Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Small Ammo Cage # 74
The twelve cage series of small wagons made from former military ordnance trailers were commonly known on the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus as the “Ammo” cages. While all of them were generally the same with a cleanout side on the back and four folding panels on the front that opened to create a picture frame type wrap on each cage, there were some differences in their designs. (1) The twelve trailers were bought from the Akron Truck and Equipment Co. Built in the Sarasota winter quarters during the winter of 1948 / 1949 out of these four wheeled trailers under the supervision of Bill Yeske, the chassis were fitted with dual tires and the box bodies built on top to create the cage.
( 1949 – George Piercy photo )
The cages were all painted a brilliant Ringling Red for the years 1949, 1950, 1951 and 1952. When the panels were opened up, they presented a jungle motif of leaves, trees and fauna. Cage # 74 would have two vent openings in the front end on the right side of center and left side of center. The back end had a slightly larger vent on the left side of center. The former trailers were equipped with an “O” ring on the tongue and a pintle hitch in the back which allowed several of them to be pulled at the same time. There was only one access door on the back of the cage. This cage was used in the menagerie from 1949 to 1956 while still under canvas. The animals that were contained therein changed from year to year and sometimes during the course of the year.
1949 – Three Polar Bears.
1950 – Male and Female Lions.
1951 – 3 Leopards
1952 – unknown
( 1951 – Conover Set # 446, photo # 6958 – Richard Conover photo )
In 1953, the cage bodies were repainted from the bright Ringling Red to a light blue. They still had the jungle motifs on the opening panels. In 1953, Two Tigers was carried inside. In 1954, the “Primitive Haitian” designs of Bill Ballantine graced the front panels with many cages carrying various designs. While being multi-colored, very few colored photos have ever shown up of these designs. This cage however, was re-designed and went in the backyard where it was used to house the Chimpanzee act. The opening panels that had been on the cage from the beginning were removed, a wider center panel was added and two panels to close the openings became glass.
( 1954 – Bob MacDougall photo in the Dom Yodice collection )
In 1955, the cages were all re-painted again. This time the bodies were dark green with a different jungle motif going back on the opening panels. The cage carried Chimpanzees in 1955. Again in 1956, the cage carried Chimpanzees.
On July 16, 1956 in Pittsburgh, PA., the Greatest Show on Earth closed for the final time under canvas. The show was returned to the Sarasota winter quarters. Following a re-organization of the show without a big top, the show continued on playing stadiums and ballparks. The menagerie cages were not used. In 1957, the management decided they wanted the menagerie and Side Show acts to appear in Madison Square Garden and then to follow in the Boston Garden. Cage # 74 was not part of this display and remained in the Sarasota winter quarters.
( May 20, 1960 – Richard Cline photo )
By 1960, the cage wagon had been given to the Circus Hall of Fame in Sarasota, Florida. The wagon remained there for twenty years until it closed in 1980. The entire contents of the Circus Hall of Fame was sold to Jan and John Zweifel on May 27, 1980. Most of the wagons, including this cage, were taken to the Royal American Shows winter quarters in Tampa, Fl. where they remained for the next seven years.
( Stored at the Royal American Shows winter quarters – Bob Cline photo )
In 1986, arrangements had been made with a group of investors to open the new International Circus Hall of Fame up in the old American Circus Corporation winter quarters in Peru, IN. twenty wagons and misc. displays and equipment were loaded on to railcars in Tampa, Fl. on May 12, 1987 to leave for the Peru operation. Sadly, this cage had already deteriorated badly. It now sits in Peru needing ample work. The wonder of it is that there is still ample opportunity to get good detail photos of the construction. In particular were the openings in the roof that were not for ventilation but for the lighting used in the cages while on display in the menagerie.
( 2016 – Bob Cline photo )
( 2013 – Bob Cline photo )
( 2009 – Bob Cline photo )
The wagon can be seen in person at the International Circus Hall of Fame in Peru, Indiana
(1) Dated March 31, 1949 in the Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus Check Register at Circus World Museum
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