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Robbins Bros. Hippo Den


Robbins Bros. Hippopotamus Den

This wagon is a classic example on one person calls it the Robbins Bros. Hippo cage and someone else calls it the Cole Bros. Hippo cage. Both are correct in their reference.

In 1929, Fred Buchanan owned the Robbins Bros. Circus based out of Granger, Iowa. The subtle winter quarters was a farm, built near a railroad siding. There were a couple barns for animals and work related efforts. All the wagons etc. were housed out in the open with an occasional canvas tarp over a parade wagon. During the winter of 1928/1929, the work crew constructed this rather long cage wagon with bay openings on each side to enlarge the space as well as a large water tank. The wagon went on tour for the first time in the 1929 season carrying a hippopotamus they called “Miss Iowa.” The wagon was used again in 1930 and on the Robbins Bros. final season of 1931. It was then taken to the Wm. P. Hall farm in Lancaster, MO. with the rest of the show. It sat idle in a farm field for the next three years until Jess Adkins and Zach Terrell bought most of the Robbins Bros. Circus from Hall to frame their new Cole Bros. Circus.

( 1935 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 7, photo # 26F – Tyson collection )

With their opening in 1935, this cage carried the sea lions. It was numbered 15. In 1936, the wagon was numbered 28 and it once again housed a hippopotamus called “Pinky.” During the winter of 1936/1937, the Cole Bros. craftsmen added three feet to the end of the wagon to make more room for the steadily growing hippopotamus.

( 1937 РJoseph Bradbury Album # 7, photo # 51E РJuly 30, 1937 in Emporia, Kansas  Рthis shows the newly added three foot section on the rear end. )

The wagon was always transported with wooden sides and wooden back doors. In addition, there were barred doors inside the wooden doors. The 1938 season saw Jess Adkins and Zach Terrell enlarge their operations with the addition of a 2nd show they called Robbins Bros. Circus.  1938 turned out to be a horrible year for the circus industry with the depression beating the economy to pieces. The Cole Bros. Circus closed early and sent some acts over to the Robbins Bros. Circus. This Hippopotamus cage transferred from the Cole Bros. Circus over to the Robbins Bros. Circus. The wagon was now numbered 20.

( 1945 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 71, photo # 37A – circa 1945 at the Bradley farm – Karl Hartisch photo )

They managed to finish the season and return to the Rochester winter quarters. The wagon was never used again. Following the horrifying fire in the Rochester winter quarters in February of 1940, the show moved this cage and many other unneeded wagons and items over to a nearby farm called the Bradley farm.

( 1950 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 15, photo # 53D – June 1950 at the Bradley farm in Rochester, IN. )

( 1963 – Bradley Farm – Rochester, IN. – Ken Wynn slide from Doug Konkle collection )

This cage laid there to rot until the remnants were acquired by the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin. It was here that Marv Gauger and his crew rebuilt the wagon completely using the scraps of this cage for dimensions. Having been rebuilt, this wagon was one of the great Circus Parade features for many years in Baraboo and Milwaukee.

( 1988 – Richard Cline Photo )


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

If you have any questions or have more photographic evidence, feel free to contact us at circuswagons@gmail.com