MUSCLE SHOALS — It doesn’t matter that it happens 175 times a year. Bob Childress still gets chills when a show cranks up under the big top.
“It’s still a thrill, especially when we have big crowds,” said Childress, who owns the Lewis and Clark Circus. “When the lights go on and the music starts up, it gets exciting again.”
The Easley, S.C.-based circus completes its two-day stint at the North Alabama State Fairgrounds with shows at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. today.
Childress said a lot goes into keeping a traveling circus operating, but he has plenty of experience, having grown up in the family business.
“I’ve been doing this for many years,” he said.
About 30 people work at the circus, including 15 performers, Childress said. They also have about 15 to 20 animals, mainly horses and goats, and featuring Lawrence the camel.
Lewis and Clark’s seasons start in mid-March and run through mid-November. They typically stay one or two days at each stop, traveling a circuit from Texas to New England.
“We move about 50 to 60 miles at a time,” Childress said. “We try to keep the moving distance to a minimum so it’ll be easier on us.”
The circus left Athens on Sunday and will leave for Ripley, Miss., after tonight’s show, he said.
Childress said the workers and performers are keys to keeping things rolling along.
“It takes about three hours to set up and an hour to take it down,” he said. “Everybody knows what they’re doing. They all know their jobs and get right to it.”
His family travels with him. In fact, Childress’ grandson is the ring announcer.
This is the first time the Lewis and Clark show has stopped in Muscle Shoals, Childress said. He said the show often stops at the same cities every year, so they work hard to make the show unique every season.
“All the performers do a variety of things,” Childress said. “They’ll hire on to a circus for a season or might stay for several seasons. Circuses change acts every year so you have to keep it fresh, particularly if it’s in the same town.”
Bernie Delinski can be reached at 256-740-5739 or bernie.delinski@TimesDaily.com.
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