RATON, New Mexico (STPNS) -- Pursuing his dream of eventually starting a woodcarving school for wood artisans, Trinidad woodcarver Mannie Sanchez just days ago finished building a life-size replica of an antique circus wagon for the City of Raton to use for promotional events.
?What really prompted me was nobody's making these anymore,? the 63-year-old Sanchez said. ?More than anything else, this is about starting up a factory making circus wagons. The main thing is to teach. Actually, this is what it's all about ? a school, a wood-carving school.?
Several months ago, Sanchez was able to spawn interest among Raton city officials in making a circus wagon that could be used to promote the city.
Raton Mayor Joe Apache, who had a hand in designing the Raton city logo that was carved into both sides of the circus wagon, said, ?This will be a good promotional thing for the city. We thought it would be really neat to have a circus wagon. It's a very attractive piece of equipment.?
Apache also did some of his own carving on the city logo. ?I did a little bit,? he said. ?Mine was more of a sample.?
The wagon was transported to Raton by truck and trailer Monday, and was slated to be officially unveiled during a visit by Gov. Bill Richardson Tuesday.
Beyond that, Apache said the next promotional uses of the circus wagon will be during Cinco de Mayo festivities and the Fourth of July.
?We want to use it to get back to the way we used to be,? Apache said. ?We used to have a lot of activities here in town. We want to use it to improve our image in the city.?
Apache said that some Raton residents have already volunteered horses and livestock to pull the circus wagon, which was built to seat nine people.
Raton City Manager Pete Mileta Jr. said the funding for the promotional circus wagon came from a $7,500 grant from the Macaron Foundation, and a $10,000 allocation from the Raton lodger's tax. He said the city wants to use the wagon in area parades, as well as at the state fairs in both New Mexico and Colorado.
?There is a lot of history to these things,? Mileta said. ?They used to go from town to town promoting the circus.? He added, ?We're trying to get Mannie's trade in the schools here. It's becoming a lost art.?
Apache also noted the efforts to get Sanchez to begin teaching woodcarving in Raton: ?We're hoping to get him to start teaching it here. We're hoping to get some craftsmen here.?
Sanchez said that once a woodcarver has spent two years under his supervision, he will be a journeyman woodcarver.
Sanchez became interested in building promotional circus wagons a number of years ago. He believes that a circus wagon will grab spectators' attention quicker than most promotional efforts.
According to a pamphlet for his shop advertising the circus wagons, ?Getting the attention of potential customers is becoming more and more difficult as people are bombarded with a deafening barrage of sophisticated media from TV, the internet, radio, billboard, neon signs, print ads, direct mail, etc. The way to break through this barrage is not doing more or being ?louder,' but by being totally unique?The magic of a circus wagon promotion lies in its matchless and rare simplicity. People notice things they've never seen before.?
Sanchez said it's been 50 years since people saw a circus wagon used to promote anything, and 160 years since it was first used to lure people to the circus. The first carved circus wagons were paraded through downtown New York April 20, 1846, and were used to attract patrons to the ticket window of the Raymond and Howes Circus on Coney Island. The last circus wagon seen ? under the Ringling Brothers Big Top ? was in 1953.
?Two generations have never seen a circus wagon roll past,? Sanchez said. ?But that is about to change.?
Sanchez is a certified master woodcarver, having received his certification of Woodcarving in Norway as a student of Lars Fletre. Some of Fletre's work is in restored buildings in Florence, Italy, and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., as well as churches and missions in Las Cruces, and El Paso, Texas.
Sanchez has also done work for the Trinidad Brewing Company, the Las Animas County commissioners, and private parties. He is a trained graphic artist who fled the boredom of the drafting table to pursue wood artistry.
Raton's circus wagon weighs about 1,400 pounds empty, and is equipped with a hydraulic brake system for added safety.  It is made of basswood and oak. It has harnesses for two or four horses.