MY CAREER WITH THE CIRCUS!
By Norris Chambers
It was miserably
hot. Cliff and I were riding on a stripped down Model T. We had worked it over
in our blacksmith shop by shortening the frame so that the differential was
jammed against the transmission. The steering column had been shortened so that
it was in the lap of the driver, who sat in a single seat from some finer car
that had found its way into the wrecking yard. The passenger, whom I
represented at this time, sat in a similar seat on the right. A Model T
stripped like this was very fast, and seemed even faster than it was. There was
no semblance of a top or sides. We just sat there above the road and sweated as
old Henry, as we called the beast, chugged down the dusty west
We were heading west and north, looking for a job shocking grain. The combine was not yet in general use, and there was considerable work available at this time of year. The grain had to be cut, shocked, and threshed. Threshing required hauling the bundles to the thresher location.
Of course we needed a little money. This was when jobs were non-existent for many, and any kind of work that would provide a little sustenance was sought after. Between the two of us, we had about twelve dollars. This was a pretty good stake. There were some on the road who had less.
We traveled light. A well constructed box was bolted behind the seats, just above the spare gasoline tank. It was secured by a lock, and contained a change of clothes, a few other items of wear and a beat-up fiddle and guitar. We had visions of playing and singing with a thresher crew after a day's work was over. Many thresher hands took their musical instruments with them.
There was a chuck wagon that provided good food. It was usually cool enough to have a big fire to sit around and enjoy before bedding down on a makeshift pallet. A grub box was fastened behind the locked box, and the bedding was on top of that. A well worn tarp was spread over all this.
The first day had brought us 150 miles from home, and this second day found us another 75 miles up the road. The scenery was monotonous. There was nothing but sand and shrubs on each side, and it had been that way for many miles. The sun seemed to get hotter, and so did old Henry. Steam began to puff out of the radiator through the overflow pipe.
"Got to let
her cool," drawled
"I guess so," I agreed. "But it's shore not a likely place to wait. We haven't got much water left." We had a five gallon can that had been full when we left camp that morning. This would be the third stop we had made.
After an uncomfortable wait of several minutes, we poured the rest of the water in the radiator and screwed the cap back on. As we were preparing to resume our journey, a long, black automobile of some sort pulled up from the direction we were heading and stopped. A heavy, dark complexioned gentleman got out and greeted us. He was dressed in a dark blue suit with a lighter blue tie. He matched my idea of a real sophisticated gentleman.
trouble, boys?" he asked.
fellows heading? Looks like you might be modern day pioneers on your way to
lot of grain up there, all right. But if you'd like to make a little extra money,
I can arrange it. I'm the publicity man for a circus, and we're setting up in
I told him we'd sure think about
it. He wrote a note to some character named Red telling him we would be good
workers and asking him to let us help with the set up. He left, telling us he
hoped to see us in
We didn't do
much thinking. We turned around and headed south, then took the first big road
heading west. By camping time we were in the outskirts of
We drove into
Some rough looking guy kept walking around with a long tape measure and told us where to put them. It got to be pretty hard work, but not much worse than cutting posts. By late afternoon we had stretched the big tent and a lot of smaller ones. The crew was ready for the show, and everyone retired to the feed tent where we were served a great meal. We saw the show and really enjoyed it. I had been to a couple of circuses before, and this was as good or better than any I had seen before.
After the show was over, around ten or eleven o'clock, Red told us he needed us to stay and tear down all the tents and load everything on the railroad cars. The circus grounds was by the railroad track. I supposed this was for convenience in loading and unloading equipment.
We ate again at the feed tent and then worked all night dismantling and loading. It was not easy work. We finished just before dawn. Red gave us each a small slip of pink paper that had our names and the number of hours we worked. He signed it by scribbling the simple name "Red." He told us to take it to the Grand Hotel in downtown San Angelo and Mr. Sims would pay us. He said that Mr. Sims always stayed in a hotel in the town where they went, and that the payoff was always there.
We didn't lose any time getting to the Grand Hotel, and we were among the first of many to ask for Mr. Sims. The hotel clerk told us, with a sad face and a sympathetic sigh, that Mr. Sims had checked out about an hour ago. There were those in the crowd who were angry enough to lynch Mr. Sims, if they could have found him. But Mr. Sims was no longer in the city.
After discussing the situation
briefly, Cliff and I decided to head for
After much pounding and kicking on the door, Mr. Sims opened it and asked what we wanted. I held up the pink slip and told him we wanted our money. Believe it or not, he grinned and told us to come in. He reached under the bed and brought out a small leather bag, opened it and pulled out more cash than I had ever seen. He counted out our money and handed it to us, taking the pink slips in return.
he said, "I'm sorry to cause you all this trouble. I admire your courage
in tracking us down. Would you like to work for me for the rest of the season?
We are working east, heading for
We didn't even
talk it over.
"By the way," Mr. Sims added, as we were leaving. "You will be paid at the site from now on. Good luck!"
All that day and that night we worked hard, and I felt sorry for the local Brown County boys that were laboring and sweating, and would be told the next morning to pick up their pay from Mr. Sims at the Brownwood Hotel.
We worked about
four more towns, but decided not to go to