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Big Tent is back in town

By 8 a.m. this morning, the circus animals were enjoying their breakfast and workers were laying out the heavy tents of the big top.
Chris Beckett, of Washington, Ind., is the “24-hour man” for Kelly Miller Circus. Beckett’s job is to precede the circus by a day to verify services the circus will need to do their show. He meets with local representatives to ensure they have proper services including water, trash and manure removal, feed, and anything the animals or personnel might need, including doctors, dentists and mechanic. He also verifies precisely where the circus is to set up their tents and park their trucks.
“I set up red arrows that guide the convoy into town,” Beckett said. “The arrows indicate whether there is a steep grade, or other problems with bringing the convoy in.”
Beckett said he sets up about 14-16,000 little red arrows in a season.
“We have about 70 people with the show, seven tractor trailers and about 38 units (vehicles), including support vehicles,” Beckett explained.
Santiago Olmos is in charge of caring for the three Asian elephants. This is Olmos’ seventh season with Kelly Miller and he enjoys his girls.
With a wide grin, Olmos introduces Lisa, age 32, and Becky and Tracy, both aged 38. He said they understand about 80 commands – and they enjoy goodies, like bread and granola.
“We got them all together,” Beckett said. “We lease the elephants. You can’t own them.”
The elephants are leased from Carson Barnes Circus. “The USDA inspects our animals four times a year and every 30 days a local veterinarian inspects them,” said Beckett. The veterinarian pays particular attention to their feet and nails.
As the tents began to rise, Beckett went on to say that the circus is like its own community. They have their own cooks/kitchen, mechanic and even a teacher.
“You can run away to the circus, but you’d still have to go to school,” laughed Beckett.
There are about nine children with the group, however only one of them is a performer. The boy is 10 years old and is in an act that includes his father. The little guy is fearless.
“He climbs to the top of the perch pole,” said Beckett, referring to a long pole held vertically by his father as he scales it to stand at the top.
The Kelly Miller Circus was started in 1938 and is still going strong. Its big top is 120 feet by 130 feet and is 40 feet high. It has the capacity to seat 1,500 people. With over 25 acts, there will be something to thrill each person that attends.
The circus has only three weeks remaining this season before it returns to its winter quarters in Hugo, Okla. Beckett said the Ark Foundation is there and takes care of retired circus animals. They also have a special elephant program there. Tourists are welcome.
The Richmond Kiwanis have brought the circus to town to help raise money for their various community projects. Proceeds from ticket sales will aid in assisting with these programs.
PHOTO: “Pachyderms provide power” might be part of the slogan of the Kelly Miller Circus. Santiago Olmos, elephant groom, and Becky, a 38-year old, 8,500-lb Asian elephant, share a whimsical moment this morning while the elephants ate their breakfast.

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