The circus must be in town

The hum of activity hung over Surrey Thursday afternoon, less from the resurfacing work on Highway 2 than hands hurriedly setting up the big top for the Carson & Barnes Circus, a family-owned troupe hailing from Oklahoma that started in 1937. Thirty thousand performances later, Carson & Barnes is currently on a monthlong tour of North Dakota and Minnesota, stopping into Surrey yesterday and today in between shows in Bismarck and Devils Lake.

“We’ve been fortunate with the weather,” said Kristin Parra, one of the owners’ daughters, happening to miss a few scattered storms already. Though the circus is no stranger to the state, this is its first time setting up in Surrey.

“They’ve never had one,” said Surrey Police Department Chief Pete Schneider of his community, noting the air of excitement the circus’ arrival has brought with it. Well before the tents and amusements were set up, local residents and children watched animals being led to tented enclosures and workmen clambering about with electrical wiring.

“I’m not really concerned about safety,” Schneider mentioned as he kept an eye on things. “I’m more concerned about the parking.” Originally to be sited on the Surrey High School playing field, marshy conditions meant the circus had to pitch its tents across the street in the school’s gravel lot. Spectators can park around the school itself and along the roadside.

At 3 o’clock, trainer Chip Arthur led out the stars of the show, a pair of Asian elephants named “Viola” and “Kelly,” after some of the owners’ family members. A pair of volunteer firefighters from the Surrey Fire Department brought around a pump truck to give the pachyderms an outdoor shower, as well as providing a bit of a free show for onlookers.

“It’s something different,” joked Ray Bolk, secretary treasurer and sitting board member of Surrey’s volunteer fire department. In his 40 years with the department, this is the first time he has had to hose down any elephants.

Parra explained that the duo were captured in the wild by her grandfather 41 years ago, just before a 1972 law was passed banning their importation. She did not recall which Asian country the pair came from.

In addition to its shows beneath the big top, the circus will feature a number of other animals, including a camel, donkey, pair of llama, cluster of goats, trained dogs and “Cupid” the zonkey – a kind of zebroid, or cross between a zebra and donkey with distinctive stripes yet asinine features. There will also be games, some rides and other amusements. Tickets are $16 per adult and $10 per child, though a number of free admission coupons were distributed in the Surrey area beforehand. The two-hour shows will run again tonight at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m.