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article imageCircus magic arrives in Baker City Special

By Scott Ungerecht     Jun 29, 2011 in Entertainment
Baker City - At the break of dawn on June 28, one man stood alone on the Baker County Fair Grounds in Baker City, Oregon. His mission: to stake out a large area where several large tents will be carefully placed for the famous Carson and Barnes Circus.
One hour after the man completed his mission, six large semi-trucks arrived at the fair grounds in one group caravan, each one pulling a thirty-foot-long trailer filled with equipment, tools, tents, other gear, or exotic animals.
Each rig quickly found a parking place on the flat, open fair ground that was covered with grass. Stenciled on the outside of each driver's door were the words “Miller Equipment Company of Hugo, Oklahoma”.
Suddenly, a small yellow cargo van pulling a white ticket booth trailer arrived next. Then six large RV motor homes arrived last, each one containing the show's human circus performers.
Within 30 minutes, over a dozen Hispanic men wearing hard hats, jeans, t-shirts, and green safety vests started unloading the trailers. Some men started pounding large tent pegs into the ground with heavy sledgehammers. Others started unfolding the tents. Everyone had an important job to do.
Suddenly, the air was calm, birds were quiet, and neighborhood dogs sat riveted behind chain link fences as they watched miniature ponies, camels, Llamas, elephants, a zebra, and a pigmy hippo being guided off several trailers by experienced animal trainers. What were these odd looking creatures?
One hour later, the entire Baker County Fair Grounds had been transformed into an oasis of tents, animals, semi-truck trailers, RV motor homes, bails of fresh hay, short iron gates, ticket booths and security personnel to bring alive the magic and mystery of a real circus carnival.
Celebrating their 75th anniversary, Carson and Barnes is one of the largest traveling circuses in the United States. Originating from Hugo, Oklahoma, they travel all over the country to bring live entertainment under the big-top to a new generation of families in the 21st century.
According to Carson and Barnes officials, it takes about 300-gallons of water a day to keep all of their circus animals and staff hydrated during the hot, dry summer months while traveling from town to town. They often use fire hydrants in each town they visit to replenish their water supply. It's a lot quicker and easier then trying to hook up a single garden hose to a private business or a public gas station.
Like many traveling circuses in the United States, Carson and Barnes has experienced their share of animal rights activists, and other public protestors, who strongly feel that animals should not be used to entertain people at a carnival. Fortunately, there were no protestors in Baker City during their visit.
Because of US federal rules and regulations regarding the treatment of exotic animals that are considered an endangered species, Carson and Barnes is now limited to the number and type of exotic animals that can perform in their shows.
For example, they use to have lions and tigers, but not anymore. Now they have limited their exotic animals to only camels, elephants, a zebra, and a pigmy hippo. These animals can also safely co-habit the same cramped space in a trailer without feeling nervous or fighting each other for dominate territory.
In fact, one elephant, named Opel, always comes whenever she is called by her name. Animal trainers with the circus claim those are better odds then when a person tries calling a dog over by its name.
As the morning continued on at the fair grounds, the outdoor temperature started to peak at 84-degrees Fahrenheit. Every circus animal either sat or stood under a large awning that was attached to the side of a trailer. The heat didn't seem to bother them as they munched on bales of hay.
Suddenly, a few women, two elderly men, and several young children began wondering onto the fairgrounds with their digital cameras. The animal trainers appeared to be okay with the unexpected intrusion, as long as nobody stood too close to the animals, especially the zebra.
One unidentified animal trainer explained to the two elderly men how the zebra was very aggressive and didn't like to be approached by strangers. It use to be a great animal performer in the show, but now it's been “reassigned” to other circus tasks because of its naturally growing aggressive behavior.
By one-o'clock that afternoon, security had tightened at the Carson and Barnes Circus. Bright yellow security tape was stretched around half the perimeter of the circus tents. Small iron gates formed a second perimeter between the circus and Grove Street, which also ran parallel along a sidewalk.
The trailers and RV motor homes formed a solid wall along D Street between the tents and where the circus animals were staying out of the hot sun. It was now three hours before their first performance under the big-top. The animal trainers were busy preparing the animals and keeping them calm and relaxed.
By four-o'clock, everything appeared to be in high gear with Carson and Barnes as their first show was only thirty minutes away. There were miniature pony rides set-up near the main entrance of the circus. Parents eagerly payed $4.00 to let their children experience a three-minute ride on the ponies.
Also near the main entrance was a huge thirty-foot tall inflatable slide that children could climb up and slide down. There was also a large motorized train for children to ride. The train traveled in a wide circle on a short, even-level track along the ground. Just past the main entrance were free elephant and camel rides for children.
The delicious smells of cotton candy, hot buttered popcorn, sticky caramel candy, and ice cream waft through the air on a strong, gentle breeze. Classic circus music played loudly over several loud speakers, including the famous TV theme song from Hawaii Five-O. Everything seemed ready to go.
Finally, the big moment arrived for the first show. Large groups of parents and children rushed to line up at the entrance of the circus. The quickly handed their tickets to the ticket collectors and walked inside the big-top to experience one of the greatest shows on Earth.
With jugglers, clowns, tightrope walkers, acrobats, and exotic animals from around the world, adults and children inside the big-top laughed, cheered, and applauded so loudly that you could hear them from two blocks away, including the circus show announcer talking on his microphone.
Two hours later, the show ended and everyone left the big-top with smiles that appeared much bigger then when they first entered. Several children ran ahead of their parents and started jumping, yelling, and screaming with delight. It appeared that many happy memories had just begun. Memories that would last a lifetime.
More about Circus, Baker city, Oregon, Carnival, Eastern Oregon
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