Feats of Strength: A Mythical Case Road Locomotive

On the trail of a Case road locomotive owned by the Ringling Bros. Circus.


| September 2005



Courier.jpg

Right: An illustration of Hercules in the 1892 Courier, a Ringling publication. Apparently, the same drawing had appeared in several advertisements.

In 1892, the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co. built a special road locomotive for the Ringling Bros. Circus.

Rumors about it have been floating around the steam community for over 30 years. The engine was named Hercules, for the mythical son of Zeus who performed 12 feats of strength. A few have claimed that the 110 HP Case in Wisconsin's House on the Rock is Hercules, but that machine simply wears livery reminiscent of a showman's engine. It never pulled a circus car.

In the September/October 1994 issue of Iron-Men Album, Mark A. Corson published a story entitled "Ringling Bros. Case Engine." Lured by tales of a mighty circus engine, Mark spent years hunting for clues about Hercules. His detective work turned up an article in the York, Neb., Independent for Friday, May 20, 1892: "A mammoth highway locomotive, that darts hither and thither through the streets, running as easily on the roughest road as the finest passenger engine glides along its tracks of steel, is one of the striking features of the gorgeous street procession that precedes the exhibition of the Ringling Bros.' World's Greatest Shows."

The winter 1992-93 issue of The Heritage Eagle (Eagle #21), included a tantalizing article entitled "Early Circus Motive Power" by Fred H. Dahlinger Jr., director of the Robert L. Parkinson Library and Research Center at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wis. Dahlinger's tireless digging brought these nuggets to light:

• Dec. 24, 1891: John Ringling telegraphed the Case company, "What have you decided in regard to engine?"

• Feb. 10, 1892: A Ringling letter thanked Case for photos documenting the progress on the engine's construction.