Under the Big Top

| July 10, 2001

Circus life isn’t for everyone, and neither is trucking. Truckers and circus performers are nomadic in nature, so it’s no wonder that many circuses are transported by semis.

The Kelly Miller Circus of Hugo, Okla., has five red Freightliners and smaller show trucks with the circus logo that moves its equipment. The performers travel in RVs as they move from one town to another. Their shows can be seen in the Midwest, South and Northeast, and in larger cities such as Dallas, Chicago and New York.

A typical day for the Kelly Miller Circus begins when the trucks roll onto the lot at 7 a.m. The lead semi, driven by the general manager is the first to arrive, followed by the generator semi, the pole semi driven by the canvas boss, two animal semis that house three Asian elephants and hoof stock, and the cookhouse truck where meals are prepared for the crew.
The tractor-trailers are parked with the RVs and show trucks. The concessions stand and animal trucks are set up, and the crew starts raising the tent at 9 a.m. But on a cold, rainy March morning, the day wasn’t typical, and the crew was behind.

The truckers for the circus faced the elements as they tried to park their trucks in a soggy field beside Shield Elementary School in Glenn Heights, Texas. Chris Beckett, the show’s 24 Hour Man, arrived first and tested the ground. There was a discussion about whether to move the show six miles down the road to a Wal-Mart parking lot or try the soft, wet ground. Each semi has pull hooks so that Viola, the elephant, can pull them out when they’re stuck in soft ground.

“Always be friendly to the elephant man because he can make you lose a front end,” Beckett says and laughs.

Representatives from Wal-Mart couldn’t be reached in time, and a decision had to be made. After reassurance from the city that the field would be repaired if marred too badly, Beckett directed the trucks into the parking lot.

The truckers helped park the circus vehicles and began working to raise the big top. The crew worked in the pouring rain, and their boots were caked in mud. The ground was too soggy for the work trucks to roll onto the field, so Nina, a 7,000-pound Asian elephant, was harnessed to the stake truck. She pulled the truck in a circle while the crew drove wooden stakes into the ground. If the ground had been dry, steel stakes would have been used.

At 9:30 a.m., Viola, a 10,000-pound Asian elephant, was brought out to help raise the big top. She holds up the test as the crew pulls the tent sides in place. Her last duty is to pull the ceiling pole that raises the 5,000-pound tent.

The circus runs seven days a week and holds two shows a day for 33 weeks. It travels to 222 cities a year in 16 different states. Each year, its first show is held in Hugo, Okla, the location of its headquarters. On their months off, the crew, performers and truckers find other jobs, and the equipment is maintained.

Driving the Circus
Roy Wells has been the show’s animal trainer and driver for six years. He says his job is different from most truckers because he has to be cautious of the animals standing in the trailer, and he has to make frequent stops along his route.

“We take it slow around corners, almost to a stop,” he says. “We also have to stop to water and care for the animals. It’s not the same as hauling general freight.”
Once, Wells broke down and had to wait overnight at a truckstop in South Carolina while his engine was rebuilt. He tied the elephants near the fuel island and laughed when he saw the truckers’ faces as they pulled in that night.

“The headlights would flash on them, and I could see the shocked looks on their faces,” he says. “They looked like they couldn’t believe what they saw.”

Under the Big Top

| July 10, 2001

Circus life isn’t for everyone, and neither is trucking. Truckers and circus performers are nomadic in nature, so it’s no wonder that many circuses are transported by semis.

The Kelly Miller Circus of Hugo, Okla., has five red Freightliners and smaller show trucks with the circus logo that moves its equipment. The performers travel in RVs as they move from one town to another. Their shows can be seen in the Midwest, South and Northeast, and in larger cities such as Dallas, Chicago and New York.

A typical day for the Kelly Miller Circus begins when the trucks roll onto the lot at 7 a.m. The lead semi, driven by the general manager is the first to arrive, followed by the generator semi, the pole semi driven by the canvas boss, two animal semis that house three Asian elephants and hoof stock, and the cookhouse truck where meals are prepared for the crew.
The tractor-trailers are parked with the RVs and show trucks. The concessions stand and animal trucks are set up, and the crew starts raising the tent at 9 a.m. But on a cold, rainy March morning, the day wasn’t typical, and the crew was behind.

The truckers for the circus faced the elements as they tried to park their trucks in a soggy field beside Shield Elementary School in Glenn Heights, Texas. Chris Beckett, the show’s 24 Hour Man, arrived first and tested the ground. There was a discussion about whether to move the show six miles down the road to a Wal-Mart parking lot or try the soft, wet ground. Each semi has pull hooks so that Viola, the elephant, can pull them out when they’re stuck in soft ground.

“Always be friendly to the elephant man because he can make you lose a front end,” Beckett says and laughs.

Representatives from Wal-Mart couldn’t be reached in time, and a decision had to be made. After reassurance from the city that the field would be repaired if marred too badly, Beckett directed the trucks into the parking lot.

The truckers helped park the circus vehicles and began working to raise the big top. The crew worked in the pouring rain, and their boots were caked in mud. The ground was too soggy for the work trucks to roll onto the field, so Nina, a 7,000-pound Asian elephant, was harnessed to the stake truck. She pulled the truck in a circle while the crew drove wooden stakes into the ground. If the ground had been dry, steel stakes would have been used.

At 9:30 a.m., Viola, a 10,000-pound Asian elephant, was brought out to help raise the big top. She holds up the test as the crew pulls the tent sides in place. Her last duty is to pull the ceiling pole that raises the 5,000-pound tent.

The circus runs seven days a week and holds two shows a day for 33 weeks. It travels to 222 cities a year in 16 different states. Each year, its first show is held in Hugo, Okla, the location of its headquarters. On their months off, the crew, performers and truckers find other jobs, and the equipment is maintained.

Driving the Circus
Roy Wells has been the show’s animal trainer and driver for six years. He says his job is different from most truckers because he has to be cautious of the animals standing in the trailer, and he has to make frequent stops along his route.

“We take it slow around corners, almost to a stop,” he says. “We also have to stop to water and care for the animals. It’s not the same as hauling general freight.”
Once, Wells broke down and had to wait overnight at a truckstop in South Carolina while his engine was rebuilt. He tied the elephants near the fuel island and laughed when he saw the truckers’ faces as they pulled in that night.

“The headlights would flash on them, and I could see the shocked looks on their faces,” he says. “They looked like they couldn’t believe what they saw.”

Comments are closed.