The purpose of this blog is to share stories from the road of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown Alley. With this resource we can relive those days and have a better understanding of the transitions within Clown Alley over the years. I feel historically it's important to share these stories for future generations. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Biking and Brawling in Kentucky with John Russell

I had help in editing this story by my dear friend Gigi Paul. She was around then and knew both of us quite well. Thanks for the help.

One year, five of the clowns decided to get motorcycles. It was Ruthie, Kerry Griffin, Tim Doody, and John Russell, and me.  We were a regular motorcycle gang!


We would drive them overland and when the weather got bad Carl Wong would carry them on a flatbed trailer for 5 cents a mile. The ramp we used to load them was nothing more than a plank of wood. Packing up in Norfolk, it was cold and rainy that day so we decided to load the bikes. As I rode up the plank, the plank kicked out and came straight back and hit me square in the forehead and knocked me out.  From then on, I always walked my bike up the ramp.


 Later in the season, we were in Washington D.C. and it was our first time in the Capitol Center. The Bullets were in the finals for the NBA.  John Russell and I were invited to do the halftime show for their home game while we were there.  What an honor! John walked his stilts and I did the hat catch.


But that’s not the story I’m telling today, you'll find out later why I told you that part.... 


When we left D.C., we were headed for Louisville, Kentucky.  The weather was great that day, so we decided to ride the bikes.  It was quite a hike and we needed to stop, so we decided a State Park would be a great place to spend the night. We had no idea that Frosty and Ruthie were staying at the same State Park…


 We really needed to try to get a good night sleep for the drive the next day, but as the night wore on, sleep was not to be.  The people in the campsite next door were being quite loud.  John’s idea was to go talk to them and ask them to tone it down.  I agreed.  Little did we know…


 We went over to their campsite, and much to our dismay, it turned out to be six big guys and their girlfriends celebrating their graduation. They were all quite drunk and apparently did not care who knew it. As we walked up to them, they were already on their feet; three of them took their places in front of John, and three of them in front of me.  Now bear in mind, John was over 6" tall… and there I stood a mere 5'4."  Next to these guys, we seemed frighteningly small… but our leather jackets we wore made us both feel that we could conquer the world.  We were TOUGH!


So just then, John decided it was a good a time as any to say, “Why don't you guys shut up! We're trying to sleep over there!"  I knew then we were in trouble. One of the guys got all puffed up and asked John, "Do you want trouble?" John said “No." and immediately hit the guy in the face. 


The only thing I remember after that was three of those guys were on me and three of them were on John. They threw us to the ground and proceeded to kick the livin’ daylights out of us, and hit us repeatedly.  I was on the ground, and I rolled into fetal position and tried my best to cover myself.  I remember at one point, I looked over where John was, and saw him laying there out cold.  Completely knocked out!  I then heard breaking bottles and saw them coming towards us. I had no idea what was coming next…  But the guys’ girlfriends stepped in and told them to stop and they all got in their cars and started to leave. The next thing I know, I’m hearing gunshots coming from a few feet away! By now, I’m wondering if we’re going to make it out of here alive…


But lo and behold, it was Frosty at the door of his trailer shooting and yelling, "What's going on out there???"  By now, John had come to, and we got up and ran to Frosty’s trailer.  We must have terrified Frosty, because all you could see were our eyes… everything else was covered with blood.  He didn’t even recognize us at first…

Once he realized it was us, he put us in his truck and rushed us to the nearest hospital.  As we were leaving the Park, we could hear the crunching sounds of our bikes being destroyed. 


 It was about twenty miles to the hospital, and the drive seemed like an eternity.  After a few stitches, we started on our way back. That’s when Frosty remembered we left Ruthie back at the Park all alone!


By the time we got back to the Park, it was daylight. We went straight to Ruthie’s camp to wake her up. To our surprise she never heard a thing! Thank goodness!


The police arrived and asked if we wanted to press charges.  They said they knew the boys and their parents, that they were influential in the town.  One of the boy’s father was actually the Mayor!  We were told we’d have to return for court, and that just wasn’t possible, so we decided against it.  Frosty and Ruthie had to leave to get to Louisville, we stayed behind… 


Sure enough, we found our bikes thrown into a creek with picnic tables on top of them.  Since we couldn't put makeup on and couldn't work, we decided to stay to get our bikes in order. 


We were moving awfully slow, so on the way to Louisville we got a hotel to rest and recover.  Relaxing in the evening, we turned on the TV and the 7th game of the NBA playoffs was on.  At halftime they showed highlights of the last six games. 


Well what do you know!  Right there in front of us was the halftime show we had done just a few days earlier. Watching ourselves on TV was just what we needed to cheer us up and help get us back on track.


The next day we left for Louisville, and two days later we were back to work, none for the worse!



  1. And John always seemed so mild mannered and even-tempered during Clown College . . . I wonder where he is today . . .?

    Bruce the Clown

  2. This is great stuff, Mitch. Keep up the good work!
    aka Jeff Darnell

  3. Thanks for sharing these great stories.
    I spent six months working with John at Holland Village in Japan. I have not heard news of him in a while. However, the last I heard, he had married a gal from Korea and had moved back to Wisconsin. Would love to hear any current news on him.

  4. Your leather jacket made you feel TOUGH!?! Frosty had a GUN!?! Holy crap this is good stuff!