The Last Great Circus Train - Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey 2017 Home Circus Train Timeline Circus Train Galleries RBBX Circus Train Roster Forum Circus Train Memorabilia Store News Links Contact




The Last Great
Circus Train
1872 - 2017

The Ringling Bros Circus took to the rails via P.T. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome in its second year -1872 - just seven years after the American Civil War. For the next 145 years, the Greatest Show on Earth plied the rails of the United States, Canada, Mexico and Cuba.

Though there were many circus trains, some quite large, only Ringling Bros.' saw operations in three different centuries.

In 2017, its final year, it went out on top -- as the longest private train on earth.






Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Train  

When the P.T. Barnum Circus first took to the rails there were no highways - and no cars to use them if there were. A burgeoning rail network was the means for getting from town to town efficiently; the only alternative being a horse. Or a pair of shoes.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Train

Over the decades the world evolved and the circus with it. Barnum and Bailey got together. They merged with Ringling Bros. Their show grew to the greatest on earth -- and so did their circus train. Big Tops gave way to sports arenas in the late 1950s. A three-year attempt at transporting the shows by highway began in 1956. It saw the Ringling railroad operation reduced to just three cars that would move their elephants and horses from arena to arena. Within a year or so the superior efficiency of moving the entire show by train was realized and the three-ring shows would forevermore move by rail - as soon as the train cars could be completely refurbished and reconfigured.

Eventually the operation settled into two complete shows - and two complete trains. For one year, there was even a third train. The Red and Blue Unit trains would hit the road for nearly two years at a time. The Red Unit would depart Florida in odd-numbered years, the Blue Unit in even-numbered years. They would return every other year for just a few weeks before departing again with an entirely new show.

As the Greatest Show on Earth entered the 21st century (its third), the RBBB circus train fleet had grown to well over 60 sleek, masterfully refurbished streamlined passenger cars and just as many stock cars, shop cars, concessions cars and flat cars. Each train carried all the animals, personnel, concessions, and equipment needed to put on the show - and to maintain the show. There were cars for the large animals, cars for generating power, cars serving as maintenance shops, cars full of concessions stock, cars for the headliners, and cars for, well, everyone else. Some 200 people rode each train from city to city. The only thing that didn't ride the trains in the 21st century were the big cats.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Train

One might suppose that the RBBB circus trains must have reached their zenith sometime early in the postwar period before television, the internet, and smartphones came along competing for eyes and entertainment dollars. In retrospect, it's clear the peak didn't come until 2010. It took the cooperation of the Union Pacific Railroad, but the ultimate circus train finally came together after more than 135 years.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Train

For just a few hours on September 28, 2010, a circus train like no other sped across the plains of Wyoming and Colorado. The largest operating steam locomotive in the world was tasked with pulling the longest private train in the world. For the railfan, at over a mile long and over 6000 tons, it was a show that rivaled anything ever seen inside a Big Top. Odd that such a tremendous peak would come so close to the end.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Train

Looking back, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus train preceded the telephone, the automobile, and the airplane. It was a hundred years old before the last Apollo astronaut left the moon. And it was just getting started. It outlasted Vaudeville, Cinemascope, bell bottoms, 8-tracks, VHS, flip phones, the Concorde, and the Space Shuttle.

Changing tastes directing entertainment dollars elsewhere finally spelled the end of the great circus. After 146 years, the lights came down Sunday May 21, 2017. The end had been well choreographed, and within days the cars of the trains were in the hands of new owners. Thankfully, some of those new owners were museums. There, hopefully, all their days will be circus days.

  1969 Golden Spike Centennial Special, 1969 Golden Spike Special  
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Red Unit & Blue Unit Trains Home Circus Train Timeline RBBX Circus Train Roster Circus Train Galleries Forum Circus Train Memorabilia Store News Links Contact
Copyright 2008 - 2018 Accuen Media LLC. All Rights Reserved. Accuen