The Clark and Walters circus wagon was built during the 1930s. It was owned by the Timberlake family, who had performed in circuses for three generations. During the winter months the family lived in Jackson County, and the rest of the year they traveled with the circus in this wagon. Myrna Timberlake Ratcliff grew up in the circus and still tells stories about her experience to visitors at the Jackson County History Center.
Life on the Road
The wagon was specially made with living quarters in the front and a ticket booth in the back. The front living quarters could accommodate two people with two bunks, a small closet, and a tiny dresser. There was no bathroom in the wagon, so while traveling you would have to take a bath in a small bucket.
Circus tickets were sold from the back of the wagon. Outside the back of the wagon two doors folded out and there was a window that opened. The person selling tickets had to sit on the floor (hopefully with a pillow or blanket) and place their feet in the small space provided. This was not a comfortable place to sit.
Setting Up and Moving Out
Around the top of the wagon are several light bulbs that would light up once the wagon was hooked up to electricity. The circus had a huge generator that furnished lights for the big tent, the office, and concessions. Some days it was turned on by 9am so that the performers and workers could get everything ready for the show.
Moving the whole circus from town to town was hard work. Circus people always prayed for sunny days. If it rained overnight, some of the vehicles would get stuck in the mud. For performers, it was very helpful to be part of a circus with an elephant or two because the strong elephants could easily pull the wagons out of the mud!
Staying In Touch while Traveling
For the people who traveled with the circus, staying in touch with loved ones was difficult – there were no cell phones back then. It was not easy to find a working phone or enough quarters to call home. If there was a pay phone nearby where they stopped, it was always busy with the circus performers making calls. If someone from home needed to talk to someone in the circus, they would have to call the police station in the town where the circus was stopped and ask them to have the person call home. Many performers tried to make calls on Sunday, their day off, rather than wait for those emergency calls.
One Day Off a Week
Sunday was the day to catch up on sewing and washing clothes and painting props for the people and animals to use in their performances. Washing clothes was a big deal. Laundromats were few and far between before 1950. It was not unusual to find a woman in town who had two or three washing machines in her backyard and a clothes line. Sometimes the woman would do the laundry for members of the circus, but it was cheaper for them to do it themselves. A lot of times, there was a movie theater in the town where the circus was stopped so everyone was happy to see a movie on their day off.