The Big Top Tent
The big-top tent will forever remain an iconic emblem of the traveling circus in America. Simply seeing the outline of a big-top’s spires on the horizon immediately brings to mind: circus, circus, circus.
When D.R. and Isla Miller, co-founders of the Carson & Barnes Circus, were running the the world’s biggest big-top show the tents that Carson and Barnes used to house its daily and nightly shows in small-towns and big-cities across America were actually manufactured in the city of Mantova (near Milan), which is part of the Lombardy region of northern Italy. The tents were then manufactured by a small family-owned, mom and pop style, business called Scola Teloni.
The Scola Teloni big-tops were both hand-made and machine manufactured in Italy, but were completely designed, from size dimensions to exterior and interior colors, by the Carson and Barnes Circus family to fit their operations particular and unique needs. For example a tents dimensions could determine whether or not the circus could hire high-wire acts or not or just how many people they could invite inside a tent at show time.
The Scola Teloni tents, which would last an average about 3-years, simply because of the wear and tear and beatings they took being unloaded and loaded on the spool truck while on the road, were last used by the Carson and Barnes Circus in the late 90s.
The newest incarnation of the Carson & Barnes tents, which took over the Teloni manufactured big-tops in the year 2000, were made near Sao Paulo in Brazil by SANSUY. (The internal structure of the tent, the poles and stakes, the muscle and bones, which keep the massive tent upright were manufactured in factories across Mexico and even in Italy.) The greatest innovation of the newest, and first-of-its-kind, big-top, which was first put into service for the 2010 season, is that the tent is now partially motorized.
The Teloni tents, which were as long as a football field, took about 30-35 roustabouts three-hours to unfold, spread and assemble on site day after day and night after night while on a grueling national tour; however, now the newest tent employed by Carson & Barnes needs only 10-12 roustabouts and about half the time to be mechanically raised from a semi-truck, like an umbrella slowly unfolding itself, and put into place.
Best of all, because the tent does not have to be dragged across the ground or manually folded and wound around a giant spool on the back of a truck, the tent’s lifespan is much longer these days.
Circus big-tops, which are mostly made from a mixture of nylon and vinyl, take about three to four months to be made and another three months to be transported from port to port until they land on the front doorstep of the Carson & Barnes winter quarters in Hugo, Oklahoma, but are planned and designed, scrapped and thrown away, and then re-planned and re-designed usually a couple of years in advance by the Carson & Barnes staff before they are ever put into service.