Friday, June 1, 2012

Circus Wagon History

Sarasota  1950

How many of these "elephant" wagons were there, and how many are in existence today?   Why does the wagon at the top have a large wheel in back and the wagon's below have small wheels under the undercarriage?

Are these the same wagon's from opposite side's?  If so, why two different color schemes?

Although not a baggage wagon, below is a pretty good idea of paint colors:

Baggage Wagon Color Schemes

By Gordon M. Potter. Bandwagon, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Jan-Feb), 1963, pp. 10-11.
In the last couple of years an article by Jean LeRoy and another by Don Smith appeared in the Circus Model Builders "Little Circus Wagon," in which both commented on the color of circus wagons, particularly cages and parade wagons. Probably about every flashy color has been used on these wagons by some circus in past years.
The various color schemes used on baggage wagons by different shows have interested me quite a bit, and I'm sure they have also interested many other circus fans. Am sorry I didn't write down the various colors used for the lettering, shading, striping, etc., on the different shows that I've seen, as it is difficult to recall all the details 20 or 30 years later. But will try to give some I remember and hope others interested can give additional information on the subject after this article appears.
The Tim McCoy Real Wild West Show had the bodies, running gears and wheels of their baggage wagons painted white. The lettering was blue, outlined in black. The Indian war bonnet, which was the trade mark or emblem of the show, was in blue.
For some years around 1920 and before the Sells-Floto Circus had the bodies of their baggage wagons painted white, with the lettering in red. The running gears and wheels were red with black striping and possibly some yellow striping as well. At this time their railroad cars were also white and their sub-title was "The Show Beautiful." It definitely was all of that.
In the early 1920's the John Robinson Circus painted the bodies of their baggage wagons a rich cream color (or it might be called a light yellow), lettered in red. The running gears and wheels were red, striped in black and perhaps yellow. At this time the flat cars and stock cars were also cream color, with red coaches I believe. This was a very effective color scheme and the show made a wonderful appearance either loaded or on the lot.
In the early years of the twentieth century the Great Wallace Circus used a color scheme similar to the John Robinson show just described, except that the baggage wagon bodies were a deeper, or richer yellow than the lighter cream colored wagons, as nearly as I've been able to find out at this late date.
The 1938 season gave us a greater variety in baggage wagon colors than we had seen for a good many years. We have already mentioned the white wagons of the Tim McCoy Show. Two other shows used orange for the wagon bodies, while the three remaining shows used red. R-B and Cole Bros. had white running gears and wheels, while Barnes used yellow.
In 1938 Hagenbeck-Wallace had orange bodies for the baggage wagons, lettered in medium blue with white shading. The running gears and wheels were white with red and blue striping. That same year Robbins Bros. Circus had orange bodies on the baggage wagons with white lettering, running gear and wheels, with yellow and black striping.
The Ringling-Barnum show always had the Commissary wagon painted a medium green, lettered in white with blue shading. Running gear and wheels were white with red and blue striping, the same as the other baggage wagons. Then during the last few years that R-B operated as a flat car type show, all of their cookhouse wagons used this same green for the body, as were the cages.
I've heard that some shows used a medium blue for the body with yellow lettering and running gear and wheels red with yellow and black striping, or else yellow with red and black striping. Possibly the Sparks Circus or Pawnee Bill Wild West did this. My information on these blue wagons is meager and somewhat hazy.
The most familiar color for baggage wagon bodies was red. White lettering was very common. R-B used green shading. Some shows used blue, or black and probably other colors. With this white was most often used for the running gear and wheels, striped in red and blue, or sometimes red and green. (R-B used medium blue for the inside of the wagon bodies, but I don't remember the color used on the inside for any of these other color schemes.) Besides R-B this color combination was used by Cole Bros., Christy Bros., and at various times by Sells-Floto, Hagenbeck-Wallace, John Robinson, Al G. Barnes and many other shows.
Another combination that was quite common had the body red. Lettering, running gears and wheels yellow, with black striping, and sometimes some red stripes. This combination was used in different years by S-F, H-W, J. R., and Barnes, and no doubt other shows.
I've often thought that a display of a dozen or so model circus baggage wagons painted so, that all of the above color combinations were used, and each one carrying a different one of the well known titles of the past, would make a very effective display, particularly in 1" scale. This would be a good idea for anyone who didn't have the room for an entire circus layout, or who didn't care to expend the time and work involved in making a complete circus. But no matter where his wagon display was exhibited it would be bound to create much interest among any circus fans, model builders, or just plain "towners" who saw it, I'm sure.
Whichever of the above combinations was used, the flat car type circuses were always colorful, eye-catching and a beautiful sight to behold when they came to town. They are all gone now, another victim of "progress," but they definitely are not forgotten by those fortunate enough to have seen them.
Editor's Note: Other shows using unusual baggage wagon colors included Howes Great London, 1914, yellow bodies; Forepaugh-Sells, 1911, yellow bodies with green lettering and Cole Brothers, 1949-50, orange bodies with blue lettering.
The Sells-Floto circus, while quartered in Denver, used white wagons, and during the 1915 season placed a large red dot-on either side, and did not title each wagon. The 1900 John Robinson show used some white and some red baggage wagons. The red bodies had the title in white or yellow script lettering, the white wagons had red lettering.
Other shows also used white wagons at an earlier date. The Sells Bros. Enormous United Shows used white wagons during its last seasons before combining with Adam Forepaugh. Both the Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill Wild West shows used white wagons during some seasons.
There is some question as to whether there was any red on the Tim McCoy wagons. The editor's records indicate that all lettering on the white wagons was blue outlined in black. Mr. Potter's records indicate the lettering was red and that the Indian war bonnet on each wagon also had a little red in it along with the blue and black. Perhaps some of the Bandwagon readers can verify the presence of red on the McCoy wagons.



Bob Cline said...

Of your first question, I also wonder as I haven't studied these long and hard like some other historians have but I've seen three different wagons. Whether one was reduced and modified to make a different look, I'm not sure. I'll send you a photo of that one. It's a little bit different than these.

Steve Flint can tell you all about the paint schemes on this elephant tab which was on the Al G. barnes Circus. The elephants were taken from the tab and adorned the front of Jungleland for years.

The Circus World Museum being given the old elephants from Jungeland then constructed a new model of the wagon which you have photographed here.


Wade G. Burck said...

Geez, I should think "creating" the tab's with the elephants as a starting point, would suggest "rebuilding" instead of "restoration." Why did CWM lose it's accreditation with the American Association of Museums?


FLINT said...

The elephant tab in the top photo was built originally for Sells-Floto Circus. You can distinguish it from the Al G. Barnes elephant tab in the bottom photo by the rear wheels. The Barnes body was a bit wider and had the shorter wheels both front and back, thus allowing the body to be wider.

There was also an elephant tab wagon built for the Hagenbeck show but the carvings are considerably different.

When the elephant tab at CWM was first (re) constructed in 1986-87 the body was painted white. After further study of photo's it was decided to repaint the wagon in the ivory color that is on it now. At the same time repair was done to some of the carvings and the design was added to the front and back to make the wagon more historically accurate.

On a personal note, this was the first wagon that my (present) wife, Dawnne, had a chance to help on.

Wade G. Burck said...

Was ivory not an unusual color for a circus wagon, or anything for that matter long ago?