Zandbroz owner turns love of circuses into restoration project

April 2, 2018

As a kid, Jeff Danz always liked the circus.

He remembers lobbying his parents for a stop at the Circus World Museum in Wisconsin each year on the family’s annual road trip from their home in North Dakota to visit his grandfather in Michigan.

One time, someone came through the town of Mandan, N.D., where he grew up and set up a miniature circus on Main Street, charging 25 cents to view it.

“It just blew my mind,” said Danz, the owner of Zandbroz Variety. “It was a whole circus with the tents and the animals, and this guy had made it and traveled the country exhibiting it.”

Enter eBay, the online marketplace where childhood favorites can be just a click away.

Danz had searched “miniature circus” for a while. And last year, a match appeared.

There were three circus wagons separately listed. Danz sent the seller a message asking if there were more.

“He said, ‘Yeah, I have 40 wagons and a circus.’ ”

The owner had bought the miniature circus in 1995, tried to sell it and ended up storing it.

“I said, ‘You should really sell it all to one person, and I’m that person. Take those three down from eBay as a sign of good faith, and we’ll negotiate,’ ” Danz said.

They struck a deal, and last summer Danz drove to Wisconsin and returned with the Circus Wagons of C.J. Connor.

Connor, a machinist, crafted them in the early 1950s and ’60s and displayed them at fairs and other events. The entire circus includes 44 teams of horses and drivers, tents, performers and animals. Most items are handmade, although the animals were collected at rummage sales or purchased.

“A lot of them are based on famous wagons, and what I loved was he was very mechanically oriented, so the wheels all have wooden spokes and metal rims, and when he gets into the decorations on the wagons, he’s out of his depth, so they have this naive artistic style I found really charming,” Danz said.

For months, he repaired and cleaned the wagons. He’s not sure if he’ll do more with the other circus pieces, “but I really had a lot of fun restoring it, and I felt good about saving it,” he said.

The wagons now are displayed in the windows of his Phillips Avenue store, where he will keep them at least until the end of April.

“I hope to find a home where they can display it all the time,” he said. “I’d love to see someone be able to put them out.”

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Zandbroz owner turns love of circuses into restoration project

Don’t miss the latest window display at Zandbroz Variety. There’s a wonderful story behind it.

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