Project Description

U.S. Motorized Africa Tableau

The Africa Tableau was one of many box type bodies that were ordered by Frank Spellman in 1917 from the Bode Wagon Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio for his newly formed U.S. Motorized Circus. In the December 12, 1942 issue of Billboard as found on page 45, George Bellis stated he was the artist and designer of all of these truck mounted tableaus. Spellman had signed a contract in 1917 with the Kelly-Springfield Motor Truck Co. of Springfield, Ohio for truck chassis. (1) According to the New York Clipper, “one hundred motor trucks have been purchased from the Kelly-Springfield people at an announced cost of $ 4,000.00 each. Sixty wooden wagons, at $2,000.00 each,  were also purchased to go with the trucks. These were bought from the Bode Wagon Co.” Frank Spellman finally took the show out in 1919 but it only lasted three days.

(2) This truck along with all the others were re-possessed by the Kelly-Springfield Co. They removed the carved sides. In November of 1922, these sides were sold to Bob Schiller who held them from 1922 to 1924. Circus owner, Fred Buchanan, then made a deal to purchase several of these bodies from Mr. Schiller. Fred Buchanan then had them converted to a wagon unit rather than the truck mounted units they originally were. The tableau never had any actual lettering on it that stated this was the Africa Tableau. Rather the tableau name was coined because of the carved hippopotamus head on each side.The earliest photo that we have is from the 1925 season. The wheels clearly show an overlaid sunburst decoration rather than the widely used sunburst wedge between each spoke.

(1925 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 59 – photo # 43A – Buchanan WQ in Granger, Iowa – Ben Kubly collection)

From 1924 through the final season of 1931, the wagon was on Fred Buchanan’s Robbins Bros. Circus. During the 1931 season, times were tough. Fred Buchanan sent five flatcars of equipment back to the Granger winter quarters to try to keep his show afloat. This wagon remained on the show. Once the show folded, being deeply indebted to Wm. P. Hall, this wagon along with the rest of the show was taken to the Wm. P. Hall farm in Lancaster, MO.

From 1932 through 1934, the wagon remained at the Hall farm. In 1935, Jess Adkins and Zach Terrell bought this wagon with other equipment from Wm. P. Hall for their all new Cole Bros. Circus. Even though they bought the wagon, it remained unused in the Rochester, IN. winter quarters until 1938.

(1938 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 28 – photo # 72B – Robbins Bros. Circus in Binghamton, NY on May 22, 1938)

It was then spruced up and used on their second unit, they called the Robbins Bros. Circus. The astute observer will notice that the rear wheels and frame were altered to use a smaller wheel when this wagon went out in 1938. The Robbins Bros. Circus only stayed out for the 1938 season. The wagon was numbered # 84. It was used to carry seats and was listed as being 16 feet long on the wagon lists. This wagon was then brought onto the Cole Bros. Circus for the 1939 season. The most notable change from 1938 to 1939 is the apparent painting of the wheels to a white base with colored striping.

A beautiful color photo was taken on the Cole show in 1939. The image is not marked as to who took it, when or where. This and several other color photos from the Cole Bros. Circus in 1939 exist in the Bradbury collection. It is provided to us here, courtesy of Richard J. Reynolds III.

(1939 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 26 – photo # 36B – Cole Bros. Circus)

During the 1939 season, the wagon was numbered # 89. It carried seat planks and was listed on a loading list as being 16 feet long.

While off the road in the Rochester winter quarters, a horrible fire broke out in the shop of the Cole Bros. Circus on February 20, 1940. This wagon was one of those that was destroyed in that fire.

(1) New York Clipper, May 23, 1917, page 13

(2) Bandwagon, January / February 1962, pp. 3-9