Dying Breeds

American Circus Trucks in the UK By Norman Chapman

Circuses are a dying breed. After providing decades (and sometimes even centuries) of entertainment to both the young and old, this type of traveling variety show is slowly fading into our history. With the recent announcement of the final two shows of the famed Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus after 146 years, I decided to dig through my truck picture archives and found some neat pictures of American trucks I photographed way back when that were being used to transport a circus around England when I was a kid, which I attended several times, over the years. In fact, this circus is still touring around the United Kingdom today – and it still uses old American big rigs!

It all started in 1988 when Uncle Sam’s Great American Circus came to the town Moor in Newcastle. The Moor is a vast open space of public land which hosts The Hopping’s Fair, said to be Europe’s largest traveling fair, and other events, annually. This popular 3-ring circus featured acrobats, contortionists, animal acts, clowns, feats of strength and more. Still in operation, this circus eventually added a motorcycle stunt show, along with other exciting events, to their entertainment options. And no self-respecting American Circus would be complete without American rigs – and they certainly did not disappoint.

During my first visit in 1988, I saw many Stateside trucks being used in various capacities at the circus. Trucks like Mack F-Series COEs, White Road Commanders, and a Kenworth K100 cabover peaked my interest. Ten years later, in 1998, the circus was playing at Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, which is on the other side of the River Tyne from Newcastle. Compared to 10 years earlier, the circus had been considerably scaled back for this particular venue, and there were only four American trucks at the show – a Peterbilt 378 conventional, two newer Freightliner conventionals, and a Swedish-registered Kenworth W900.

Once again, ten years passed, and I found myself at this circus again in 2008. This time, the venue was in the town of Consett in the County of Durham. The circus had now changed direction and no longer had performing animals. But, there were more American trucks than ever to look at. The two Freightliners previously-mentioned were still running strong, and both the Peterbilt 378 and KW W900 seen prior had undergone total makeovers. There were also two Dutch-registered International Eagles (one cabover and one conventional), a unique daycab Kenworth W900 with airbrushed murals of Pamela Anderson, Clint Eastwood, and action-star Steven Seagal, and a Peterbilt 359. I also saw an amazing Mack Ultra Liner, a Ford Aeromax L9000, and a cherry red 1970s Cat-powered Freightliner cabover.

The circus was always fun, but I truly enjoyed the American trucks even more. And, if my schedule stays intact and the circus does not stop operating, it looks like I should be going again next year in 2018. If that is the case, it will be interesting to see what the trucks (and circus) look like then. Time will tell.

In the meantime, if you want to see and say farewell to the most iconic circus in the USA, the last two Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey shows are scheduled for May 7 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, RI and May 21 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY. Sadly, most of the old trucks used in Uncle Sam’s Great American Circus (and circuses themselves) are a dying breed.

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