Project Description

Walter L. Main Calliope

This wagon was built for a steam calliope in 1906 for the Cole Bros. Circus that was owned and operated by Martin Downs. I am unable to state just what firm built the wagon. For a guess, and it is only a guess, I would say it was built by the Bode Wagon Works of Cincinnati. Some of the carvings and the archway columns have sort of a “Bode” look about them. It is hoped that someone can give us the correct builder’s name.

(1909-1910 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 23 – photo # 24B – Martin Downs owned Cole Bros. winter quarters, Steam calliope)

The wagon was used as the steam calliope on Cole Bros. for the 1906, ’07, ’08, and ’09 seasons. In the winter of 1909-10 the circus was sold piecemeal. I have seen an excellent photo showing this wagon and others that was sent as a postcard to prospective buyers of the Cole Bros. equipment.

The calliope was sold to J. Augustus Jones and was used on his Jones Bros. Buffalo Ranch Wild West Show for the 1910 season. This was a 14 car show that traveled on one advance, 3 stocks, 6 flats, and 4 sleepers.

In the winter of 1910-11 the wagon was sold to Andrew Downie and Al F. Wheeler and they put it on their new circus that was to tour under title of Downie and Wheeler’s World’s Best Shows Combined for the 1911, 1912, and 1913 seasons, In the winter of 1913-14 the two partners split up and divided the circus property and each partner had a separate show on the road in 1914. The calliope went to Andrew Downie and he put it on his 15 car show that was called LaTena’s Big 3 Ring Wild Animal Circus and toured the 1914, 1915, 1916, and 1917 seasons. For the 1918 season Downie secured the use of the Walter L. Main title, and his show used that title for the six seasons, 1918, ’19, ’20, ’21, ’22, ’23, and ’24.

(1914 to 1917 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 2 – photo # 38C – Latena Wild Animal Shows – Melvin collection)

In the fall of 1924 Downie sold his entire circus property to Joe, George, and Zack Miller of Marland, Oklahoma. These were the famous Miller Bros. that owned the 101 Ranch in Oklahoma and had previously had some years experience in outdoor show business. They had formed a wild west show to play the Jamestown Exposition in 1907, and the venture had proved so successful that they had taken into their partnership, Edward Arlington, to help them put the show on rails in 1908. The Millers and Arlington operated the 101 Ranch Wild West Show from 1908 through the 1916 seasons and after that the Millers retired to their ranch and Arlington continued for the 1917 season with the wild west show property now called the Jess Willard-Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. In the period from 1016-24 the Millers had acquired a fortune in cattle, oil, and real estate, and had become most anxious to get back into show business. They had planned to make their reappearance in 1924 but then postponed it until 1925. The Walter L. Main property became the nucleus of the Miller Bros. 101 Ranch Real Wild West Show that was put on the road for the 1925 season.

(1925 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 2 – photo # 26E – 101 Ranch Wild West Calliope – P.M. McClintock collection)

This steam calliope remained on the show for the 1925-26, and ‘27 seasons, and then sometime during the period of 1928 to 1931 it was converted to an air calliope. The old steam calliope instrument was removed and it was replaced by an air calliope. I have a photo taken in 1927 that definitely shows the wagon still as a steam calliope, and also have one taken in 1928 but it is not too clear and I am unable to make out if it is steam or air. I do have a shot taken in 1930 that clearly establishes the wagon as an air calliope, so I’d say the change took place about 1928 or 1929. If someone can give us the correct date of the conversion of steam to air please advise.

The 1931 season was the last for the 101 Ranch Wild West Show and after being stranded in Washington, D.C., for several weeks during the summer of that year, the train was finally loaded and sent to the Miller ranch near Marland, Oklahoma. The calliope, along with the rest of the show property remained there for several years.

 (1950 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 15 – photo # 16B – old 101 Ranch calliope at Bill Hames WQ in Aug. 1950)

Some years later at another date which I cannot positively state, but around the year 1938, this calliope along with some flat cars and other wagons were sold to Bill Hames owner of a carnival bearing his name, and were shipped to his winter quarters in Fort Worth, Texas. I have heard the unconfirmed story that the wagons came along in a package deal with the flats, that Hames wanted only to get the flats but was forced to take also several of the wagons. Bill Hames kept this wagon until 1962 when he gave it to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Once at the Circus World Museum, the wagon was restored and has been used in numerous circus parades since then.

(July 14, 1937 in Benton Harbor, MI. – Gordon Potter photo)

Length 15’, Height 11’, Weight 3 tons, Width 8’3”

The wagon can be seen in person at Circus World in Baraboo, Wisconsin

(1) Bandwagon, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Jul), 1957, pp. 5-6

By Joseph Bradbury