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Looking Back to 1936: Tom Mix to bring circus to Paso Robles 

Looking Back Paso Robles

This look back at Paso Robles history comes from local newspapers in the Paso Robles Area Historical Society collection. News for this column is selected with the assistance of the society’s Vice President Nancy Tweedie and Research Director Jan Cannon.

Excerpt from the Saturday, March 14, 1936, Paso Robles Times:

–The circus is coming to town! Yes sir, the clowns, the trapeze artists, the performing elephants and lions, the trick horses, and every thrill of the sawdust ring, plus Tom Mix and Tony in person, will be yours on Tuesday, March 24, when the largest independently owned circus in the world will give two performances in Paso Robles, starting at 2 and 8 o’clock p.m.

Edward L. Conroy, advance agent for the Tom Mix Circus, visited Paso Robles yesterday, making arrangements for grounds, advertising, etc., which must precede this event.

Looking Back Paso Robles history

Click here to read the full front page of the March 14, 1936 issue. Photography by Gigi Greene.

The magic rumble of red wagons and the mysterious foot-steps of circusdom’s spangled battalions have echoed down the corridors of many summers, yet regardless of whatever else may be on the day’s bill of entertainment, rich and poor, with high hats and in shabby best suits they come. Every vistage of grandeur and pomp are gone, bags of popcorn, peanuts, and cold drinks are consumed.

Children—and grownups too, who have crowded into the front seats of the theater to watch Tom Mix and Tony ride across the silver sheet will sit in the center of sections of the grandstand, or maybe on the hay, put down around the crowded “blue” section, and watch the same Tom Mix and Tony do dashing things in the sawdust rings.

The finest acts, internationally known, are on the Tom Mix program. The famous flying Arbaugh-Ward family, featuring Jimmy Arbaugh’s comet-like leaping double somersault and side twist from the high trapeze; “Oddities of the Jungle”; the famous old circus family of Riding Hobsons, which dates back more than half a century of performance in the center rings; Erma Ward, aerialist, noted for her beauty and her famous one arm planch on the Spanish Web; Miss Ward holds the great Leitzel award for endurance.

A menagerie act with fifty splendid beauties on the Hippodrome track and in the rings, riding, high jumping, waltzing and rumba thorough-bed equines; a bevy of beautiful girls swinging through the dome of the big top; the clown contingent of chalk faced funsters with such noted clowns as “Pop Ash”, oldest working clown in America.

The big rings of performing, educated elephants, ring after ring jammed with acts, thrills and laughter, animals and wonder. Trained lions, tigers and bears; 150 head of motion picture horses from Tom Mix’s own stables.

The circus annex, under direction of Ted Metz, will open at 10 a.m. And is continuous, featuring freaks from all parts of the earth and clean entertainment.

Editor’s note: Tom Mix is considered to be Hollywood’s first Western star, appearing in 291 movies (mostly silent) between 1909 and 1935. He and his horse, Tony, helped define the genre of cowboy stars and their wonder horses. Tony was the first of the cowboy sidekick “wonder horses,” leading the way for the equine stars to follow such as Trigger (Roy Rogers), Champion (Gene Autry), Topper (Hopalong Cassidy), Blackjack (Lash LaRue) and Silver and Scout (Lone Ranger and Tonto), and many more.  A visit from Tom Mix and Tony back in the day had a status similar to a visit from Blake Shelton today, except Shelton doesn’t bring his wonder horse. 

Read previous Looking Back articles

Thank you to sponsors of Looking Back

Paso Robles Pioneer Museum – Come take a real look back into local Paso Robles history. Open Thursday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. 2010 Riverside Ave., Paso Robles, CA 93446, (805) 239-4556.

Estrella Warbird Museum is an aviation museum dedicated to the restoration and preservation of military aircraft, vehicles, and memorabilia. Woodland Auto Display is also open. Hours: Thursday through Sunday: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.. 4251 Dry Creek Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446,, (805) 227-0440.

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1800 El Pomar is the site of a historic Templeton ranch located just three miles east of town. The property features an iconic, aged redwood barn, 3 story tank house, original farmhouse with an outdoor garden, original water tank structures, and many other original ranch buildings. Set on 20+ acres of vineyards, the 360-degree views of rolling oak-studded hills and surrounding vines are a photographer’s dream. A prime ceremony location exists in the vineyards behind the barn between two beautiful oaks. The northwest-facing location creates plenty of shade for your guests in an early to late afternoon setting. A perfect venue with plenty of open space to customize your wedding or event.

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About the author: Reporter Jackie Iddings

Jackie Iddings is a contributing reporter and photographer for the Paso Robles Daily News.