Fairground and Circus Transport, research by Denis N. Miller

Fairground and Circus Transport, research by Denis N. Miller
Edited by Bart Vanderveen

Published by Roundoak in 1990, 62 pages. Rectangular Hardback - 18.5cm by 25cm (N7892PE)

Brand New Book


From the introduction: Without a reliable means of transport, the modern travelling showman's business is doomed to failure. Whilst remaining totally economical, his vehicles must serve as load-carriers, mobile homes and generating plants and he must be a 'jack-of-all-trades', capable of repairing any equipment which may break down or damage which may be caused, and even building his own rides or adapting existing machines.

Before 1860 practically all transport was horse-drawn and riding machines as we know them were unheard of. The fairground would consist largely of one-man or family concerns, each outfit comprising perhaps one or two wagons normally hauled by no more than two horses each. Occasionally, however, one could see trains of three or more large wagons hauled by a number of horses, and the larger travelling menageries, operating mainly independently of the fairgrounds, often had as many as 50 or 60 horses hauling some fourteen heavy loads (e.g. Wombwell's first show of the 1880s).

Although a handful of tenting circuses continued to use equine transport as late as the 1920s and Thirties, it is claimed that the first application of self-propulsion in this field was by the American circus proprietor Jim Myer who, as early as 1859, while on a tour of Southern England, purchased a Bray traction engine which he decorated with carved wood and bright paintwork, setting a precedent in showland decoration carried on to this day.

There are showmen, notably in the United States and Canada, who rely upon the railway system to move their equipment from town to town, many fair and circus grounds being located conveniently alongside freight sidings. In the British Isles, however, the relatively short distances travelled combined with a basically inadequate railway system have led to the showman's reliance upon vehicular movement. It was the British showman, therefore, who was largely responsible for the introduction of the road train, sometimes consisting of seven or more wagons, hauled by a gleaming example of the showman's steam road locomotive or scenic engine, both familiar products of British heavy industry.

Although the greatest percentage of showmen still operate as one-man concerns, requiring only one or two lorries and a living wagon, there are now many more larger family businesses operating adult riding machines. The heads of these families are known as 'riding masters' and have far more complex fleet requirements than the small man. For example, a modern Dodgem Track may require as many as three lorries and two trailers. One vehicle would be equipped as a generating plant, whilst the other two lorries could be employed for carrying the base plates and nets and the dodgem cars. One trailer could carry any remaining cars, another the access steps, uprights and main structure. The pay box/amplification unit is also trailer-mounted.

The largest of all operators is the 'tenting circus', some having as many as 50 vehicles, ranging from advance publicity vans, booking offices, mobile dressing rooms and wardrobe vans to conveniences, livestock carriers, fuel and water tankers and even fire appliances. Because of the showman's superb skill as an engineer, virtually no circus or fairground vehicle is the same as another. We have selected for publication those photographs which we feel are the most interesting or which show the most unique vehicles. The majority are arranged by chassis make, in alphabetical order...