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Gilly Shows

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TWO CAR or Gilly Shows

This page last updated 02/15/2004

Two car railroad circuses began around the 1890s.  This type circus was entirely different in operation than the flatcar circus.  These shows came to be known as "Two Car Shows" since that is exactly what most of them had, two railroad cars.  Although the large flatcar railroad shows moved on their own schedule, the Two Car Show moved on regularly scheduled trains, usually passenger trains.  They mainly consisted of a baggage car and a coach.

In the days of these Two Car Railroad circuses, it was standard railroad procedure that anyone buying a specific number of first class tickets, usually 25, received a free baggage car.    Even with the two car railroad circus that might own its own cars, the railroads operated the same way.  Buy the specified number of first class train tickets and the railroad moved the cars for free.  Many a two car show owner would buy only the required number of tickets but carry upwards of 75 people.  These unticketed people would hide in possum bellies, any available compartment, and especially the baggage car until the conductor had received the tickets and counted the people on the car.

Frequently, the two car shows would rent a show lot from the railroad and set up adjoining the railroad cars on the siding.  Most of these two car shows trooped as "gilly shows," which meant that the show either hired local farmers with wagons to move the show from the train to the show lot, or they carried their own gilly wagon.  This was basically a skeletal wagon with removable wagon wheels.  When the show was traveling, the wagon would be disassembled and shoved into any remaining space on the baggage car.  Most of these Gilly Shows were considered "high grass" shows by the circuses, a circus that played the small, sparsely populated, rural towns of America.  The last of the Gilly Shows was Cooper Bros. Circus which called it quits at the end of their 1934 season.