Project Description

Indian Head Medallion Steam Calliope

(1926 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 6 – photo # 72D – Christy Bros. Circus, June 28, 1926 in Newport, RI)

(1) This first photo shows another steam calliope which is almost identical to the Gentry wagons. The only difference is that the central carving is an Indian head instead of a clown’s head. This particular wagon was built by Sullivan & Eagle for the Louella Forepaugh Fish Wild West Show which went out in 1903. It is assumed the Indian head carving was carrying out the wild west theme. This show lasted only a very short period and the calliope was purchased by Gollmar Bros. Greatest of American Shows which was just getting changed over from a mud show to a railroad circus. The wagon was on the Gollmar show from about 1904 through the 1916 season.During the winter of 1916-17 the Gollmar show was sold to James Patterson, a carnival operator of Paola, Kan. A one year’s lease of the title was also in the deal.In 1917 Patterson used the calliope with the rest of the Gollmar equipment on a railroad circus titled James Patterson Gollmar Bros. Combined Circus. The show was on the road for only one season. From 1918 through 1921 Patterson used the steam calliope for bally purposes on one of his carnivals. In 1919 it was on the Patterson & Kline Shows. In 1922 Patterson returned to the circus field and put out the James Patterson Big 4 Ring Wild Animal Circus and used the steam calliope on that show.

As indicated earlier, during the winter of 1922-23 Patterson purchased the Gentry Bros. Famous Shows, getting one of the Gentry twin steamers in the deal. As he now had two steam calliopes he sold the Gollmar steamer to G. W. Christy who was beginning to go places in the circus field.

(1935 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 7 – photo # 58B – Bob Good collection)

From 1923 through 1930 the calliope was on Christy Bros. Circus. That show folded in mid-season 1930 and the property was sent back to South Houston quarters where it remained until sold in the fall of 1934 to Jess Adkins and Zack Terrell, who were planning big things with a new railroad circus to open the following year and to be called Cole Bros.-Clyde Beatty Circus.

(1938 – Conover Set # 522 – photo # 444 – Robert Danner photo)

From 1935 through 1937 seasons the calliope was on Cole Bros. In 1938 it was placed on Adkins & Terrell’s No. 2 circus, a fine 15 car railroad show titled Robbins Bros. As the venerable old calliope had trouped almost 40 years it was decided to retire her during the winter of 1938-39. A new wagon was built to house the instrument. Some of the carvings were placed on the new wagon, the rest left on the old wagon body. The old wagon was parked on the quarters lot at Rochester, Ind. and survived the fire which destroyed the Cole quarters and much of the equipment in February 1940. It remained in the boneyard with other old Cole and Robbins wagons left at a nearby farm when the Cole show left to take up new quarters in Louisville, Ky.

(1940 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 63 – photo # 48B – at Rochester WQ)

About 1946 Alex Clarke of Princeton University got the remainder of the old calliope wagon. He wrote me that only about a fifth of the wagon remained, some wheels, gears, and partial sides, with little or no carvings.

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

By Joseph Bradbury