45, George Bellis stated he was the artist and designer of all of these truck mounted tableaus. Spellman had signed a contract in 1917 with the Kelly-Springfield Motor Truck Co. of Springfield, Ohio for truck chassis. (1) According to the New York Clipper, “one hundred motor trucks have been purchased from the Kelly-Springfield people at an announced cost of $ 4,000.00 each. Sixty wooden wagons, at $2,000.00 each,  were also purchased to go with the trucks. These were bought from the Bode Wagon Co.” The body was beautifully carved with an Oriental motif. Frank Spellman finally took the show out in 1919 but it only lasted three days.

(2) This truck along with all the others were re-possessed by the Kelly-Springfield Co. They removed the carved sides. In November of 1922, these sides were sold to Bob Schiller who held them from 1922 to 1924. Circus owner, Fred Buchanan, then made a deal to purchase several of these bodies from Mr. Schiller. Fred Buchanan then converted them all to a wagon unit rather than the truck mounted units they originally were.

(1925 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 59 – photo # 43C – Buchanan WQ in Granger, Iowa – Ben Kubly collection)

These wagons were all used on the Fred Buchanan owned Robbins Bros. Circus from 1924 to 1930. In 1930, the season was getting tougher and five cars of the Robbins Bros. Circus were sent back to his Granger, Iowa winter quarters. This wagon was one of those that returned to quarters. When Fred Buchanan took his show out once again in 1931, this wagon remained behind in the winter quarters. The 1931 show was deeply indebted to circus financier, Wm. P. Hall. When the show closed, the show was taken to the Hall farm in Lancaster, MO. No longer in business and no longer needing any circus equipment, the wagons that were still at the Granger, Iowa winter quarters were left to the ravages of weather. The China Tableau perished there.

(1933 – Conover Set # 855, Photo # 106 – Don Smith collection)

(1) New York Clipper, May 23, 1917, page 13

(2) Bandwagon, January / February 1962, pp. 3-9