Circus Wagon Train History

For several years, starting in 1980, Jim made a float for his church's Awana Youth Club on his snowmobile trailer for the local Lancaster parade. They never won any prizes. For the 1985 parade he decided to just have fun and not worry about winning any prizes. He had the idea to have the youth bring coaster wagons decorated like train cars and tie them together to make a train pulled by a garden tractor. It was a lot of fun and it received first place for the most humorous. The next year, 1986, he made his garden tractor look like a train engine to pull the coaster wagons. He used this engine for several years.

During the winter of 1988-89 Jim decided to build his own train cars. Since regular train cars seemed too plain he decided to look for something different. He had visited Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin as a youngster when it first opened and remembered the circus wagons being very ornate and colorful. He didn't know if he could make one so he decided to try a "simple" one to start with and see if he could make it.

The first replica circus wagon, Hagenbeck-Wallace Wagon No. 76, made its parade debut in the 1989 Lancaster Harvest Festival parade pulled behind the garden tractor train engine. After that he made one wagon a year. He spent most of the winter in his basement workshop building the wagons. Each wagon takes two to three months working nights and weekends. (During the day Jim is the Assistant Controller at the University of Wisconsin Platteville.) Bill Andersen from Racine, Wisconsin, Jim's father, did the carvings and the wheels. His cousin Bob Andersen, from Racine, did the scene paintings for the Fairytale wagon and the Kangaroo wagon. Two ninth grade art students from Lancaster did the scenes on the Lion and Tiger wagon. Jim made the rest. The wagons are about one-fourth the original size.

In 1989 Jim made the Charging Tiger Tableau and in 1991 he made the third wagon, the Howe Cage Wagon. By this time the project was getting big enough that he decided to "take the show on the road". He designed and had a trailer made to carry six wagons and look like two railroad cars being pulled behind the car. The first appearance of the wagons on the trailer was at the Circus Model Builders weekend gathering at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin in August of 1991.

Since then Jim continued to make one wagon per winter until he had made a total of fourteen wagons. Normally only two trailers and six wagons are paraded at one time. The wagons are rotated from year to year. In 1996 he had another set of trailers made. From 1998-2001 Jim pulled all four trailers with twelve wagons on them in the Lancaster parade.

Since its beginning in 1991 the Circus Wagon Train has appeared in parades in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. It has also been displayed at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin during the Circus Model Builders weekend gatherings and at the Christmas House for Cancer in Racine, Wisconsin. As of the end of the 2003 season the Circus Wagon Train has appeared in 102 different parades in the four states.

The normal parade season starts in April or May and ends in September or October. We are always looking for new parades to be in. Contact us for price information and available dates.