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Joan Pierce

Joan Pierce overlooks the miniature circus display she and her husband build for a California man.

A Baraboo couple is helping a man with big plans showcase a tiny circus.

An anonymous California man hired Ralph and Joan Pierce to develop a private miniature circus display for his estate outside San Jose. The Pierces are circus buffs who have spent three years traveling to Connecticut and California, setting up the mini circus and lining up several full-size pieces to augment the display.

“It has been a way for us to use our skills,” Ralph Pierce told the Baraboo Kiwanis Club on Tuesday.

The project began with an Iowa circus enthusiast passing on his collection to one of his nephews. The nephew hired a Connecticut cabinet maker to build 40-foot-by-60-foot display for the collection. He then hired the Pierces to make mini circus tents, and they went on to refurbish miniature wagons and other items in Connecticut.

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Ralph Pierce

Ralph Pierce 

The items were packed into three shipping containers and delivered by train to California. Meanwhile, the Pierces returned to Baraboo to build tiny working light poles, sew four circus tents and work on various props.

After the shipment arrived they were brought out to California to set things up, and their employer kept thinking of new things he needed their help adding. The Pierces helped locate a full-size circus wagon, a clown car made from a Volkswagen Beetle and a high-wire act featuring mannequins.

Along the way, the Pierces relied on help from Baraboo companies and circus experts. Local daredevil T.J. Howell advised on the high-wire project. Model railroad builder Bob Welke helped assemble the miniatures. Pete’s Glass, Baraboo Awning and Hill’s Gallery supplied materials. Deppe Transfer delivered the circus wagon. “When you’ve been in town as long as we’ve been, you have contacts to call,” Pierce said.

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Miniature circus midway

The miniature circus Ralph and Joan Pierce helped build features a bustling midway.

The collection occupies a building designed to house it. For now, it is enjoyed only by its owner and his guests. In time, the building will open as a corporate retreat center. The display features a miniature big top, menagerie, crowds, train cars, animals, a side show — and even a circus parade. It’s all built to 1-inch scale, with each inch correlating to 1 foot of life size.

The Pierces traveled to California seven times last year. They also, on their trip to Connecticut, visited Alf. Ringling’s estate and the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport. “Those have been extra benefits,” Pierce said.

While he wouldn’t name the miniature circus’ owner, Pierce said he’s 65 and lives on 167,000 acres. He paid the Pierces for their time and travel.

“Very interesting people to work with, very good people to work with,” Pierce said of the owner’s team. “It’s a good deal for him and a good deal for us.”

Even after all those trips and all this time, the project isn’t finished. It may never be. The collection’s owner is always coming up with ideas to expand the exhibit. “We’ve got a little bit of work to do yet,” Pierce said.

Follow Ben Bromley on Twitter @ben_bromley or call him at 745-3507.

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Baraboo News Republic Senior Reporter