The circus pulls into town. Photo courtesy of Thom Horvath.

A few months ago, Mr. and Mrs. Thom Horvath, of Bridgewater, N.J., visited the Atlas Cement Company Memorial Museum. A pleasant couple, they experienced my incessant questioning.

Mr. Horvath is a railroad buff who has written a number of articles for TRP, the railroad magazine. The editor, Mr. J.F.M. Serensits, was a former student of this writer. The magazine’s office is in Hanover, Pa.

Mr. Horvath is very interested in circus trains and has written and photographed the most famous of all circus trains – the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus trains. He has graciously forwarded Mr. Oberly and this writer some of his articles and beautiful photographs to share with our loyal readers and gave permission to allow us to print them.

Since 1983, he has chased either the Blue or Red unit, closely following their schedule of stops.

Mr. Horvath writes, “PT Barnum and James Bailey initiated the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ in 1888. The show was bought in 1906-07 by seven Ringling Brothers of Baraboo, Wis. In Pittsburgh, they performed their final tented show. The following year, RB and BB started performing in arenas under the direction of Irvin Field.”

The owners continued to use the Blue and Red units to move around the country.

He writes, “The trains averaged around 48 cars and about 4,284 feet in length. The Red and Blue units, respectively, will each travel less than 20,000 miles per year. The train will usually be made up in this manner: the animal cars, passenger cars and the last are flat, or equipment, cars.

“Former Union Pacific baggage cars were transformed by Ringling Brothers personnel into homes on wheels for horses, elephants, camels, etc. The passenger cars following would serve as home for an estimated 300 circus people from January to Dec. 8.”

I found Mr. Horvath’s next paragraph extremely interesting – a real slice of history!

“When Barnum and Bailey toured in Berlin in 1897, the German general staff was interested in a circus. Why?

“They watched the logistical problems of moving all the personnel and equipment. They watched the precision with which it was assembled and taken down. The same techniques were then adopted into the German army’s system for transporting men and material whenever it proved feasible.

“This is fascinating – from circus to war?”

Let’s get back to the RB and BB train.

“If you are a circus employee, your living compartment is small, measuring 7 feet high, 6 feet long and 4 feet wide, with cabinets and shelves for storage, a bed that converts into a table and a window to watch America pass by. A weekly fee of $10 is deducted from your paycheck to pay for lodging.

“The compartment can be decorated to your taste. Paint or wallpaper it, hang posters or photos of family and friends. It is your place to relax, especially after doing a ‘six-pack,’ three shows one day, followed by three more the next day.

“Activities to pass the time are limited to catching up on lost sleep, writing letters, visiting with friends, playing board or card games and, of course, eating in the dining car.

“Yes, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus was the ‘Greatest Show on Earth.’”

In two weeks, Mr. Horvath will take us on another RB and BB Circus tour.


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