The Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company under the direction of their President, Robert Uihlein, had been huge supporters of the Old Milwaukee Days Circus parade in Milwaukee in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The bought the train cars that were used as well as many of the wagons that had been found and restored. All of these had been donated to the Circus World Museum. Taking it one step further, he commissioned Dick Sparrow of Zearing, Iowa to re-create the famed 40 horse hitch again. This would be a sight that had not been seen in the United States since 1904 on the Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth. The Columbia Bandwagon was the largest wagon in the Circus World Museum collection at the time and became the wagon that was pulled by the 40 horse hitch. A joint decision was made to honor the tremendous support of the Schlitz Brewing Co. by building a grand circus type bandwagon to honor them.
(1972 – Bill Thalmeyer works on the carvings – Schlitz Promo Photo)
In the winter of 1972 / 1973, the Schlitz Bandwagon started to become a reality in the wagon shops of the Circus World Museum. Marv Gauger oversaw the construction of the wagon while Wilbur Deppe and his crew did the actual work. Russ Zimmerman designed the beautiful carvings. Bill Thalmeyer then undertook the huge project of actually carving the designs for the wagon. The wagon was constructed out of a completely steel structure. The wheels were built brand new by the Amish. A wooden skin was added with the carvings attached to the wood. The Project was nearing completion when they discovered the wagon was six inches too wide. The literally had to cut the wagon apart, remove six inches from the middle and then join the two halves back together again. The seam is still visible in the floor. The grand and majestic wagon finally made it’s inaugural parade in the 1973 Old Milwaukee Days Circus Parade.
(1973 – Robert Uilhein is standing beside Dick Sparrow and the Schlitz Bandwagon – Parade Promo Photo)
(1987 – Bernard Fleck photo)
Sadly, this was the last circus parade in Milwaukee for a few years. Dick Sparrow and his 40 horse hitch continued to parade with this wagon in special events such as the Washington DC Cherry Festival for a couple more years. Robert Uilhein died on November 12, 1976. The fruitful sponsorship of the Circus World Museum and the parades had lost a major player in the growth and development of the Museum. With Parades in Chicago in 1980 and 1981, the parade returned to Milwaukee in 1985 with Ben Barkin finding new sponsors to keep the parade alive.
The construction of the wagon eventually started causing problems. With the rigidity of the steel framework, the wooden shell was constantly expanding and contracting as wood does. The wood started to decay. By the time they got to Milwaukee for the parade in 1993, pieces of the carvings were beginning to fall off. This would be the last time this wagon was ever used during the 1993 Milwaukee Parade.
The wagon is 21’8″ long x 7’6″ wide x 11.2″ tall.
(2007 – Bob Cline photo)
(2013 – Dave Lorbeske photo)