Saturday, October 31, 2009 

October 31st, 2009.

It's been a week since we left Hugo. Trip from Fort Smith, AR to the northeast was slow going. Minor breakdowns and repairs every day. Wet weather. It's cold up here around the Great Lakes. Looking for a rental around Ithaca, NY -- and before that a campground open for a few more weeks. Really need a job until late winter and a new circus season. Haven't spent an entire winter in New York in almost twenty years. Not entirely looking forward to it. The best that can be said is that the school are generally good, and in California they generally aren't and my son Robin wants to return to a regular classroom.

In the meantime...Trick or Treat.

Sunday, October 25, 2009 

Sunday Oct 25th.  Left Hugo yesterday and drove to Ft Smith, AR for the closing of Kelly Miller Circus.  Great Halloween party on Saturday night after the second show.  KM goes into winterquarters tomorrow -- and we'll head on to New York.  The clowns, the cats, the elephants, the flying act, the horses, and production numbers -- KM remains the very definition of traditional circus as we fondly remember it.  Nice to spend a day here.

Friday, October 23, 2009 

Blog plans. Normally I don't blog a whole lot in the winter. This year however I'm going to try to post something at least once a week. Mostly because I have plenty of pictures, but have lacked the kind of internet speed to post them all. Hope to get started on that in November.


Friday October 23rd, 2009. Hugo, OK. WQ. Overcast and cool.

Saw Jim Royal manager of Kelly Miller yesterday. KM comes home on Monday after closing Sunday in Ft Smith, AR. In the months since the show left Hugo owner John Ringling North II has purchased the KM WQ property from former KM owner David Rawls. Asthe purchase did not include the old Hugo skating rink where KM has had offices, a new office structure has been constructed at the WQ. All looks very good and it should ready, perhaps minus a few final touches when the show gets home.

Culpepper cats leave in a couple days. Cats will be on special display for the next four months at a not-for-profit animal park and zoo. Nice facility. CM boss Trey Key will spend some time this winter at the park.

Monday, October 19, 2009 

Monday October 19th, 2009. Winterquarters. Hugo, OK. Warm and sunny.

The WQ are quiet now. Working men gone, tent boss gone. BJ Hebert has left for Goree, TX, and Jeff Hampton leaves to billpost for Ringling in another week. Trey Key wikll head east in November and only Scott Moss the mechanic will hold down the fort until he leaves after Christmas. In January it's at least possible that the quarters will be a ghost town waiting for spring. We thought we'd be gone by now, but we're sticking around until the cats are in their new winter home. Should be here no more than another week. By then Kelly Miller will be home, across Kirk Road...and Carson & Barnes after that. My son Robin turned 15 today here in Hugo.

Noted with regret. Heard about the death of Bill Strong. We'll miss him.

Saturday, October 17, 2009 

Culpepper & Merriweather's Great Combined Circus


The Strangest Thing You've Ever Seen...


Mechanic Scott Moss


Robin Dykes can find espresso almost anywhere.



A 24 hour man must always have the patience of a saint.




I have pictures of all of the trucks which I'll upload at some point in the next week, once we land somewhere with WiFi.


Your correspondent with Solomon...


Saturday October 17. Hugo, OK.

The show is in the barn now. Tent claned and patched (a bit.) Seats painted. Everything in its place. Today the workingmen leave, back to Mexico. David, our tent boss and his wife Stephanie are of tom Pennsylvania. Yesterday the sun came out for the first time in over a week and down Kirk Rd the elephants were outside in the paddocks at Carson & Barnes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009 

Wednesday October 14th. Hugo, OK. Winterquarters. Overcast, showers.

By yesterday afternoon the show was home in Hugo. Brent Dewitt and his sideshow left from the lot in Texas. The "new kids" Brandon and Tamara who sold tickets and worked the front door stayed around WQ only long enough to drop off a show vehicle. They were gone before the last truck arrived. Likewise the wire act left before dark. This morning Jessi Wonderfool our hugely talented clown this season is off to sunny California. In the meantime there are a couple days of work still to be done here. And the cats have to settled for the off-season. Then for me, it's off to the frozen northeast.

Across the road the construction on the new office at the Kelly Miller WQ looks great. Imagine it will be ready when KM comes off the road in about ten days.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009 

October 13th, 2009. Justin, TX. 55 miles. Rain, warmer.

Jumped north through Fort Worth this morning in the rain. Lot in Justin is very soft. Culpepper & Merriweather Great Combined Circus owner Trey Key has made the decision to cancel the show and cancel shows for tomorrow and Thursday as well. Thed season is over. We're jumping hbome to winterquarters in Hugo, Ok later this morning. The 25th edition of CM Circus, ends as the poet said, not with a bang but a whimper. Tomorrow we'll put the show away and CM will hit the road again in March of 2010. I promise tomorrow I'll post pictures. The final jump home will be 150 miles. This route book for 2009 is all out and over.


Sunday, October 11, 2009 

Sunday. Palmer, TX. 95 miles. Cold, wet. Asphalt.

Rain continues depressing business. Just saw the recent Carson & Barnes piece on Good Morning America. Wonderful stuff. Best network coverage of traditional circus in years. Four more days in the season.

Saturday Chandler, TX. 121 miles. Asphalt. Cold, wet.

Shared the lot with the Chandler Pow Wow. Weather cold and damp. Small crowds.

Friday Anna, TX. 45 miles. Wet lot. Show rained out.

Thursday, October 08, 2009 

Pilot Point, TX. 120 miles. Hot, muggy, rain.

Jumped back into TX for our swing around Dallas/Ft Worth. Forcast today calls for up to 6 inches of rain. Lot soft already. Muggy with a high temp near 90 degrees F predicted. Decision made in conjection with the sponsor to cancel today's shows, and to reschedule for next Thursday, when we'll jump back down from OK and make this our closing "date." Free day gives the working guys time to start on projects they would do when we reach winter quarters. Washing trucks, etc.


Wednesday. Wynnewood, OK. 95 miles. Grass. Cool.

Long jump south from OKC area. Respectable crowds here. Home of the G.W. Exotic Animal Park. Lots of lion/tiger crosses on exhibit.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009 

Tuesday October 9th, 2009. Piedmont, OK. 35 miles. Mowed field. Wind, rain.

Leaking heater core on my wife's Beetle. Bad news is that it takes 8 hours to pull the airbags, dask, instruments, steering, etc. Going to try to nurse it to Hugo for the fix.

With a bit more than a week to go in this 25th edition of Culpepper & Merriweather’s Great Combined Circus it’s as good a time as any to recap the season that opened in Antlers, OK in March and saw the show play west to California, up the coast, east across the northern high plains, then linger in the upper Midwest before turning south again.

The season started with a literal bang when the show generator threw a rod just before opening. Times are always lean at opening, and the expense of replacing the generator was significant. Initially the decision was made to leave the ride ponies at home and to haul a rental generator behind the cat truck. The rental was replaced with a used unit with low hours while we were in the TX Panhandle a couple weeks into the season, however that unit proved problematic and we continued to pull it for some time – until Globe, AZ – and ultimately went the season without the pony sweep.

Business in OK and TX was strong for the first few weeks of the season with outstanding dates in places like Lawton, OK. A freak snowstorm buried the show in Canadian, TX in late March and we lost several days. Business remained good in west Texas, but upon entering New Mexico the poor state of the economy took it’s toll. CM had a good date outside Albuquerque, and another outside Phoenix, but generally the southwest was disappointing. In New Mexico we were forced to replace a truck when the Ford that carried electrical equipment and pulled the seat wagon looked like it would need a new diesel engine. In Socorro high winds forced the show indoors at the fairgrounds.

Business did not improve initially when we reached California in mid-April. Dates in Blyth, around Palm Springs, near Victorville, and in Lucerne Valley were slow. After the expense of replaced equipment and three weeks of sparse attendance in late April 2009 did not look promising. Everything changed when we left the desert and reached California’s Central Valley. Thereafter for several weeks CM did the best business in the show’s history, and very good business continued in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. South Dakota disappointed us, and a long stay in Minnesota saw good crowds but lower per caps. Business through most of midwest was average.

The show changed only slightly through the season with the addition of a “Quick Change” to the first half of the show beginning in New Mexico. Through the season we lost only one working man, who blew the show in Deming, NM when we were near the Mexican border. We suffered the usual mechanical problems, but show mechanic Scott Moss kept us rolling.

CM’s historic cable bigtop survived its 15th season in 2009. After over 6500 performances seen by two and a half million people it still goes up and down every day.

Trey Key’s big cat act, in its second season continues to be a crowd pleaser. While Trey’s act may be simplistic compared to Casey Cainan’s hind leg walkers on Kelly Miller, or a Hawthorne act, few shows put the audience so close to the big cats. Almost certainly circus clown Jessi Wonderful was the most popular performer in the 25th edition of the CM show. She’s a very talented entertainer.

In retrospect a few things about 2009 might have been handled differently to the show’s benefit. While snake pictures inside the bigtop during intermission were popular, the lack of a pony ride or any other animal ride on the midway probably cost the show money both directly and indirectly. Animals on the midway get people out of the tent during intermission and increase concessions sales. In many towns intermission concessions sales were disappointing as only smokers exited the seats.

Likewise in concessions placing butchers on the midway before “Doors” almost certainly hurt window sales – great for the butchers, who earned more – but not so good for the circus.

If any one issue has vexed CM this season it would have to be the ongoing dispute over the show’s USDA status. CM Circus does not and never has abused or neglected animals, nor been accused of animal abuse. However in the summer of 2008 two elephants leased by CM Circus took a walk in Kansas, initiating an APHIS investigation that resulted in a formal USDA Complaint against both the circus and the owner of the animals. Additional non-compliance issue were raised over the course of the investigation. CM has every expectation that this complaint will be resolved, however protecting the good name of the show is an expensive process involving Major League attorneys. Ultimately the cost of defending the show against spurious charges certainly impacts what can and can’t be done in winterquarters and equipment purchases for next year. CM successfully received a California exhibitors permit this year – much harder to qualify for than many Federal permits – and we have a spotless inspection record this season. We will be vindicated.

2010 will be the 26th annual addition of the CM Circus…in its 25th year. That’s a pretty impressive record for a show started by three guys in a Florida campground. Red Johnson, who owned the show for so long, Jim Hebert, and Curtis Cainan can be justifiably proud of what they wrought.

Let’s hope that if somebody ever turns Culpepper into a boardgame is just as much fun to play as it is to troupe with.

Monday, October 05, 2009 

Monday October 5th, 2009. Cresent, OK. 55 miles. Grass. Overcast. Cool.

There are nine days left in the Culpepper & Merriweather season when we closein a small town between Durant and Hugo. We'll be in suburban OKC today and tomorrow then head for Dallas area. Over the last few days we've played Seiling, OK on Friday -- a 100 mile jump. Saturday we moved 70 m iles to Hinton, OK. On Sunday we played Okeene, OK, another 55 miles. A couple days were alright, a couple less so.

Some route between now and closing...

10-8-09 Pilot Point, TX
10-9-09 Anna, TX
10-11-09 Palmer TX
10-13-09 Justin, TX
10-14-09 Bokchito, OK

Thursday, October 01, 2009 

Thursday October 1st. Shattuck, OK. 120 miles. Grass. Cool.

Much cooler today. Temps tonight near freezing. Good crowds back in Oklahoma in Shattuck after a long jump this morning. Two weeks left in the season.


Wednesday. Stinnet, TX. 45 miles. Field. Warm.

It was almost certainly the right thing to do, returning to the Panhandle to play towns we missed in the Spring due to weather -- but honestly none of these towns have been profitable. The drop in natural gas prices has taken its toll. Jumped into Stinnet at night off the dusty lot in Cactus. Slept in late. Very windy today. Tomorrow, back into Oklahoma.