Project Description

Gentry Bros. Twin Steam Calliope # 1

(1) Sullivan & Eagle actually built two identical calliope wagons as well as bandwagons and ticket wagons for the Gentry Bros. Famous Shows, which operated from one to four units annually in the very early 1900’s. Some speculate there was a third set of identical wagons but no proof has come forth that such was the case. The calliope pictured was built in 1902 for Gentry Bros. and was on that show’s units from 1902 through the 1922 season. The Gentry units finally narrowed down to one and that show was last operated by the Gentry Brothers in 1916 and following the season was sold to Newman and Austin who continued operating the show from 1917 through the 1922 seasons.

In the winter of 1922-23 the calliope along with the other equipment was sold to James Patterson of Paola, Kansas. In 1923 the calliope was placed on Patterson’s circus called Gentry Bros. and James Patterson Combined Circus, a fine, clean, little 15 car show that was on the road through the 1925 season. In the winter of 1925-26 Patterson sold the show to Floyd and Howard King.

(1926 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 6 – photo # 44D – Gentry Bros. Circus – E. Deacon Albright, player, standing in wagon. Note rebuild of wagon drop frame. Photo by Walker Morris)

For the 1926 and 1927 seasons the Kings placed the calliope on their 10 car circus titled Gentry Bros. In 1928 the show was called Walter L. Main, and in 1929 and 1930 the show was called the Cole Bros. World Toured Shows. Cole Bros. went broke Aug. 30, 1930 at Scottsville, Ky., and shortly thereafter the calliope with the other property was sold to H. C. Ingraham and Bert Rutherford who shipped it to Peoria, Ill., for their proposed circus. Their show never got started and the wagon was later taken over by the Venice Transportation Co. which held a mortgage on the Cole property.

In 1938 G. W. Christy purchased the Cole property and had it shipped to his place in South Houston, Texas. It was rumored that Christy was returning to the road with a railroad circus, however that did not take place. Christy advertised the show for sale as a unit but finding no buyers he finally sold most of it off piecemeal commencing about 1945. The calliope was sold to Dr. C. S. Karland Frischkorn of Norfolk, Va. who was a circus fan and also operated magic shows. He renovated the wagon and replaced the sunburst wheels with pneumatic tires.

(1955 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 26 – photo #4C – King Bros. Circus Steam Calliope)

In the early Spring of 1952 this writer was visiting the King Bros. Cristiani Combined Circus winterquarters in Central City Park, Macon, Ga., looking over equipment being assembled for the street parade which the show was reviving for that season. Floyd King told me he had just gotten an oldtime steam calliope and was very proud of that fact. When he showed me a photo of it, I recognized it instantly, and Floyd remarked that he had owned it years ago. And true it was indeed, the steam calliope he had owned 22 years ago had come back to him again. It was delivered a week or so before opening date. It was fitted up for the road with a tractor attached to pull it over the road and it brought up the rear of the King-Cristiani street parades of 1952 and 1953, and the King Bros. parades of 1954 and 1955. After financial disaster struck the huge 1955 King show the equipment was split into two smaller units for 1956, both titled King Bros., but one known as the Eastern Unit, managed by Floyd King, the other known as the Western Unit and managed by Arnold Maley. The steam calliope went with the Eastern Unit. I heard it play in the abbreviated 1956 parade of the Eastern Unit on opening day in Macon in 1956. A few days later much of the parade equipment was attached, abandoned and the parade was finished. The show limped along for several months before closing. The show’s receiver sold the steam calliope in the fall of 1956 to the Blue Grass Shows, a carnival, which had intended to use it for lot ballyhoo.

Having tried to find a Merry-Go-Round for the Drive in theater for almost nine years, C.E. Bradshaw of Martin, S.D. found an ad in Billboard by “Specks” Grosskurth offering the calliope for sale. Driving to Owensboro, KY. to see it, Bradshaw and his associate, Roy Metzger of Winner, S.D. liked what they saw, bought it and drove it out to O’Neill, Nebraska where it remained for nearly 30 years. Difficulties in getting parts and repairs made that scheme impossible, but finally an old retired employee of a steam calliope manufacturer got it in working shape. Originally built as a 20 whistle unit, the wagon was later modified to enlarge the calliope to a 32 whistle unit. The coal fired boiler was also modified as a propane fired boiler.

(2009 – Peru Circus Parade – Bob Cline Photo)

The former Gentry Bros. Circus Steam Calliope is now back at home in Peru, Indiana where it started its journey nearly 120 years ago. The owners, Peter Redmon and James Clary were told of the wagon existing in a shed in Nebraska. They went out there and bought it in July of 1987. In 1987, the wagon/truck was on loan to the newly created International Circus Hall of Fame. The owners, Peter Redmon and James Clary donated this unit to the Circus City Festival on December 23, 1994 where it remains today.

(1) Excerpts from the Circus Wagon History File, Bandwagon, Vol. 4, No. 6 (Nov-Dec), 1960, pp. 3-5

By Joseph Bradbury