Project Description

Gollmar Bros. Air Calliope

(1) This wagon was built for Gollmar Bros. about 1913 by Moeller Bros. of Baraboo. It is quite similar to air calliopes also built by Moeller for Ringling Brothers and Sparks circuses. Evidently all were made from the same general pattern.

(1913-1915 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 19 – photo # 20C – Gollmar Bros. Circus Air Calliope – P.M. McClintock collection)

The air calliope served on the Gollmar Bros. Circus from about 1913 through the 1916 season, and in 1917 was on the James Patterson-Gollmar Bros. Combined Circus. During the years 1913-21 it was owned by Patterson and it is quite possible it could have been used on one of the Patterson carnivals. This is just a possibility. In those days carnivals frequently used bandwagons and calliopes, both steam and air for bally-hoo purposes. For example in 1919 Patterson put the Gollmar Bros. steam calliope on the Patterson and Kline Carnival.

(1915 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 19 – photo # 17B – Gollmar Bros. Circus Air Calliope)

In 1922 when Patterson returned to the circus field this air calliope went on his Patterson’s Big 4 Ring Wild Animal Circus, and in 1923-24-25 was on the Gentry Bros.-James Patterson Circus. After the Gentry-Patterson show was sold to Floyd and Howard King in the winter of 1925-26 they used it on their 15 car show for the 1926 through 1929 seasons. In 1926 and 1927 the King’s 15 car show was called Walter L. Main Circus, and in 1928 and 1929 it was titled Gentry Bros. Circus. Gentry Bros. went broke in Paris, Tenn., October 22, 1929. The property was moved to Nashville and soon was taken over by the Donaldson Lithographing Co. of Cincinnati who held a mortgage on it. The show with exception of a few cars which were the property of the Warren Tank Car Co. was sent to the old Hagenbeck-Wallace quarters in West Baden, Indiana.

(Undated photo shows the dark wagon body – Joseph Bradbury Album # 6 – photo # 36B – Christy Bros. Circus)

Complete disposition of the Gentry Bros. equipment from West Baden has long been a mystery to me. Andrew Donaldson donated the steam calliope to the Ford-Edison Museum in Dearborn, Michigan where it remains to this day, and the Billboard reported that some equipment was sold to the Smith Carnival in 1930, and other equipment was sold to Andrew Downie, owner of the motorized Downie Bros. Circus. One Billboard notice did say the Downie Bros. got an air calliope, but this is believed to have been just the instrument as Downie Bros. at the time was using a very fancy decorated air calliope truck, and would have had no need for a railroad show wagon equipped with steel tired sunburst wheels etc. My guess is that the wagon was either destroyed or just finally rotted away at West Baden. If any fans can produce any data on the detailed disposition of the Gentry equipment, or should they have any photos taken of the Gentry property at West Baden please advise.

(1) Excerpts from the Circus Wagon History Files, Bandwagon, Vol. 3, No. 6 (Nov-Dec), 1959, pp. 13-14.

By Joseph Bradbury