Man Travels to Play Steam Calliope at Great Circus Parade

By: Dana Brueck
By: Dana Brueck

The Great Circus Parade sends spectators on a trip back in time, but one man's trip to the parade has a history behind it.
"When I was a youngster ... like most kids ... they have their idols," Herbie Head says.
Herbie Head's idol was a calliope player.
"With one, I used to sit up ... in seats ... I could see his hands," Head says of his idol.
As a teen Herbie listened to his mentor ...
As a man of almost 80 years-old, he plays his music.
"He asked, Herbie, what do you want to be when you grow up? A calliope player ... There are not gonna be any ... He's right," Herbie says of a conversation he had with his friend years ago.
But every year the sound of Herbie's idol resurfaces at the Great Circus Parade.
"I'm playing his style, on his instrument in the wagon he played it in."
Herbie rides in the America Steam Calliope ... a Cole Bros relic of yesterday's grand street parades.
"It's just one of those things that fascinated me and I took a liking to it ... I feel fortunate to be able to absorb what they did ... still around spreading a little bit."
This is the Michigan native's 35th parade ...
Inside, Herbie makes the wagon whistle through his keyboard ...
A fireman and boiler make it possible.
"It's kind of warm, it can be."
Try 40 degrees warmer than outside ...
"The fireman rides in the front of the wagon ... he's the one who really takes the heat."
But everything about these antique wagons looks cool from the sidelines ...
"I'm not musical so it's fascinating ... I can't do that," one woman says.
"Those are really neat," a child says of the antique wagons.
Behind the camels ... costumes and elephants ...
Herbie rides last for a reason.
"As they come through, audience folds in behind you and follows this because this is fascinating."
"That was it's intention ... let people know the circus is in town and to come over."
The America Steam Calliope was used in the circus through 1950.
It is one of more than 200 antique circus wagons at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo.

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