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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 11 (February 1, 1938)

At Home on the Rails

At Home on the Rails.

While on the one side of the train load of adventure the elephants and animal cages drew the crowd, on the other side a domestic routine began to creep out. The arrangements of the train are designed as near as may be for the comforts of a home and touched with the minute signs of domestic life. Although the sixty men of the labour staff are fed in a separate cookshop (the train carries two kitchens, one for the men and one for the Wirth family) the artists have their own individual primus stoves and provide for themselves. And it is remarkable what excellent meals are cooked on these small stoves. For behind the curtained windows family life is ordered with a pride page 21 that extends even to roses in crystal on the breakfast table.

I confess that so firmly has the glamorous fantasy of circus life seemed a thing apart that the twist in perspective made it strange that people who dare so greatly to give us a moment's thrill should live just as you and I do in humdrum hours.

After breakfast a trapeze artist, modest, almost shy, “Straight from
“But when they tried to arrest him he sat down between the elephant's legs.”

“But when they tried to arrest him he sat down between the elephant's legs.”

Europe and presented for the first time in New Zealand,” began to do her family washing, quietly and methodically in a couple of basins on the platform. She was careful to see that no suds overflowed.

She was not one of the regular circus troop, but a vaudeville artist, specially engaged. When I asked her if the films had limited the opportunities in vaudeville, she said with a soft assurance in her pleasant English voice, “Oh. Not our act.” Not their act; it was true. And because the morning was lovely and it was friendly scrubbing at her husband's shirt cuffs in the shade, she asked her little daughter to do a turn for us. The child's stage was the platform first, and again a trolly. She was a performer, too, but she was put to bed every night at 9 o'clock, and allowed to sleep in o'mornings.

Of course circus home life differs from the normal in this, that it is more adaptable. Yet the adjustments to local conditions which have to be made at each station are so casually accepted as the normal that the community which comes for a day and a night, might seem to an onlooker who had escaped the town's thrill, to have lived there for a year.

An Oriental tight rope walker in brogues, plus fours and a blue striped blazer, mends his Japanese umbrella on the shingle by the door of his carriage, not thinking at all how unusual it is to do that there. Between the unused rail tracks a European burns the scraps of paper, for there is never any litter. The circus gives the stationmaster the assurance of clean station yards and a guarantee of indemnity.

This power of adaptability, and the appreciation of small local conveniences extends also to the elephants. Cardie strolls back to the platform and himself turns on the tap for a drink.

Once when this great laconic fellow was travelling on a thirsty, all-day journey between Rockhampton and Brisbane he pulled (they say) one of the safety chains with which the Australian carriages are fitted, and the train stopped. His car drew up beside the engine water tank. Coincidence and opportunity united for Cardie's moral downfall, for his trunk was lifted out of the wagon, over the edge of the tank, and he almost emptied that tank.

In the inquiry into the stopping of the train the Australian officials were eventually satisfied that Cardie had actually pulled the safety chain with criminal forethought to get the drink. And they who tell the story let it go at that. Cardie has a thick hide and apparently he bore no grudge.

But the elephant does remember. A practical joking seaman on the Hobart-Bluff run scooped out an apple, filled it with pepper and gave it to Cardie. The man had the laugh then, but when Cardie was coming back to New Zealand again on the same ship, he recognised the seaman, picked him up and threw him down the hold.