Friday, June 30, 2006 


Manitowoc, WI. Jump 118 miles. Grass lot. Perfect circus weather.

Tomorrow we move into Oshkosh for the 4 day Sawdust Days Festival before making for Michigan. Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York will represent the bulk of the summer season. Yesterday in Kenosha the show through threw a surprise party for Geary and Barbara Byrd for their joint 60th birthdays.

Thursday, June 29, 2006 

Kenosha. Two good days with four strong shows. Even the rain on Wednesday didn't keep the crowds down. Mary Jane Foote, President of the Circus Fans of America came by the show today, as did one of my favorite former Circus Insider contributors, Paul Holley, Maybe, as Paul suggested, in Wisconsin a love for circus is almost genetic. We'd like to thinks so.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006 

Kenosha, WI. 57 miles. Asphalt lot. Overcast and mild. We are two days here at the dog track in Kenosha, our return to Wisconsin and the closest dates we play to Chicagoland this season. Shows today and tomorrow at 4:30 and 7:30. We are coming off a good day in Harvard, IL where the hosts worked hard to make Circus Day successful. Passing the exit for Delevan, WI early this morning I couldn't help but think that once Delevan was the unofficial circus center of America -- when Baraboo was still a proverbial wide spot on the road. We are or should be haunted by the ghosts of the mudshows that came before us, the places and the times they saw. Over 70 seasons how much have we forgotten of our own history? Circus lore is a deep vein running beneath the veneer of our national culture and the patina of our modern history. The dog and pony shows trotted out by startup execs in the Silicon Valley seeking venture capitol owe more to the dog and pony shows from whence we borrow the name than they can possibly imagine. Circus I sometimes like to think is the secret history, and sitting the grandstands on a summer night we all tap into that history and we are richer for it.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006 


Dubuque, IA to Rocks Falls, IL. 95 miles. Grass lot. Overcast. Cool.


Rock Falls, IL to Harvard, IL 93 miles. Grass lot. Overcast. Warm with a chance of showers. Tomorrow we return to Wisconsin.

Saturday, June 24, 2006 

Dubuque, IA. 73 mile jump. Asphalt. Overcast. Back into Iowa briefly for two days at a shopping center. This is the first time in three weeks that we haven't moved every day. Here in the midwest serious circus fans are coming early to watch setup.


West Union, Iowa to Prairie Du Chein, Wisconsin. Jump 45 miles. Grass lot. Perfect circus weather. We have crossed the Mississippi River. Although we will travel through the middle west for another month, on any map of the continent we have entered the east, It’s high summer.

Speech to the Prairie Du Chein Rotary Club

Good afternoon. My name is Ben Trumble, and I’m the media relations director for the Carson & Barnes Circus, the largest traditional 3-ring tented circus in the United States. I’d like to begin today by talking a little bit about the history of the American Circus in general. I think it’s easier to understand our show, now in its 70th season under the same management if first you having some gleaning as to where the traditional circus came from. I am not a circus historian, so please don’t hold me to names and dates. This is more of a yarn.

Depending on the historian you prefer, circus itself dates back at least as far as the Roman Empire. However the large spectacles associated with Rome were never self-contained entertainments. In the Middle Ages the circus was little more than wandering performers appears in market towns and fairs. The modern circus is generally said to have been reinvented by a British equestrian named Philip Astley in the 18th Century. Astley determined that a horse running at a full gallop required a circle measuring 42’ across to reach its full stride. Thus was born the circus ring. Astley supplemented his riding acts with performances by clowns and jugglers and ropewalkers. Astley’s student John Bill Ricketts brought circus to America in the 1790s. Like Astley, Ricketts’ shows were held in building constructed especially for his use in New York, and Philadelphia. George Washington was an early circus fan. By the early 1800’s circuses and traveling animal collections were an important entertainment. The Hudson River Valley is frequently called the cardle of the American Circus because so many shows originated there around Somers, NY and Bethel CT. P.T. Barum was born near Bethel, and Aaron Turner invented the circus tent in Somers in the 1820’s. The bigtop allowed circuses mobility and shows moved west following the frontier. Because towns and villages on frontier were often small, circuses moved every day from one village to the next. This constant movement is still a hallmark of traditional circus.

Another center for American circus was the area along the shores of Lake Erie near Girard Pennsylvania. By the 1840’s there were at least six circuses headquartered in Girard including the Dan Rice Circus. Dan Rice was a singing clown and one of the most famous men in America prior to the Civil War. In the 1850’s a showman from upstate New York by the name of Yankee Robinson moved his circus to Illinois and pioneered a route through the mid-west and Wisconsin. Wisconsin would become the next great center for circus. In 1869 almost half of the three dozen circuses in America wintered in places like Delevan and later Baraboo. Famous Wisconsin shows include the Gollmar Bros, the shows operated George Popcorn Hall, the Burr Robbins Circus from Janesville, and of course the Ringling Bros Circus.

The circus world charged dramatically in the 1870’s when Wisconsin showman W.C. Coup partnered with P.T. Barnum to move a circus by rail. Railroad circuses could travel further and carry far more equipment. Suddenly bigger was better and the remainder of the 19th Century was a battle for bigger fought between the like of James Bailey, Adam Forepaugh, WW Cole, Barnum, the Baraboo Bros, and Ben Wallace of Indiana. Bailey would win that battle. By the early 20th Century the large shows were so big that consolidation was inevitable. Bailey bought Sells Bros and Forepaugh, and then Ringling bought Bailey. In Indiana Ben Wallace acquired the German Hagenbeck title and put out the Hagenbeck Wallace circus to confront the Ringling enterprise. Eventually the Indiana based shows would include the five biggest circuses in America excluding Ringling. Peru Indiana would be the center of the circus world from 1910 until World War 2.

Circus has always been an industry enamored with innovation. Each of the circus centers that I’ve mentioned attracted performers from around the world and artisans and artists and craftsmen and mechanics to build and operate the shows. Circus has always employed the latest in terms of communications and transportation technology. In 1920 the largest circuses all moved by rail, as did many smaller ones. A handful of regional circuses like the Orton shows in Iowa, or the Hunt show in the northeast still moved in wagons drawn by baggage horses. Ten years later improvements in road surfaces and truck technology changed everything. Suddenly truck shows could theoretically rival rail shows in mobility and size at a reasonable cost. In 1937 a Kansas family headed by Obert Miller founded a small truck circus. Ten years later when the show moved to Hugo, OK it was the largest truck show in the United States and one of the largest circuses overall. Eventually the Miller owned circus would come to be called Carson & Barnes.

After two hundred years why is circus, traditional circus still important? Certainly in selling our show we like to talk about family entertainment, a show where you never have to worry about language, or violence, or lewd conduct. Historically hasn’t been as lilly white as all that. A generation ago burlesque was a part of the sideshow, and games of chance could be found in the connection. We are family friendly today, but that’s not really what makes circus worth preserving. In a very real sense circus is an entry into the performing arts appealing to people who wouldn’t be caught dead attending the theatre. Where else can you see professional quality entertainers and pay less than $20 for a ticket? So called “new circus” whether it’s Cirque du Soliel or the current Ringling Blue Unit show have crossed the line into actual theater, but traditional circus remains a place where children of all ages feel right at home and don’t need to feel guilt about making noise or squirming in the seats while watching the drama unfold. In Europe and in Canada traditional circus is subsidized for it’s cultural value. Here in America we are happy to pay our own way and we only ask that the States and communities in which we play allow us the flexibility to put on a good and make a few dollars while we’re at it.

Contrary to popular belief the traditional circus is alive and well in age of the internet. When movies came along cinema was going to be the death of the circus, then there was television, then video rentals, and now online entertainment. Certainly each new form of entertainment represents a loss of market share beneath the bigtop but it isn’t butts in the seats that we lack for; we find away to find an audience always looks at new demographics. Today there are approximately fourteen tented circuses on the road, and a like number of shows playing auditoriums and other indoor venues. That’s about the same number as in 1956, or in 1869. The shows are smaller. In part that reflects realities like the cost of diesel fuel and insurance, but we’re still bringing circus to cities both small and large. Today’s circuses have critics our grandfathers would never have dreamed of. A century ago the Sells-Floto Circus was a founding member of the American Bison Society, any organization that saved the buffalo from extinction. Ringling Bros and our own show are equally committed to preserving Asian Elephants. Those conservation efforts are constantly under attack from Animal Liberation organizations like PETA. We believe that our pro conservation message will find an audience. We reject the argument made by animal liberation advocates that species survival is unimportant and extinction is natural. As human beings we can all do better than that.

Seventy years ago Obert Miller and his sons Kelly and D.R. founded their circus in part to make some money, and in part because they were circus fans. Had that original circus never made a dime the Millers would all likelihood never have regretted a minute of it. I think it’s safe to say that after four generations of family ownership as a corporate entity we can still say of the Carson & Barnes Circus, we’ve never regretted a minute of it. Today our circus has come to your town. With luck we’ll help our host to raise some money, and we’ll earn some too. With luck the weather will be in our favor. With luck the food in the cookhouse tonight will be something we recognize. One thing is certain. Tonight there will be smiles on children’s faces, and tomorrow some of those children will play circus and twenty years from now they will remember circus. We’d like to think we will still be here then, in our 90th year; and if we’re not there will certainly be another circus in our stead. If two hundred years of circus in America speaks to anything at all it speaks this, we endure. As long as there’s a bigtop somebody will be calling doors and somebody will be putting on a show.

Thursday, June 22, 2006 

West Union, IA. Jump 94 miles. Grass lot. Overcast. Temperatures in the low 80s. Shows at 4:30 & 7:30



The real lives of circus elephants. Susie decides to weed the garden at the top of the dirt pile. Thoughtful Kelly helps out.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006 


Algona, IA


Clear Lake, IA


Clear Lake, Iowa. In 1959 a small plane carrying rock music idols Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Blopper crashed in a cornfield after take-off near Clear Lake, Iowa. Don Maclean later called it The Day The Music Died. Pop historians see the crash as oen of a half a dozen waypoints on the road to American cynicism and the end of cultural innocence. Way points like the lot in Hartford, CT where in 1944 Ringling burned to the ground killing scores of spectators; like the narrow road below King City, CA where James Dean crashed his Porche. Like the grassy knoll in Dallas. Like Memphis. Like the Twin Towers. Like New Orleans after Katrina.. Some say that circus flourishes in times of innocence, languishing in societies with a hard edge. Other would argue that even a perfectly cynical circus in cynical times by its very nature creates innocence at least for a couple of hours. This is a debate beyond the scope of a single paragraph. And this has never been a cynical circus.

The weather is warm and overcast. The jump was only 45 miles. Nobody can be pessimistic about that.


Route from South Sioux City, NE to Algona, IA
June 20, 2006 Approx. 162 miles

Show 4:30 & 7:30

Leave the lot the way you came in. Right on US 77 N. Tgo ¼ mile to I-29 E/ US 77 N. Go 7 miles to Exit 4A. Go 41 miles on US 20 E. Turn left and go 21 miles on US 59 N. Turn right and go 69 miles on IA 3 E. Turn left on US 169 N. Go 23 miles to lot.

Weather warm and rainy.

Monday, June 19, 2006 


Three jumps in an internet dead zone.

Grand Island to Wayne, NE 120 miles. Grass lot. Warm. Rainy. Our third day of stormy weather and the third consecutive lot where tractors were required to move the show after tear down.

Short Jump from Wayne to West Point, NE. 35 miles. Picture perfect mid-western village with a well-kept fairgrounds in the middle of town. Green grass, and sunny. Warm. Good business after days of rainouts. The first fireflies of the season, a reminder that we are headed into the east.

West Point to South Sioux City, NE. 73 miles. Gravel lot. Sunny. Mild temps. The fairgrounds is hard on the banks of the Missouri River. Lewis and Clark must have walked this riverbank when their Corps of Discovery undertook the greatest of all adventures. Our ringmaster Aaron Broderick turned over a trailer on the jump. Fortunately Aaron was unharmed and the trailer just needs a bit of paint. Our crack Mechanics can right a trailer and have you back on the road in no time. Lot and License shows today. Tomorrow it’s into Iowa.

Friday, June 16, 2006 



Gorillas in the mist got nothin' on Ger-elephants in the mud. Take down the shade and let the rain fall, the elephants will handle the rest. Add a couple tires to toss around and you can entertain a crowd for the whole afternoon. No big surprise that the same natural behaviors in the mud wallow would look a lot like "circus tricks" if you prettied them up and put them in the ring. The trick to training is that there are no tricks at all, just enhancements of that which comes naturally.


Grand Island, NE. 53 miles. Grass lot. Warm, stormy.

A line of thunderstorms came out of Kansas during the second show in Minden last night. Mid-way through the first display a 70 mph wind gust hit knocking down the horse canopy. We cleared the bigtop and resumed the show an hour later to a small crowd that sat the first storm out in their cars. Storms continued through the night with at least one direct lightening strike on the lot. This morning it took three tractors, a payloader, and an elephant to get the trucks back onto pavement. That's why we call it a mudshow.

Thursday, June 15, 2006 


Minden, NE Jump 23 miles. Windy, warm. Grass lot.


Wow, eleven weeks have gone by and I have learned so much. Many people have helped with education along the way. Iron Eyes Cody said, “Who can own a rock, who can own a treee? Only the Great Spirit.” I’ve put my foot in my mouth a few times here on the circus, and it’s taught me that there are times when it’s best to be seen and not heard., or not seen at all. I’ve learned who I can talk to, who I can hand out with; but mostly I’m learning how to have fun with my job. I’ve discovered that people can be very different in place to place and community to community and I have to respect those differences. I can handle situations now that would have baffled me last winter. I’m still not perfect but all in all I’m wising up.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006 

Holdrege, NE 55 miles. Windy 95 degrees F

The short jump from Cozad was a nice change from the much longer jumps of late. The show was on the new lot by 7:00 AM. Draught conditions in portions of the western midwest are obvious here Holdrege, just as they are back in Oklahoma. The Mayor of Holdrege stopped by to say hello. Anti-circus critics have targeted Mayors this season, but almost universally we have found that elected official resent the approach taken by animal liberation in anti-circus, anti-zoo, anti-conservation campaigns.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006 

Cozad, NE 90 miles grass sunny 90 F

Monday, June 12, 2006 


McCook, NE. Jump 110 miles. Grass lot. Overcast and warm.

McCook NE looms large in the story of the Carson & Barnes Circus. Sometime before 1920 Mr. Obert Miller, a painter by trade took his young sons D.R. and Kelly to McCook to see a circus. The name of that circus is forgotten, though given the location it could easily have been the Sells – Floto Circus, based in Denver and in those days quite possibly the best circus in America. Two decades later Mr. Miller and his sons would found the Miller Family Circus, later called Al G Kelly Miller, and later still the Carson & Barnes Circus. D.R. Miller would go on to become one of the most successful circus owners of all time, and eighty years after he heard “doors” in McCook he would see his very last circus in the same town on the day he passed away. McCook will always be a part of the show.



Mastodons the native elephants of Nebraska






Stormy weather Scottsbluff NE

Sunday, June 11, 2006 

Eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska continue to be difficult for any kind of sustained wireless internet connection. We’ll catch up on the photos when we have some speed. Here’s are the jumsp we’ve made these last few days:

Crawford to Valentine 160 miles. Grass lot, warm and windy. In 1997 we had a blow down on the Valentine lot.

Valentine to Scottsbluff. 212 miles. Grass lot. Warm. Thunderstorms.

Scottsbluff to Torrington, WY. Crushed gravel lot. Tight squeeze. Warm. Thunderstorms. We had three inches of water in the tent for the first show. One of our Asian Rock Pythons laid 31 eggs. A first for us.

Torrington to Ogalallah, NE 160 miles. Grass lot. Warm. Tomorrow we jump to McCook, NE the town where in a sense it all started for us about 90 years ago when D.R. Miller saw his first circus there. A lifetime later Mr. Miller passed away on the circus lot when his own show played the same town.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006 

Crawford, Nebraska. Jump 165 miles. Weather, balmy. Today we moved from Wyoming into Nebraska. After three shows in Casper and a long jump arriving on a green lot in a small town was a pleasure. Today we were visited by a film crew from Nebraska Public Television, and with the, Dr. Mike Voorhies an authority on elephants. Here's the ctach. Dr Voorhies is an authority on North American elephants, species extincy for the past 10,000 years. The hills of Nebraska were once rich with Mastodons, the best known of the American Elephants. Today, for a little while, elephants lived here again grazing in the tall grass in a field beside a golf course. For Dr Voories our Asian elephants aren't just natural curiosities, they a living connection to a far away past. Several weeks ago an anti-circus activist said to me, "If elephants become extinct, it's natural." I would argue, if elepjants become extinct we lose not only a piece of our present and future, we lose a reminder of the past.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006 

Casper, WY Jump 107 miles. Cloudless, warm, near 90. Slept through the horn this morning and awakened at 5:20 when somebody banged on the door. Left yesterday’s town without a route sheet, trusted the arrows to make today’s gravel lot. A week ago in Rock Springs a large audience forced us to add a third show. With a first show sell-out in Casper a third show is a possibility here as well. Tomorrow, Crawford, our first Nebraska date.

Monday, June 05, 2006 


Wheatland, WY. 70 miles. Grass lot. 86 F under a cloudless blue sky.

The 24 hour man broke down just as me made Wheatland. A 24 hour man travels a day ahead of the show, arrowing the route, doing a rough layout on the lot, arranging for delivery of animal feed, dumpsters, or port-a-johns; arranging last minute permits, and assuring local hosts that the circus will indeed arrive the very next day. Now our 24 man is without wheels for a day. Driving a rental car and no doubt feeling at a loss behind the wheel of something that doesn’t require a quart of motor oil every seventy-five miles and grease stains up to the elbows. Circus is not about clean nails. Not on a mudshow.


A note on Cheyenne. A week ago a guy nmaed John phoned the show office in California and said that he wanted to ask his girlfriend to marry him during our 4:30 performance on Sunday afternoon. We put the ring in a radio used in a clown skit and the affair came off without a hitch. Best of luck John and Jenifer.


Hiatus. Four days without the Internet. Sometimes I am reminded that we aren’t quite as “wired” as we think. From Rock Springs, WY the show jumped 100 miles to a dirt lot in Rawlins. The weather remained almost perfect. Along the I-80 corridor in Wyoming we seem to be either a few weeks ahead of or a few weeks behind the Jordan World Circus’s small “rodeo unit,” an outdoor circus framed to play in front of the grandstand on rodeo grounds. A billposter in Rawlins was putting up Jordan paper when we rolled into town. Once upon a time American circuses engaged in fierce street battles over “paper” as show competed to play the same cities. The costly wars assured that no one would make any money in a contested town, no matter how popular the offering. The last real litho war was waged in Texas more than twenty years ago when the legendary Cliff Vargas put his fabled circus up against a Feld Entertainment Ice Show in a battle for paper supremacy.

From Rawlins we moved another 100 miles to play a lot and license date in Laramie. Again we were in the dirt. On any giving day our mechanics find and fix up to four trucks broken down along the highway. With the long jumps here in the west, some days it’s early afternoon before every vehicle is on the lot.

From Laramie we jumped sixty miles into Cheyenne, WY for the weekend. The grass grows greener, the days longer. In two weeks we’ll be in Iowa.