Project Description

Ben Wallace’s Dragon Steam Calliope

(1) The beautiful chariot type steam calliope featuring the large dragon carving as shown in the illustration is the favorite of many circus wagon fans. Many have told me that it was their favorite steam calliope, and truly it was a beautiful wagon.

(1900 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 9 – photo # 68B – Melvin collection)

It was built for the Great Wallace Shows by the Sullivan and Eagle Wagon Firm of Peru, Indiana. (2) An 1898 Wallace Route Book is not known to exist, however copies of the 1897, 1899 and 1900 seasons are available. They note the new clown ticket wagon and big lion den of 1897 and the new hippo den of 1900, but no mention is made anywhere of the new calliope. Considering this lack of information, 1898 may have marked the calliope’s debut. Notes made by Chalmer Condon indicate the Wallace calliope carvings were executed by Messrs. Graf, Schram and Deutestadt of the Sullivan and Eagle firm.

(1905 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 45 – photo # 2A – HW Parade in Peru, IN. – Lentz Bros. Studios photo)

The 1906 season of the Great Wallace Shows offers no evidence that the steam calliope existed on the show. The calliope unit was probably a twenty whistle unit. The only clue to its demise may be an advertisement placed by Robert L. Waldron, a minor showman from Carruthersville, Missouri, in the January 6, 1906 Billboard offering “9 dragon calliope pipes for $5.00.” The term “pipes” has been a misnomer for whistles since the early days of the instrument. No known Wallace wreck accounts include the loss of a calliope, so why whistles from a dragon calliope were in the possession of Waldron remains unexplained.

By the end of 1906, Ben Wallace had purchased the Carl Hagenbeck Trained Animal Circus. With that purchase came a brand new and much larger steam calliope that had been built in 1905 by the Bode Wagon Co. This newer Calliope was used from then on. No further evidence has been found to confirm the existence of the dragon calliope after 1905 or to know just exactly what happened to it.

(1) Excerpts from the Circus Wagon History File, Bandwagon, Vol. 2, No. 3 (May-Jun), 1958, p. 3.

(2) Excerpts from the Great Wallace and Campbell Bros. Dragon Calliopes, Bandwagon, Vol. 28, No. 4 ( July-Aug. ) 1984, pp. 21-24