Sparks Circus # 32 / Clyde Beatty Circus # 31 / James E. Strates # 4
(1) James Edgar had leased the title of Sparks Circus from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for his 1946 truck show. He also leased a couple elephants from the Ringling show for this show. At some point during the 1946 season, he decided to expand the show’s horizons by going out on rails in 1947. He placed a large order for all new steel wagons to be made by the Lewis Diesel Engine Company of Memphis, Tennessee. Many of you may recognize this company as the one that built all of the Ringling / Barnum seat wagons in 1948. The order included 20 wagons and 6 cages totaling $ 46, 301.88.
This wagon was only 14′ long and served as a cookhouse wagon on the Sparks Circus. The most notable attribute of this wagon are the 5 vertical uprights and the one horizontal cross member through the center of the wagon. The uprights are divided into five even sections and approximately a half section at the front end as well. A ladder was in the middle on the front end. The wagon also had a small possum belly under the frame. The rear doors were a drop down gate on the lower half and double doors on hinges on the top half.
( 1947 – Conover Set # 524, photo # 119 – George Hubler photo )
(2) Sadly, the Sparks Circus railroad Show only went out in 1947. Suffering losses all year long the show folded. The wagon sat in the former Boeing plant in Renton, Washington until re-possessed by the Lewis Diesel Engine Co. for non-payment. It was not needed through the year of 1948. The Clyde Beatty Circus then bought several of the former Sparks Circus wagon including this one. They were moved from the Lewis Diesel plant in Tennessee to the El Monte, California winter quarters of the Clyde Beatty Circus. This wagon was used initially as a cookhouse wagon carrying the wagon # 31.
( 1950 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 5, photo # 15A – October 8, 1950 in Macon, GA. – Joe Bradbury photo )
By 1953, the lettering had changed on the sides while the wagon number remained as # 31. In 1955, this wagon was re-assigned to the Electrical Dept. The title lettering changed once again and the wagon number became # 43 for the 1955 and 1956 seasons.
( 1955 – Richard J. Reynolds III slide taken in Atlanta, GA. )
(3) In 1957, the James E. Strates carnival bought six Warren built flatcars, three mule/ tractors and eleven wagons from the Clyde Beatty Circus. The Beatty show had decided to switch over to trucks and therefore the train was no longer needed. This wagon was one of the eleven that was bought from the Beatty show. It became # 4 on the Strates show.While going through several different paint schemes, it was used as part of the Electrical Dept., carrying wire and supplies.
( 1960s – Jim Dillman photo )
( early 1970s – Carrying wire and supplies for the Electrical Dept. – Ellicott Family Collection, courtesy of the Erie County Fair (NY). )
( 1975 – Hal Guyon photo – This wagon was repainted to this configuration and renumbered #112 by Jim Dillman in 1975 )
( Late 1970s – Hal Guyon photo )
( 1980s – Jim Dillman photo )
In December of 1986, this wagon was donated to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin. It was re-painted to represent the Sparks Circus years and used on the grounds in the train loading demonstrations for many years.
( 2004 – Dave Lorbeske photo )
(1) Sparks Railroad Circus, season of 1947, by Joseph Bradbury, Bandwagon, Jan. / Feb. 1970 pp 4-14.
(2) Sparks Railroad Circus, season of 1947, by Joseph Bradbury, Bandwagon, March / April 1970, pp. 20-26.
(3) Article about these wagons in Carnival Midway, Nov. Dec. 2004 by Fred Heatley
The wagon is currently housed on the grounds at Circus World in Baraboo, Wisconsin
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