14.8.15

WHEN THE CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN.

A few years ago, we featured the Head Brothers Circus, modelling in miniature the way the itinerant circus of the steam era would roll into town, unload the train, set up, put on two shows, tear down, and roll out of town.

Only Ringling Barnum still tour by train, but they show only in permanent arenas.  There are several truck-transported itinerant circuses roaming the United States and Canada, and Cole Brothers agreed to change their schedule in order to be on the grounds for the Worldwide Circus Summit.

Some things are as they always were, and some things have changed.


Care of the stock takes precedence.  Elephant top is up and secured early.  Two trailers, five pachyderms.  On the railroad shows, you'd find thirteen bulls and a lead horse on an extra-long stock car.


The Big Top, marquee, and midway will occupy this space.  Fortunately for circus enthusiasts, the buildings hosting the Summit activities are on the other side of the back lot.  Perhaps some of the roustabouts could grab some sleep in those trailers before set-up began.  In the era of trains, cast and crew had the opportunity to sleep while in transit.


No more circle of men with sledge hammers driving stakes, and the stake driving machine is now a pile driver head on a Bobcat.  These days, the flags are on the flagpoles, affixed to the top of the tent supports.  Yes, that Erector Set fixture behind is one of six that hold up the tents.  But men still have to shoot the side-wall poles later.  No, I did not see anyone recruiting kids to schlep the side-wall poles in exchange for a free pass, the way it once was.


A larger tractor sets the struts on jacks for subsequent raising.  We will see, no use of elephants or of tractors to get the struts up.


There are a few other Circus Summit attendees on the lot, including a few who know Cole Bros. owner John Pugh.  I overheard Mr Pugh explaining to his friends and acquaintances that the first pair of poles to go up have a pair of motors that walk the rope up the pole.  The spectator sees a number of guys and stays made fast to the stakes, and then the first poles start going up.


The remaining poles walk up the rope.  The rain caps at the top of the poles are in place before they're raised, with bale rings affixed to the bottom of the poles.


I wonder if circus personnel still refer to spectators as "lot lice" or if there's something more colorful and in Spanish these days.  Next, the tent will be unrolled and laced, then the crew will eat breakfast.  I had to get back to my display stand at the Summit.

Come evening, after the Windjammers concert, the crew had to set up the arena.  The big cat acts come either early in the show or immediately after intermission because it's hard to work around an arena.


The circus put on two shows Wednesday and two more shows Thursday and then it was time to move on.


First, remove the side walls and remove everything from inside the tent.  There's a lot of running rigging for the aerial acts to remove, as well as all the sets and ring curbs.


Now strike the tent.  Then there's a lot of heavy lifting involved undoing the laces and rolling the sections for loading.  Fortunately, there's no rain.


The last easily viewable act is the lowering of the struts.  First, the pairs of poles that walked up the rope walk down the rope.  Then the rope walks down the remaining poles, and most of the lights on the site can be turned off.  As I was photographing this, a number of the trucks and travel trailer combinations were on their way to the next lot.

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