Resident remembers the circus

Don McAlavy: Local Columnist

Here are some memories from Charlyne Allyn Sisler:
“The Santa Fe Railroad and the men who ran it were the most important and dominant aspect of Clovis when I was a child. I loved watching the coming and going of the trains, plus the social atmosphere of the Gran Quivira, or Harvey House, where my mother and father had lived when they first arrived in Clovis.
“I was born in Clovis, the only child of Charles Wesley and Edna Merle Allyn. … They were both natives of West Texas. My father was a telegrapher and came to Clovis in 1917 to work for the Santa Fe Railroad and Cable office.
“All our vacations and visits to grandparents were made by train, and I became an inveterate train rider at a very early age. I remained a railroad aficionado until all passenger service to Clovis ceased.
“My husband, Joe, and I unknowingly boarded the last train to Clovis in Chicago on April 30, 1971. There were people lined up all along the way, and busloads of children were brought to the stations to see the San Francisco Chief on its final run. I shall never forget the dining car stewards playing ‘Taps’ on their chimes when they made the lunch and dinner announcements.
“Entertainment in Clovis in the ’20s seemed adequate. I attended the Lyceum Theater quite often with my parents to see the silent films. Later, interspersed with this plain fare were the vaudeville shows, and I especially remember a local give-away program called “The Country Store.” If you had one of the winning tickets, you received free merchandise such as groceries, etc.
“John Philip Sousa and his military band gave a concert at the Lyceum and it was, musically speaking, a highlight in my elementary years. There were some band concerts given in a small park where the old post office and Clovis-Carver Public Library was, at Fourth and Mitchell. We always knew the repertoire in advance because the trumpet player was our next-door neighbor, and he was, to say the least, well practiced.
“Harley Sadler’s tent show supplied interesting ‘live’ entertainment, with an appearance once or twice a year. Harley and Billie Sadler were from Sweetwater, Texas, where my grandparents lived and my family had known them a long time. So we enjoyed the best of complimentary courtesies and never missed a performance unless the show was rained out.
“My husband to-be, Joe Sisler, was a Western Union messenger boy who occasionally was asked to enter the tent to call out ‘Telegram for Harley Sadler!’ Although he received a complimentary pass for this, he said it embarrassed him and he felt he had no real talent for the theater.
“Clovis was a circus town in the late 1920s. The Santa Fe transported them and they usually stopped here for a performance. Watching the circus unload from the railroad cars was a favorite pastime of the town. My father sent telegrams ahead for circus officials and we very often had the best seats available, which meant every ring could be seen.
“One of the more interesting retrospective happenings were the gypsy caravans that came through in the spring. A small group camped on the prairie not far from where we lived on Lea Street. I liked watching their activities, which seemed very peaceful, and once I got close enough to be noticed and called to by one of the gypsy women. At night from our porch we could see the campfires, and the movement around the horses and wagons.
“My father was a telegrapher for 50 years. He had seen the revolutionary Pancho Villa in El Paso, and sent telegrams for Charles Lindbergh and other notables who came through Clovis on their way to the East and West Coasts. I will never forget the sound of those early telegraph keys.”
Charlyne’s father died in 1961 and her mother passed away in 1985. Joe Sisler died in 1994.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at:
donmcalavy@plateautel.net