That phrase keeps buzzing in my head as I scan a used book I just received from Amazon. The title is Step Right This Way by Edward J. Kelty. This is a wonderful coffee table edition of old-time circus photographs taken in the 1920’s and 30’s.
Why a circus book? My Dad, Webster (“Webb”) Warren Bateman and his older brother, Raymond Wellington Bateman joined a traveling truck circus the summer of 1925 when Dad was 14 and Ray 16. The boys drove two of ten trucks to one night stands in towns in the Dakotas and Minnesota. They helped put up the big top and also performed. No, they were not the high wire act. Dad was the front end and Ray the back end of a cartoon looking giraffe. After taking down the Big Top, the boys and other roustabouts caught four or five hours sleep and hit the road again.
Dad’s brief discussion of this adventure and my regret at not having asked him more questions when he was still alive, led me to do more research. How many acts did they have? What were they? How many people can you haul in ten Model T Ford trucks along with the big top, bleachers, food, and animals? Yes, I’ve looked at images of Model T trucks used in the circuses to get an idea of size and I visited the LeMay Family Collection (of cars) at Marymount Event Center in Spanaway, Washington. (I was even allowed to open doors and take photographs).
I also contacted Archivist Peter Shrake at the Robert L. Parkinson Library and Research Center which is part of Circus World in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Peter in turn gave me the names of three truck circuses from the mid 1920’s. (I also discovered the names of more in Kelty’s book of photos).
Peter directed me to their library’s archive of photos. There aren’t many photos of truck circuses since the larger more glamorous circuses of the day travelled by train and drew a lot of attention wherever they went. Think Water for Elephants written by Sara Gruen as an example.
The answers to my questions, for the most part, will require a great deal of imagination to answer in my novel, Cat Skinner – A story of Lust, Love and Loss in the 1930’s.
Oh, the places I go in my journey to tell Webb’s story and the fun still to be done!