~The Spectacular WFE Circus Wagons~

**All content on this page is copyright to John Goodall and Circus World Museum, unless otherwise noted, and Exclusive to WFE film! Please do not copy to your blog or website, link back only! Thank you **

August 14, 2010 ~ Just after the start of filming WFE in May Mr. John Goodall began leaving nice comments on my blog and  even emailed me about the Circus Wagons that were being used in Water for Elephants. At that time he was not at liberty to discuss Circus World Museum’s involvement with the film in detail with me for obvious reasons. Also, he never revealed that he is on the Board of Directors for the Circus World Museum Foundation, Inc, which I find quite impressive. Our emails continued back and forth over the duration of the shoot; he would drop little hints here and there about the Museum’s involvement and near the end of filming he let me know that he was finally able to discuss the, now famous, Circus Wagons!  To anyone that has been following the filming (and reading my blog) you have come to realized that the Circus Train and all of the cars, plus the amazing Circus Wagons, are actually a ‘character’ in Water for Elephants. The wagons appear in the menagerie scenes, the ‘Spec’, as well as the Circus Parade; and we’ve seen them with their custom Benzini Bros. Circus covers aboard the Circus Train in several set photos and fan photos. The Wagons were returned to the CWM before the TN/GA shoot, so that is why they had ‘stand-ins’ for that part of filming…  I’ve made a new friend in Mr. Goodall and I sincerely appreciate his positive comments and emails… I am honored that he chose to share his knowledge with me and therefore I can share it with you… A little bit of personal trivia: My grandfather lived in Wisconsin and whilst on one particular visit I was taken to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo… I remember being fascinated with the gorgeous Circus Wagons and the dazzling array of Circus memorabilia and never dreamed that one day I would come full circle to blog about it… John has graciously shared not only his knowledge about the museum and wagons, but he has also shared photos of the 15 Circus Wagons that were chosen to be featured in Water for Elephants… John is a wealth of  Circus knowledge; please read his contributions and then further down the page are photos and descriptions of the Circus Wagons that were used in WFE… I cannot thank Mr. Goodall enough for his time, energy, and ‘friendship’… ‘Spectacularly Huge’  Thank you, John!! (*Edited to add: John was good friends with Darlene Ava Williams’ father, Rex Williams… )

John talks about Water for Elephants:
“The involvement of Circus World with the WFE film began when our Executive Director, Stephen Freese, learned that Fox 2000 had purchased the film rights to Sara Gruen’s best-selling book, Water for Elephants. Steve sent a package of materials to the studio suggesting that we had circus wagons as well as related materials in our library to assist them in making a movie about a 1931 circus. In the summer of 2009 the museum was visited by a film production team which included the director, Francis Lawrence. They spent over a week doing research and looking at wagons that might be appropriate for the period of the film. One of the subjects discussed was the possibility of filming the movie in Baraboo, WI where the wagons were readily available as well as circus passenger and flat cars. Early on one of the factors was the availability of  Wisconsin film tax credits. I do not recall how that came out but suspect it was not favorable.
Later, Fox 2000 decided to have the film made in California but they wanted to use some of our wagons. Of the wagons which were selected 13 are from the 1880’s to early 1900’s. There were 8 animal cages, a ticket wagon from the Sells-Floto Circus and a band wagon, known as the Royal Italian Bandwagon (This wagon was used in the “Spec” scene in the film), 4 baggage wagons and a generator wagon, which bears the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus title. At one point this wagon carried a Chevrolet display. The generator was installed in the wagon by Circus World for use in conjunction with The Great Circus Parade which was staged in Milwaukee for many years. Lastly, a wagon reproduction of a 1920’s Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Dining Dept. wagon from which hamburgers and hot dogs were served. It was built in the Circus World shops in 1960 from original drawings from the museum library. It was used in the Milwaukee circus parades as a kitchen to feed the workers and volunteers. A total of 15 antique circus wagons were taken by a flatbed truck convoy from Circus World, Baraboo, WI in early May to the California set of Water for Elephants. They were accompanied by Stephen Freese and the museum’s wagon superintendent, Harold “Heavy” Burdick. Unloading of the wagons on the set was supervised by both of these gentlemen because the Roustabouts (extras) were unfamiliar with unloading and loading circus wagons much less loading them on and off the Benzini Bros. circus train. Burdick and Freese were responsible for chocking the wagons on the circus train to keep them from rolling when the train was moving. This is the same method that the circuses of the past used. The chocks came from Circus World and were used over the years in the Milwaukee Great Circus Parade. During the years when Circus World staged the circus parades in Milwaukee, Harold Burdick, and his train crew were responsible for loading the wagons on flat cars for the trip to and from Milwaukee. Everything was loaded by teams of horses as was done in the old days.”

John talks about Circus World Museum:
“Circus World, a National Historic Landmark, encompasses approximately 64 acres of land with approximately 30 permanent structures, including original Ringling winter quarters buildings which are the Camel Barn, Ring Barn (performing horses), Elephant Barn, Baggage Horse Barn, two wild animal buildings and the winter quarters office. Located a few blocks away is the original Ringling Bros. Circus train complex. The Ringling Bros. Circus was founded by five Ringling brothers and they wintered in Baraboo, WI for 34 years until 1918 when they moved to Bridgeport, CT and merged with Barnum & Bailey (which the Ringling’s purchased in 1907) to become the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows. Circus World Museum occupies several of the original Ringling structures; the museum’s collection of circus artifacts is perhaps the largest in the world. It includes over 215 circus wagons and vehicles once used by American, English and Irish circuses. The library houses an exceptional collection of circus ads and posters with over 9,500 multi-colored circus posters that range in size from half-sheets to a large 80-sheet Buffalo Bill Wild West poster measuring 9′ high and 70′ long. The collection also includes thousands of journals, manuscripts, business records, original fine art oil paintings, hand bills, heralds, programs, artifacts of circus performers and a collection of rare photographs and negatives. Circus World Museum which is located in Baraboo, WI  is one of several sites owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society.”

John talks about his involvement with Circus World:
“I became interested in Circus World in 1963 when I learned that the museum was staging a horse-drawn circus parade, modeled after a 1920’s parade, in Milwaukee over the 4th of July. It was known as “Old Milwaukee Days” and was sponsored by Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co. Having an interest in horses I was intrigued by the concept and took a train from Chicago to Milwaukee on the 4th of July, 1963. I met Charles P. “Chappie” Fox, the director of Circus World Museum, and a lifelong friendship with “Chap” began. He was a man who did not take “no” for an answer. He was a noted circus photographer and authored a number of circus books. He dreamed of a recreation of an old-fashioned circus street parade with wagons being pulled by teams of draft horses and costumed riders using the few wagons that the museum owned. After being turned down for sponsorship of a parade by 12 Milwaukee area companies he was introduced to Robert Uihlein (president of Schlitz) by Ben Barkin whose advertising-public relations firm represented Schlitz. Owing to a strong recommendation from Barkin and unbelievable enthusiasm on Fox’s part, Uihlein approved a festival for the summer of 1963 to be capped off with a parade. Costumes were made in Baraboo at the museum, bands were hired and 20 circus wagons were readied and horses hired to pull them. The wagons were taken to Milwaukee by truck caravan for that first parade.  As  the Circus Parade gained popularity, the Museum acquired more wagons… Bob wanted new wagons for the parade and Chappie, the consummate circus fan, knew where old relics were around the country and several in England. Schlitz bought the wagons and Chappie had them restored and brought back to life. Schlitz purchased retired circus and carnival flat cars so the wagons could be taken to Milwaukee by train. Circus parades were held first in Milwaukee, from 1963 to 1973; then between Baraboo, Chicago and Milwaukee, from 1980 to 2005. In 1985 it was named The Great Circus Parade but was discontinued in 2005 due to lack of funding. In 2009, the parade returned to Milwaukee for one year. At the moment there are no plans for another circus parade unless funding could be secured.
I only wish Chappie was around to follow the WFE film blog as this wonderful book is being transformed into an awesome movie. I have been on the board of Circus World since 1984 and served as president from March 1991 through 1999; I proudly continue my service as a board member. How did I get hooked on the circus: Chappie Fox. How did I get hooked on Water for Elephants: A fantastic book which I have read twice and my enjoyment continues with the filming of the movie. Thank goodness there was this great blog to follow, Water For Elephants ~ the Film. Thank you Sara for writing this wonderful book and making all this possible. I anxiously await the premier of Water for Elephants in the movie theaters. J. G.”

John talks about Circus Wagon facts:
“Each circus would number their wagons. Many times when a wagon was sold or traded to another circus the number could change. One example of number selection would be Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey in 1955. That show was probably more precise than some of the smaller shows. For example, the dining dept wagons bore numbers 1 – 8, big top equipment 38 – 44 (stakes and poles), cages 71 – 97, power plants and lights 109 – 114, sideshow 115 -120, tickets 121 – 124, etc. The numbers were important to the horse team drivers and later tractor drivers in spotting the wagons on the lot. With respect to railroad shows, the load master carried a list of all the wagon numbers and their length. This was important because not every wagon would be delivered to the train loading site in the same order each day. By having the wagon lengths the load master could change the wagon loading order and not wait for a particular wagon. In 1929, John Ringling owner of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows, purchased the American Circus Corporation. The purchase was prompted by the American Circus Corporation, his biggest competitor, having a contract to perform in Madison Square Garden, New York. In order to get his show into the Garden he purchased the corporation for $1,700,000 which was a lot on money in those days; he didn’t know the Depression was about to hit. With the purchase of ACC, Ringling became the owner of five circuses – Sells-Floto, Al G. Barnes, Sparks, Hagenbeck-Wallace, and John Robinson. It is interesting to note that today that Ringling Bros. (Feld Entertainment) subsidiary for their concession operations is Sells-Floto and the costume/prop subsidiary is Hagenbeck-Wallace. Those old titles are still active today. You will see these circus titles used for a number of wagons in the Circus World collection and some used in Water for Elephants, the movie.”

Here is the list of Circus World Museum wagons selected for the movie “Water for Elephants” with corresponding photos and descriptions below ~

Baggage / Utility wagons:
No 2 Hagenbeck-Wallace baggage wagon (orange – CWM generator)

No 50 Great American baggage wagon

No 70 Hagenbeck-Wallace baggage wagon
No 91 Hagenbeck-Wallace baggage wagon
No 223 Dining Dept. wagon (replica RBBB)

Cage wagons:
Cage 23 Hagenbeck-Wallace 3 arch cage – 16′ long

Cage 24 Hagenbeck-Wallace 3 arch cage – 15′ long

Cage 29 Sells-Floto Leopard cage

Cage 73 Ringling Bros. cage

Cage 81 Howes Great London cage

Cage 83 Barnum & Bailey Tableau cage
Cage 88 Barnum & Bailey cage (CWM picture #89) (Whiskers)

No number Golden Bros cage (yellow)

Ticket wagon:
No 62 Sells-Floto

No 100 Royal Italian Bandwagon

Below are the original photos from CWM archives (copyright to Circus World Museum and used with their permission) of  the Circus Wagons used in Water for Elephants. Some of the wagons were repainted for the film and some were left intact. I do not have complete information as to which ones were repainted,  but I’ve noted the ones in which the information was made available…

# 2 Hagenbeck-Wallace baggage: This wagon was assigned the Hagenbeck-Wallace title and number 2 because it resembles a wagon that bore the title and number in the 1930’s. There is no narrative history of the wagon and conclusions were based on photographs and wagon lists. It is likely that wagon 2 originated on Sells-Floto circus and was transferred to Hagenbeck-Wallace circus. The wagon is painted orange with white letters, the color scheme of the show when it closed. The generator was added by Circus World to power lights and the cookhouse in conjunction with the Milwaukee circus parades. The wagon was acquired from Louis Goebel, owner of World Jungle Compound, Thousand Oaks, Calif in 1965. (CWM files) *The name on the  wagon was changed  but the body was not repainted for the film… (click on image)

#50 Great American baggage wagon: This wagon is generally associated with the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus of the late 1930’s, but was one of the wagons used on the ill-fated Great American Circus of 1939. Circus World has a number of baggage and cage wagons in the collection bearing the Hagenbeck-Wallace title and wanted to recognize that not all circuses were successful and decided to use the Great American title to the wagon. The use on Hagenbeck-Wallace circus beginning in 1932 can be documented by photographs and wagon lists. It is alleged that the wagon was on Sells-Floto in the pre-1932 years but that is not easily traced. Both circuses were owned by American Circus Corporation of Peru, Indiana and it was not unusual for wagons to go from one show to another. In 1939, a theatrical company took out a 15-car circus titled Great American Circus. They used former Hagenbeck-Wallace equipment. The show opened on May 24 and closed 6 days later. The wagon was listed as #50 Side Show and Menagerie. The wagon is painted n the Great American color scheme, orange with light blue lettering outlined in dark blue. The wagon was acquired from Louis Goebel, owner of World Jungle Compound, Thousand Oaks, Calif in 1965. It bore the number 26 and was listed as “Harness Makers Wagon” when it arrived at Circus World. Goebel leased circus wagons to Hollywood Studios for movie props. (CWM files) *This wagon was repainted for the film in ‘Benzini Bros. boxcar red’ with yellow-gold ‘Benzini’ lettering.

#70 Hagenbeck-Wallace baggage wagon: Typically baggage wagons carried the same load every day. Each department on the show was assigned the necessary wagons to carry their equipment. The wagon bore large numbers which were familiar to all employees in their department such as canvas, menagerie, side-show, etc. Each day the wagons were spotted in the same general area in relationship to the Big Top. This wagon is painted red with large white letters. Over the years the wagon carried wardrobe for the circus parades in Milwaukee. (CWM files) *This wagon was repainted for the film in ‘Benzini Bros. boxcar red’ with yellow-gold ‘Benzini’ lettering. (click on image)

#91 Hagenbeck-Wallace Stake and Chain baggage wagon: The wagon was built for the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus and carried stakes and chains and other equipment for the big top. The wagon is typical of the massive type construction used in the 1920’s for vehicles intended to transport trunks, wardrobe, trappings, etc. Bull rings are on each corner of the wagon for attaching extra teams of horses or elephants that were needed to move the wagon on a soft muddy lot. In case of strong windstorms, the big top was guyed (secured with a rope) off as extra insurance against a blow down. This was particularly important when it was felt the tent stakes were apt to loosen or pull out of the rain soaked ground. The wagon bears the 1935 H-W color scheme of red body with white wheels and undergear. The title is in yellow with black outline. The wagon was acquired in 1938 by Louis Goebel at the final closing of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. The wagon was acquired from Louis Goebel, owner of World Jungle Compound, Thousand Oaks, Calif in 1965. (CWM files) *This wagon was repainted for the film in ‘Benzini Bros. boxcar red’ with yellow-gold ‘Benzini’ lettering.

#223 Dining Dept. wagon: The Circus World shop replicated a lunch wagon that was used on Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey combined shows from 1925 to 1932 to dispense food on the midway. This wagon was fabricated in 1971 and painted red with white lettering “Circus World Museum” and “Dining Department”. The shop crew worked from drawings and photographs in the museum’s Library and Research Center. As far as Circus World records show this was the first portable and self-contained food service vehicle to be owned and operated by a circus. Circuses served food on the midway but out of tents. The vehicle was parked near the entry to the midway and  was staffed by three nattily garbed men in white shirts, hats and aprons with dark ties. In 1933 the wagon was retired by Ringling and replaced by a self-propelled Autocar “Big Top Diner” truck. (CWM files) *This wagon was repainted for the film in ‘Benzini Bros. boxcar red’ with yellow-gold ‘Benzini’ lettering. (click on image)

#23 Hagenbeck-Wallace 3 Arch cage: This cage was built in 1925 in the winter quarters shops of  H-W in Peru, Indiana. It was one in a series of 20 arched cage wagons referred to as corporation cages (American Circus Corporation owned H-W as well as 4 other circuses). Lions and tigers are large animals which is why cages like this were massively constructed. After the street parade each day circuses would line up their cage wagons around the perimeter of the menagerie tent. This was an educational display as very few cities had zoos in those days. It is not known where the wagon went after H-W closed in 1938 but it ended up on Arthur Bros. Circus from 1943-1945. It was then stored in Thousand Oaks, California (possibly at Louis Goebel’s World Jungle Compound) until acquired by a man from Arizona. Later the wagon was acquired by circus buffs Fred Pfening, Jr from Columbus, Ohio and Paul Ingrassia from Rockford, Illinois and they donated it to Circus World in 1980. The wagon bears the 1935 H-W color scheme of red body with white wheels and undergear. The title is in yellow. (CWM files) *This wagon was repainted with the “Benzini Bros. Circus” name in gold,  instead of Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus… (click on image)

#24 Hagenbeck-Wallace 3 Arch cage: Hagenbeck-Wallace was noted for the massive construction used in their wagons. Showgrounds were not always grassy or dry. On many days shows had to battle muddy or sandy lots. At times several horse teams had to be hitched to the wagon to pull it to the street. The wagons had to be sturdy to handle the stress and strain. The wagon is painted red with white wheels and undergear. The wagon was acquired from Louis Goebel, owner of  World Jungle Compound, Thousand Oaks, Calif in 1965. (CWM files) *This wagon was not repainted for WFE. (click on image)

#29 Sells-Floto Leopard cage: Was built for Sells-Floto Circus around 1908 and was on that circus until the early 1920’s. In 1925 it was on Gollmar Bros. Circus, in 1926 on Heritage Bros Circus in 1945 on Austion Bros Circus and in 1946 Barnes Bros Circus. It was discovered on a farm in 1961 and presented to Circus World. (CWM files) *This cage wagon was completely repainted a bright red with gold accents for WFE… (click on image)

#73 Ringling Bros cage: The cage has quarter round corners with bas-relief type scrollwork having an R carved in the center. It was built by Moeller Bros. of Baraboo (uncertain year). The wagon usually carried lions in the menagerie up until it was severely damaged in the 1942 Cleveland fire. The wagon was removed to Sarasota and repaired having a water tank installed for the pygmy hippo Betty Lou. It carried Betty Lou from 1943 through the 1947 season at which time it was retired. The wagon eventually made its way to Circus World and was restored. (SF files) *This wagon was not repainted for WFE… (click on image)

#81 Howes Great London cage: There is a twin in the collection which is also in WFE and identified as “no number” Golden Bros cage. This wagon was built for Howes Great London Circus in the 1920’s. It later was on Golden Bros Circus, Lee Bros. Circus and finally Christy Bros. Circus. In 1936, the cage was purchased by Ken Maynard for his Diamond K Ranch Wild West. It was gifted by Walt Disney Studios in 1962. (CWM files)

#83 Barnum & Bailey Tableau cage: This wagon was built around 1910 for the Barnum & Bailey Circus. It was one of seven cages of this style in which the right hand side was of solid paneling but the left hand side had removable panels so the animals could be viewed when the cage was in the menagerie. When the wagon was on parade the panel was left on. This is the reason for the elaborate painting on the panels. In 1919 when the Ringlings merged their circus into Barnum & Bailey, which they already owned, this wagon continued to appear in their menagerie. In 1936 the wagon was traded to (Ringling owned) Hagenbeck-Wallace and was on that show in 1937-38 until it closed in California. The wagon ended up at Universal Studios as a movie prop and  in 1963 they presented it to Circus World. (CWM files) *This Wagon was not painted or altered for WFE. (click on image)

#88 Barnum & Bailey Tableau cage (historic #89 “Whiskers”): This statuary, tableau cage was built in 1883 for the Barnum, Bailey & Hutchins Circus. It was one of 12 and only one other is still in existence in Circus World’s collection (#66 Barnum & Bailey and Hutchinson Tableau cage). *Note: a tableau cage wagon has a fixed ornamental side and cage bars on the other side. The cage features bearded male figures in each corner and was nicknamed “Whiskers”. The wagon was on Barnum & London Circus and later Barnum & Bailey until 1918, including B & B’s European tour from 1898 until 1902. Ringling Bros sold the wagon to Christy Bros. Circus in 1925 and they used it in 1928-30. Eventually the wagon was sold to Bradley & Kaye Amusement Company located in Los Angeles, CA and used in many movies including “Chad Hanna” and “Jumbo”. It was purchased by Walt Disney in 1954 and was used in the movie “Toby Tyler”. In 1962 Disney Productions presented this and several other wagons to Circus World. (CWM files) *The more ornate side of this wagon can be seen in the set image at the top of this page. This cage wagon was not altered in any way for WFE. (click on image)

“No Number” Golden Bros cage: When the wagon was originally restored by Circus World it was referred to as #82 Howes Great London cage. There is a twin in the collection #81 Howes Great London cage which is also in WFE. This wagon was built for Howes Great London Circus in the 1920’s. It later was on Golden Bros Circus, Lee Bros. Circus and finally Christy Bros. Circus. In 1936, the cage was purchased by Ken Maynard for his Diamond K Ranch Wild West. It was gifted to Circus World in 1962. (CWM files) *It appears that this wagon was repainted the same yellow color with added red and gold accents… (click on image)

#62 Sells-Floto Ticket wagon: The wagon was built in the Peru, Indiana winter quarters of Sells-Floto Circus about 1928. The wagon was used on the circus from 1929 to 1932 the era when Tom Mix, the famous cowboy, was featured. From 1933 to 1938 (except 1936) the wagon was on the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. Like many circus wagons, it ended up on the West Coast where it was used in motion pictures. The wagon was presented to Circus World from Louis Goebel, owner of  World Jungle Compound, Thousand Oaks, Calif in 1965. (CWM files) *This ticket wagon was completely repainted ‘Benzini Bros. Circus boxcar red’ with gold and green flourishes and  ‘Benzini Bros. Circus’ in gold lettering instead of Sell-Floto Circus… (click on photo)

#100 Royal Italian Band Carriage: There is very little history on this wagon and it is unknown when it was built or by whom. The wagon was rediscovered in by an American Army Officer who was stationed in England. He notified Circus World of the existence of 10 old circus wagons in an ancient barn on the Sir Robert Fossett Circus property in England. Letters between, Chappie Fox, director of Circus World Museum and the brother and sister owners of the Fossett Circus,  Bailey and Mary Fossett ended with them agreeing to gift the wagons to Circus World. Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co. sponsor of the annual circus parade in Milwaukee covered the cost of transporting the 10 old wagons to Circus World. (CWM files) *The Band Carriage was completely repainted ‘Benzini Bros. boxcar red’ with gold trim, yellow interior and “Benzini Bros. Circus” in gold with green accent lettering on each side. It’s truly spectacular when it’s being pulled by four dapple-gray horses and the Big Top band gets to ride around in it too! (click on image)

** All of the Circus Wagons used in Water for Elephants are on display at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin!

Published on August 13, 2010 at 4:16 pm  Comments (6)  

6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I am looking for information on my father, Edward Yawger, he was part of the crew in the 40-50 and he supposidly painted the circus wagons and a building in Rockford, Il for the circus?? Thank you for any information you might have.

  2. Having read WFE several times and also being a member of the Train crew team for the Great Circus parade for over the past 40 years I look forward to seeing the movie and reliving some of our experiences over again
    It’s been fun following your blog also and watching the progress

  3. Dear – Water For Elephants – the Film – blog. I have enjoyed writing about one of my favorite places – Circus World Museum and hope that your readers will enjoy this insite as much as I enjoyed writing it.

    • Thank you, Mr. Goodall, for your kind words and even kinder participation on my blog… It’s truly an honor!

  4. What a wealth of information! I love these circus wagons and it will be fun to view them in the WFE movie. I live near Baraboo, WI and have been to Circus World several times and this post makes me want to a plan a another trip soon! It is wonderful place for a family fun day as not only is it a museum, but at least the last time we went there they had a Big Top circus performance and a circus parade!

  5. Being from Wisconsin I found this incredibly interesting. Thanks!!

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