Before the days of superhighways and 18-wheelers, the railroads were king. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus unloaded its train at Union Station. The wild animals, elephants and clowns formed up and paraded the length of Congress Street.

To this young boy, it made quite an impression. Brightly colored horse-drawn wagons with caged tigers roaring behind steel bars moved to the clacking of hoofs. Elephants one after the other held on to the tails of the one in front of them. The marching band played loud and lively martial music as the wild apes pulled and tugged on the bars of their rolling wagons.

When the parade reached Washington Avenue, it turned left and made its way down to Marginal Way, an empty field at that time.

To facilitate the setting up of the Big Top, local youths were hired at 5 in the morning the following day. I was at the right age: old enough to do the work but not experienced enough to recognize that it was slave labor.

A gang of us unloaded a wagon of stakes and placed them in position where directed for raising the Big Top. We held the stakes while two men pounded them into the ground with rhythmic sledgehammers.

The work went on all morning: hauling water for the elephants, lugging bales of straw and cleaning up mess after mess, or “mucking out,” as the English would say. It was an exhausting eight hours of labor.

At 1 o’clock in the afternoon, it was payoff time. Each worker received a ticket for the afternoon show, which started at (you guessed it) 1 o’clock. Dirty, hot and hungry, I headed back up the hill to wash up, eat and run back down the hill to catch the show I worked so hard to see. I must admit it was well worth the effort.

On either side of the fairway leading to the main entrance of the Big Top were the sideshows, or, as we called them, “the freak shows.” Large pictures painted on canvas hung as backdrop for the barker on the stage. It was the barker’s job to persuade potential customers that his show was well worth the price of admission.

Inside the various tents were the fat lady, the thing man, the tattooed lady and other assortments of unusual people. Today I can go to the beach and see a fat tattooed lady for free — my, how times have changed.

Ted Davis is a resident of Bath.