Ringling Bros. Russia Tableau
By Joseph Bradbury
(This wagon is being distinguished here as the Ringling Bros. Russia Tableau as another Russia Tableau was built for the US Motorized Circus in 1917 . )
(1) During the years as a wagon show and after the show went on rails in 1890, Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows had depended mainly on their home town cousins, the Moeller brothers of Baraboo to provide them with the various baggage, tableau, and cage wagons needed to load the circus. Of course some wagons had been purchased from Forepaugh and John Robinson but the Moellers nearly always received the order for any new construction of wagons. During the winter of 1902-03 the entire circus world awaited the return to the United States of Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth which had been in Europe for the five previous seasons. To make 1903 a grand and glorious tour, James A. Bailey had placed a large order for a set of new parade wagons with the Sebastian Wagon Works of New York City. The Ringling Brothers felt they must do something to counter this gigantic new street parade so they proceeded to make plans to put their own parade on par with this one Bailey was to spring. They by-passed their Moeller cousins for the first time and went to the Bode Wagon Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio, where they placed an order for four huge tableau wagons and a glass enclosed snake den.
The wagons ordered from Bode were costly but there were to be none finer anyplace. The wagons and their prices were as follows:
United States Tableau, $1,500.00
Great Britain Tableau, $1,500.00
Russia Tableau, $1,900.00
Germany Tableau, $1,900.00
Snake Den, $850.00
By 1903 standards these prices were tremendous, but the wagons were all large, heavily carved, and were as fine as any ever built. Unlike some of those newly built for Barnum & Bailey all of these were of large box type construction and were designed so they could also carry a baggage load.
( 1903 – Bandwagon, Nov. – Dec. 1961, page 4 )
( The wagon was most unusual with the wheels under the body and the carved wheel well coverings adorning the wagon sides. The outside sunbursts that were a basic signature of Bode Built wagons, are also seen in this new construction. )
Following the 1920 season the combine Ringing-Barnum show discontinued the street parades and the parade equipment was stored at the Bridgeport, Conn., quarters. From then on the Germany-America-France wagon becomes “lost.” It was probably dismantled or is possible that it was destroyed in the bad fire at Bridgeport quarters in 1924. Several wagons and cages were lost at that time.
In the winter of 1924-25 the Russia wagon was sold to Floyd and Howard King who were framing a new flat car type railroad circus for 1925. The Kings had operated gilly type rail shows since 1919. In 1925 the Russia wagon was used on the King’s new show which was called the Walter L. Main Circus and remained on that show through the 1927 season. In 1928 and 1929 it was on the King’s Gentry Bros. Circus and photos reveal that at times it was used as the No. 1 bandwagon in parade. The 15 car Gentry show went broke at Paris, Tenn., in October, 1929. The property was taken over by the Donaldson Lithographing Co. and sent to the old circus quarters at West Baden, Ind., where it was offered for sale.
( 1931 – Conover set # 132 – photo # 1 )
( The wagon was modified at some point in time to have the axles extended and different wheels put on outside the wagon body. The highly carved wheel well covers had also been removed )
Fred Buchanan, owner and operator of the Robbins Bros. Circus purchased the Russia wagon for $50.00 and placed it on his show for the 1930 and 1931 seasons.
Robbins Bros. went broke in 1931 and the equipment was then stored at the Hall Farm in Lancaster, Mo. In the fall of 1934 Jess Adkins and Zack Terrell purchased all of the old Robbins equipment there for use on their new railroad circus which was to open in 1935 under title of Cole Bros. Circus. The Russia wagon was included in the property Adkins and Terrell got but they never used it on their shows in the period of 1935-40. It was parked at the old Rochester, Ind., quarters and survived the big fire of February, 1940.
( 1935 – Conover Set # 475 – photo # 5010 )
After Cole Bros. left Rochester for good in the Spring of 1940 the Russia wagon, along with several other old tableaux, baggage wagons, and cages, were parked at the Bradley Farms a few miles outside of Rochester. (2) The Russia wagon remained there until it was purchased by the late Terrell Jacobs in the early part of 1944, who moved it to his quarters in Peru.
( 1946 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 14 – photo # 49B – Terrell Jacobs Circus Winterquarters – Peru, Ind. – the wagon is now starting to show a loss of carvings and wheel deterioration. )
(3) In 1950, the wagon in very bad condition was dismantled, with most of the carvings going to Harold Moore, a circus fan and model builder of Reading, Pa. (4) Other carvings and parts went to the Starbuck, Minn., town band which used them in building their own bandwagon.
( 1950 – Conover Set # 901. photo # 7323 )
(1) Bandwagon, Vol. 5, No. 6 (Nov.-Dec.), 1961, pp. 3-6.
(2) Billboard, April 8, 1944, page 57
(3) Bandwagon, Vol. 5, No. 6 (Nov.-Dec.), 1961, pp. 3-6.
(4) Billboard, August 19, 1950, page 64.
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