Circus train at Mineola-Garden City freight yard
LI Railroader early 1950's - Archive: Mike Boland

The Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus (red tour-odd years) visits the New York city area every year. Here we see one such train laying over in the Arch Street Yard in Long Island City March, 1985. Photo/Archive: Richard Gorddard

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Circus Train Arrival at Freight Depot, Mineola-Garden City, NY 
6/04/1954 LI Railroader June 54 Archive: John Fusto
Map: Robert Emery Post-1926 Collection: Dave Keller

Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was an American traveling circus company billed as "The Greatest Show on Earth". Known as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows, the circus started in 1919 when the Barnum & Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth, a circus created by P. T. Barnum and James Anthony Bailey, was merged with the Ringling Bros. World's Greatest Shows. The Ringling brothers had purchased Barnum & Bailey Ltd. following Bailey's death in 1906, but ran the circuses separately until they were merged in 1919.

Nearly 90 years after John Ringling established winter quarters in Bridgeport, CT, they were moved to Sarasota, FL in 1927, after a devastating fire. As a result, Sarasota received a large influx of tourism and economic prosperity. This was also the location of Cecil B. DeMille's Academy Award-winning movie The Greatest Show On EarthCourtesy of the Sarasota Historical Society 

In 1959, Ringling Bros. started wintering in Venice, FL. until 1990 when the Venice rail tracks could not support the show's train cars, thereafter the combined circus moved its winter base to the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa. In 1993.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus trains - Overview

RBBX-41307-Circus-car_wikipedia.jpg (86207 bytes)The circus maintained two circus train-based shows, one each on its Red Unit and Blue Unit trains.  Each train was a mile long with roughly 60cars: 36passenger cars, 4stock cars and 20freight.  Rolling stock belonging to the circus bears the reporting mark "RBBX". The Blue and Red Tours presented a full three-ring production for two years each (taking off the month of December), visiting alternating major cities each year. Each train presented a different "edition" of the show, using a numbering scheme that dates back to circus origins in 1871 the first year of P.T. Barnum's show. 

The Blue Tour presented the even-numbered editions on a two-year tour (beginning each even-numbered year), and the Red Tour presented the odd-numbered editions on the same two-year tour (beginning each odd-numbered year). In the 1950s there was one gigantic train system comprising three separate train loads that brought the main show to the big cities. The first train load consisted of 22 cars and had the tents and the workers to set them up; the second section comprised 28 cars and carried the canvasmen, ushers and sideshow workers; the third section had 19 sleeping cars for the performers.
"...Meanwhile, other Circus acts which were ready for touring with RBBB waited another year, and emerged in 1970 in a second edition of RBBB, which Kenneth Feld entitled "The Blue Unit," and the previous 1969 show was dubbed "The Red Unit." This continues to this day, allowing the company to play twice as many cities (up to 90) each year, and also to stay longer in each town (a week or two average). Feld was questioned by the surviving Ringling family as to his reasoning for doing this, saying "You can't do that! Which show will be better?" Feld's reply was pure Barnum. "Both shows will be better," he said. The reasoning being that each year the other edition would emerge with a better show that the previous tour, so indeed, both shows would be better. Feld's son, Kenneth now owns and runs the two shows, based out of Vienna, Virginia, and also produces eight Disney On Ice shows, as well as Sigfreid & Roy's magic show in Las Vegas.

Feld purchased equipment from Rock Island and New York Central to supply housing for the newer Blue Unit, and the Red Unit continued on "Hospital Fleet" cars, acquired from the government in the 1940s, but they were getting old. Red Unit (which began in 1969) takes all of the odd-numbered editions of The Greatest Show On Earth on a two-year tour, beginning every odd-numbered year. The Blue Unit (which began in 1970) takes all of the even-numbered edition of The Greatest Show On Earth on the same two-year tour, beginning every even-numbered year."  The Circus Moves By Rail  by Tom Parkinson and Charles Philip Fox

Ringling Brothers acquired at least two former LIRR cars (actually two former New Haven lightweight sleepers used in LIRR parlor car service, 1969-1975) for use in their circus trains. My records indicate LIRR 2069 MINEOLA (originally NH 518 POND POINT) and LIRR 2075 SAGTIKOS (originally NH 536 MONUMENT BEACH) were acquired by Ringling Brothers, via Eric Tuman, in 1976. Ed Frye has a letter from Ringling Brother which documents that fact.

However, while Ringling Brothers records note they eventually sold the former LIRR 2075 SAGTIKOS to Dan Behr, he indicates the car he purchased from Ringling Brothers was the former LIRR 2080 SPEONK (originally NH 535 ROCKY NECK BEACH). Info: Jack Deasy

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus trains - Consist Details

Ringling Bros. is divided into two simultaneously traveling unit trains: the Red Unit and the Blue Unit. Each circus train has a designated trainmaster who is responsible for the safe operation and timely movement of the unit train. Each railroad train crew is provided with a circus radio for operational and emergency communications. In addition, the circus trainmaster monitors the carrier railroad's radio frequency to be aware of other traffic on the railroad.

Ringling Bros. provides an instructional booklet detailing train operations and emergency procedures to all employees. Maximum train speed is 60 miles per hour. The stock cars, for the elephants and other animals, ride directly behind the locomotive where the ride is the smoothest. Individual stock car water tanks and electrical generators provide continuous water and power supply while the stock cars are separated from the coaches for unloading.

Unit Trains:
Average number of personnel who ride the train (performers, staff and maintenance crew): 326
33 conventional passenger cars for circus personnel and their families
4 custom-designed animal stock cars
2 container flats for concession storage
17 piggyback flats which carry equipment, props and vehicles
6 hours to unload the train and 12 hours to setup the show
Red Unit: 55 cars, 3,985 tons and 4,877 feet long
Average number of miles traveled by train in the last six years: 16,378
Blue Unit: 56 cars, 4,055 tons and 4,959 feet
Average number of miles traveled by train in the last six years: 16,265

Special Accommodations for Animals:
Ringling Bros. stock cars are specially designed and custom-built to meet the needs of each animal species. Elephants face each other in railcars and are tethered for their safety and that of their handlers. At each venue, elephants disembark the train and are led by their handler to the venue's animal facility, where they remain for the duration of the stay in each town. All elephants will then board the train right before the circus leaves for the next town.
The elephant stock cars have the following special design elements:
Fresh supply of water available in every car
Food storage locations that are accessible to animal care staff while en route
Fans mounted in roof for air circulation; windows and doors open for cross-ventilation
Heating and misting systems for climate control
Direct access to the animals for handlers in all cars and working/living facilities for handlers in some cars to provide uninterrupted supervision of the animals while underway
Specially treated, non slip flooring to allow for fast, easy cleaning and disinfecting
Drains in car floor which function regardless of whether the train is moving or standing still
Specially designed ramps for loading and unloading animals
Additional generator to supply electricity to the stock cars when separated from main power source

The Railroad Tradition at Ringling Bros.:
1830s Railroads and circuses begin to appear in the Eastern United States
1840s Circuses begin using boxcars and stock cars for limited distances
1870s April 18, 1872 the P.T. Barnum Circus loaded onto flat cars "piggyback" -style on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Rented sleepers serve as solid circus train, the first unit train concept
1890s The best circuses move by rail: Barnum & Bailey has 56 cars, Ringling Bros. has 56 cars
1920s Ringling Bros. totals almost 100 cars traveling by rail
1950s Ringling Bros. shifts to combined rail/truck transportation
1960s Ringling Bros. discontinues using tents and returns to 100% rail transportation
1969 Ringling Bros. forms second rail unit

Railroad Regulation:
The following organizations conduct unannounced inspections of each unit on a regular basis:
Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)
Employs 400 inspectors operating out of 47 offices throughout the country
Monitors railroad compliance with federally mandated safety standards
Performs spot checks of the railroad cars for federal regulation compliance
Association of American Railroads (AAR)
Member Inspectors perform various regulation checks to ensure cars are working safely and properly
Member Inspectors also ensure shop standards
Individual Railroad Inspectors
Each rail line has its own safety inspectors who monitor circus railcars
In addition to Ringling Bros. staff safety inspectors, Ringling Bros. hires two independent firms to certify the level of safety on our railcars:
The Robert W. Hunt Company performs three exterior railcar mechanical inspections and three interior railcar safety inspections per year.
Amtrak inspects and certifies the mechanical aspects of new and refurbished cars that join the unit from the Ringling Bros. railcar rebuilding shop in Florida.

Info:  Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus posted by Carl Morrison of TrainWeb.com

Long Island Railroad - Circus Trains

FIRST RUN - NOVEMBER 1972: The Nassau Coliseum was only a few months old when the circus played there for the first time. Previously RB&BB usually played in Madison Square Garden. A man in the Circus's Travel Department from  Long Island: "Remembered that a freight line ran through Garden City to within a mile of the coliseum. It was the perfect location for the train...". There were 2 complete circus's trains touring the country, the red and the blue. The logo tells us that this was the blue circus.  Info: Steve Rothuag

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Hickory Creek Observation Car #157

These photos of the circus train were taken in November, 1972. This was the first time RB&BB performed at the then new Nassau Veterans Coliseum. The flat car is on a curved siding south of the Garden City Secondary and east of where the S2 was sitting (looking west). This track branched out into two sidings that served the former USAF base at Mitchel Field. There are still warehouses on this site, but no longer served by rail. The loading ramp was at the southern end of one siding, so this photo (above left) is view north. Mapquest calls the area where the sidings were; Railroad Ave.  
Photos/Archive/Info: Steve Rothaug

LIRR - Circus Trains over the Years

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Circus train at Jamaica Station 3/18/1997 
Photo: Dave Morrison

When I worked in Labor Relations (1973 to 1988) on the 2nd floor of Jamaica Station building, I remember the days when the circus train would come through Jamaica, headed east. JAY Tower would advise the movement bureau that the train was getting close to Jamaica. 204 would send the word throughout the building. All "non-essentials" would flock out of the building and go over the track 8 and watch the Circus train go by. What an impressive sight! We got to see some of the animals in the cages and lots of the circus personnel would wave to us. Info: Dave Morrison

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Circus at Arch St. 4/25/1988
Photo: Edward Hand
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Circus train Hunters Point 4/12/2004 
Photo: Pat Scopelliti

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Circus train at Hunters Point Ave Station 4/12/2004 Photo: John McCluskey

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Circus train Hunters Point, LI City 2/2006 
Archive: Bob Andersen
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Circus train - LIRR #168 -  Woodhaven 3/2010

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Circus train approaching Stewart Manor LIRR #163,166,164,172  3/15/2010 

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Circus train - "EOT"  device Woodhaven 3/2010

Each year in March, the Ringling Bros. train arrives at Hunters Point/LI City and stages over in the yard during the performance. It goes through NY Penn Station. The LIRR engines (usually 4-5 engines pulling, and a chaser) take over in Harold Interlocking.

The lesser stars and workers stay on the train. The headliners and some career workers have mobile homes they stay in. The animals stay at the garden, one of the big deals every year is the animal parade through the midtown tunnel, to the garden, done in the middle of the night.

While they are in the garden, the ASPCA requires them to take the animals out for walks from time to time. Yep, you will see the block around the garden closed off sometimes during the stay, and they take the animals out for a walk around the block. Having switched out the circus train a few times on the LIRR, I have been on the train and seen the accommodations.

They are old pullman cars, the performers have small pullman rooms they stay in, although they have all the modern amenities in them, such as micro wave ovens, satellite TV and XM radio. Not the life for everyone, but most of the time they are busy at the show anyway. 

One of the cars on the train is a generator to provide hotel power for those living on the train. This year the circus will not be performing at Madison Square Garden, they are modernizing the garden.

Thus, you'll see a sizable portion of rolling stock across the street from the yard on the Nassau County Community campus, on what remains of the old central branch. It used  to be able to fit about the whole train west of Nassau County Community, with a sizable portion in that yard.  The Blue Train has 61 cars.

The train came through a little after 3pm, with 4 MP15AC engines leading. The consist was broken up into 3 pieces:  The first half being carriages, including animal carriages, the second half being flat cars, followed by the remaining cars. In order to clear a set of switches, the first consist was further broken up, the three  rear most animal coaches/ carriages, being moved separate from the first consist. After those movements were complete, the remainder of second half of the train, consisting solely of flat cars was shoved across Clinton road by the fifth MP15AC engine, that brought up the rear.

Total time to complete this move was about 2 hrs. Posted by: num1hendrickfan

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Circus-Train at HAROLD MP15s #157-153
4/02/2013 Photo: Kevin Wong
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Circus at Yard A, Montauk Cutoff  LI City 2013
Bing map
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Circus train at Selfridge Ave., Garden City 
View N  2/22/2014 Photo: Ed Frye 
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Circus train - Yard A, LI City - View W
Photo: David Wilson

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RBBX 63005 Blue Unit - Garden City 2/04/2016 Photo/Archive: Ed Frye

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Circus train - Garden City Station westbound Photo: Tom Beckett
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Circus train Yard A, LI City 
Photo: Henry Wagner

The Finale of 'The Greatest Show on Earth'

After a run of 146 years, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, known as "The Greatest Show on Earth," has come to an end. The final sold-out performance took place Sunday, May 21st, in Uniondale, New York. (Years of battles with animal-rights activists had led the circus to retire its performing elephants last year, which appeared to worsen already-dropping attendance numbers, sealing its fate. One of the two Ringling Bros. traveling circus units put on its final show in Rhode Island earlier this month, and the other unit closed the circus down last night with a grand finale in New York. The Atlantic Alan Taylor   May 22, 2017

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Circus Final Performance Sunday, May 21, 2017 Live Facebook webcast promo ad
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2017 Ringling Bros. Circus Train Blue Unit Schedule-Trains Magazine
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Last Ringling Bros. Circus Train of 60 cars at Forest Hills 5/12/2017 YouTube Video: Espee9180
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Circus train eastbound at Forest Hills passing West Side Tennis Club 5/10/2017

Last RBBB Blue Circus train -Woodside 5/10/2017 Photo/Archive: Marc Glucksman

Express through Woodside. On May 10, 2017, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus "Blue" Train was on its final trip east for a set of performances at the Nassau County Coliseum. The train was so long that over three minutes after it came into the station it was finally done passing through the MTA LIRR Woodside Station. On that day photographers were able to capture both circus trains on multiple railroads in the New York metropolitan area. Marc Glucksman

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Circus train Blue Flag at Garden City Secondary 5/23/2017 Photo: Marc Glucksman

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Circus train westbound at Quentin Roosevelt Blvd, Garden City View NW 5/23/2017

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Ringling Bros. Circus last move westbound 5/23/2017 Oyster Bay RR Museum

Addendum: 2011: 59 cars -- 38 Passenger/Stock & 21 TOFC/Racks 5236ft, 4094tons -- Not including host power.