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Circus not just for Kids
by Harry Spencer
Mar 25, 2011 | 988 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Each year when the Shrine Circus makes its appearance in Reno, it reminds us of all the good work that the Shriners do through hospital facilities around the country.

The circus itself is an integral part of the Shriner fundraising and it is still a popular attraction for people of all ages. It reminds the old folks of the circuses they saw in the past, particularly those of us who were fortunate enough to catch the old Ringling Bros. act. It mesmerizes youngsters seeing it for the first time and it looks as if it will be a staple in the American scene for many years to come.

Interestingly enough, the current best-selling book in the country is “Water for Elephants,” which is about circus life — specifically, adventures on a circus train. A new motion picture of the same name is set to be released on April 22 and the train that is featured in the movie has a Nevada connection. The engine and coal car are from Virginia City’s V&T Railroad and they were loaded on a huge trailer last summer and hauled to Southern California for the filming.

Throughout the movie, the engineer on the train is James Clark, a Virginia City resident who has more than 300 movie and TV train-related roles to his credit. Watching last year’s carefully managed loading of the V&T units at the Carson City terminal of the now-active V&T trains from the capital city to the Queen of the Comstock was an amazing adventure. Taking nearly six hours to accomplish, the huge machines had to be loaded and secured on a highway rig with 62 wheels. The journey to Los Angeles and back following the filming went off without a hitch, but there were plenty of startled drivers in other cars as the huge caravan sped south with flashing lights and pilot cars in front and back.

As for the Shrine Circus performances today and Sunday, the act’s appearance each year carries me back to a time when I worked with circus advance man Sam Ward to promote the show, which in those days was held outdoors on the turf of the old Mackay Stadium. Ward himself was one of the large cadre of men who toiled across the country promoting shows such as the circus and other professional attractions.

A “hail fellow, well met” type of person, Ward was taller than 6 feet and of sizable proportions. His booming voice and long cigar heralded his presence well before he entered my office on the mezzanine of the Mapes Hotel.

At our first meeting, he told me that normally he would go to the local papers and radio stations and personally cajole some of the reporters to publish his handouts and interview some early arriving performers. However, he noted, since he was staying at the hotel and I was on hand he would like for me to help him in his chores. Once he explained that it would not be a pro bono assignment, we got along handsomely for several years.

If you have already purchased tickets for the local showing of the circus, you have done your part to keep a part of American tradition alive. You also have done a great deal in helping the Shriners in their charitable endeavors. If not, you might want to make your way to one of the ticket outlets and then to the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center.

Almost time for next football season

With his greatest season now in the books, University of Nevada, Reno football coach Chris Ault is preparing for one of the most daunting seasons in Wolf Pack pigskin history. Not only must he open the 2011 campaign with four away games in a row, he also must replace of the top quarterbacks the university ever had, Colin Kaepernick, and one of the best running backs, Vai Taua, ever to don the silver and blue. Both men currently are impressing pro scouts.

To the latter end, Ault already has announced that he will be tweaking the pistol offense that he invented so that it will better suit his incoming athletes in the backfield. He has noted that this year’s version of the Silver and Blue will be more of a passing team since it is unlikely that the school ever will see another quarterback with the running skills of the record-setting Kaepernick. The starting quarterback of 2011 will certainly be more of a pocket passer and most of the running chores will be divided among several backs, one of them a sensational incoming freshman.

Since the Wolf Pack will still be competing in the Western Athletic Conference this year, that fact might turn out to be a blessing as Ault has to regroup his forces prior to joining the Mountain West Conference (MWC) next year. Boise State already is in the MWC for the upcoming season, which is good news conference-wise, but bad news schedule-wise since the Broncos are one of those four out-of-town openers this year. The fact that Nevada literally ruined Boise’s season last year by handing them their only loss will not be lost on the Bronco coaches and fans when our boys journey to the blue turf in the fall. Another intimidating matchup in that four-game away swing is with the Oregon Ducks, who nearly won the national championship for the 2010 season.

Whatever the outcome, localities can rely on the Little General to have some interesting offensive tricks up his sleeve this year.

Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in Harry Spencer’s column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.
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