Sells-Floto Circus’ first Steam Calliope
by Joseph Bradbury
The first photo shows the steam calliope on Sells-Floto about 1906. This wagon was built by Sullivan and Eagle of Peru, Indiana for the Great Floto Shows during the winter of 1904-05 and first appeared in 1905 on that show. The first photo I have of this wagon is pictured on the lot of the Great Floto Shows in 1905, and right next to the calliope is a baggage wagon bearing the shows title, so I am positive that the calliope goes back on the show that far. It may be of some interest to point out that Harry Tammen, Fred G. Bonfils, owners of the Denver Post, and their sports editor, Otto Floto, put a medium sized dog and pony show on the road for the 1902, 1903, and 1904 seasons under title of the Otto Floto Dog & Pony Show. It was started more or less as a hobby, but for the 1905 season it was built into a first class circus and used the title of the Great Floto Shows and the show was equipped with standard size circus cages, tableaux, and a steam calliope added. Note, if a steam calliope was ever used on the smaller Otto Floto Dog & Pony Show I have no record of it.
( 1905 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 48 – photo # 40B – Great Floto Shows – Pfening archives )
For the 1906 season the owners entered into a deal with Willie Sells, who had earlier been connected with such shows cis Sells & Gray, and Sells & Downs, so that the Sells name could be used. The show, further enlarged, went out in 1906 as the Sells-Floto Circus and steadily grew until it was generally recognized as the largest show on the road with the exception of the Ringling owned shows. The Ringlings through numerous law suits attempted to prevent the use of the name Sells in connection with Sells-Floto as they thought it was an infringement on the title of Sells Bros. which they owned, the original Sells brothers being uncles of Willie Sells. However, the title of Sells-Floto continued to be used yearly until the show was finally taken off the road following the 1932 season.
( 1916 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 10 – photo # 84D – Steam Calliope – July 6, 1916 in Franklin, PA. – P.M. McClintock collection )
The steam calliope was used on through about the 1919 season. As you can see it was very plain with no carvings but it was painted up very nice each year. During the World War I years, it was painted with red, white, and blue stripes, and often had a large painted circle bearing the name of Sells-Floto on the sides. It was finally replaced by the Two Jesters calliope.
(1) Excerpts from the Circus Wagon History File, Bandwagon, Vol. 2, No. 6 (Nov-Dec), 1958, pp. 3, 10.
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