The Work Begins On Ringling – Unloading the Train in 1932
Trains Haul The Ringling Circus from Town To Town
Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Train Unloading 1932
Before being unloaded, the train crew tests the trucks to make sure they will start and warm them up.
A cranky vehicle that won’t start can slow the whole process and bring unloading the train to a grinding halt.
Often they need to be primed with gasoline or ‘jumped off’ before the old six volt starter will crank them over.
During the 1920’s and most of the 1930’s the show was in its hey day and tops in interest as for as the fans were concerned.
A 1932 train loading list is printed with this article and the wagons are typical of this period of the shows history, probably the finest baggage wagons ever built for any show and also a first class group of cage wagons. The Big Show was one of the last to abandon 60 foot wooden flat cars but in the late 1920’s they took delivery of forty steel 70 foot Warren flat cars. The stock cars had been 72 feet in length for the entire history of the Combined Shows, I believe.
While the show traveled in four sections there were no flat cars on the fourth section. The first section was called the Flying Squadron and carried the layout gang and stake drivers as well as the cookhouse, blacksmith shop and baggage stock tents and equipment, plus the menagerie top and the cages loaded on 15 flat cars. Three cars of baggage stock plus four coaches for the personnel made a total of 22 cars for this section which left town by 11 p.m. as a rule.
The third section flat cars were loaded next and carried wardrobe, props, trunks and the seats. The work of loading the second section flat cars began before all the wagons were on the third section flats. The second section flats carried the side show, most of the concession department and the electrical department as well as big top canvas, poles and rigging. Also ring stock tents, dressing tents and some of the props. When the last of the second section flats were loaded the baggage stock was loaded. Five cars traveled on the second section and three on the third. Coaches on the second section carried the personnel with this section. The second section left town as soon as it was loaded, by about 1 a.m.
The third section carried two stock cars that held what could be called supplies and extras. Last year’s big top, some extra tent poles, plus lumber of various sizes to repair wagons, seats and so on. Also some steel for use by the blacksmith shop in making repairs. Additional supplies of stock to be sold by the concession department were carried in these cars as well as some hay, oats and bran used to feed the stock. Coaches on the third section housed personnel traveling with it. The third section left town within an hour after the second section, which was unloaded before the third section, upon reaching tomorrows town.
The fourth section carried the elephants, which did practically no work as long as the show carried baggage stock. Also the menagerie lead stock, camels, zebras etc. These were loaded as soon as they began tearing down the menagerie which was as soon as the evening performance started. The ring stock also went on the fourth section and went down to the cars soon after the evening performance was over. The fourth section coaches housed the performers, executive staff and others connected with the performance end of the show. The fourth section usually left town within an hour after the third.
During a part of the evening, after the big show performance was over, the second and third section flat cars were being loaded at the same time. So the trainmaster had quite a bit of choice in loading the wagons as they came down to the runs. So one night some of the wagons might be loaded on the second section and the next night they might be loaded on the third section, or vice versa. Important wagons that would be needed as early as possible the next morning were of course loaded on the second section. This would apply in particular to stake and chain wagons, big top pole, rigging and canvas wagons and so on.
Probably all 40 of the flat cars were never loaded exactly the some way twice, as wagons of the same length could be interchanged and some wagons were even loaded on different sections. But wagons carrying important equipment were always loaded on the proper section. In quite a few cases several wagons were usually loaded together. For example No. 49 almost always followed No. 58, with a 16 foot wagon behind it to fill out the car. Also No. 32 and 33 were practically always loaded on one car and they just filled it. No. 119 and 120 were usually loaded together with a third wagon to fill out the car. The show carried three ticket wagons and one was carried on each of the first three sections as a rule.
Back in the 1920’s the show had some Mack and some Pierce-Arrow tractors but by the late 1920’s all the latter had been replaced with Macks and as time went on a few more were carried than they had in earlier years. About three of these usually went on the first section and the rest of them on the second.
The No. 125 wagon was built to haul Pawah the White Elephant between the runs and the lot in 1927 when he traveled with the show so that the towners wouldn’t get a free look at him. It had a double drop frame similar to a giraffe wagon. In 1928 and for some years afterward it was used for props and trunks. Toward the end of the 1930’s it become the No. 109 menagerie trapping wagon, or “meat wagon” as it was popularly called.
In 1928 Goliath the Sea Elephant was featured on the show and he required two wagons. Both had stakes along the sides similar to a jack wagon. No. 151 was 18 feet long and was used to haul Goliath around, for his appearance in the big top and also between the runs and the lot. No. 154 was 16 feet long and had an enclosed portion covering about the front third of the wagon to house a water pump. The open portion behind this carried the canvas tank that was set up in the backyard that Goliath stayed in between performances. The pump was used to empty the tank before it was rolled up and loaded on the wagon. Both these wagons went to the Sells-Floto show when Goliath was a feature on S-F in 1932 for its last season. No. 151 was rebuilt into the Frigidaire polar bear float on Hagenbeck-Wallace in 1934.
While No. 62 was not on the show in 1932 it was a trunk wagon similar to No. 59 and 60 and was used most seasons after that. No. 98 was a 16 foot dog wagon that had been with the show most seasons prior to 1932. Soon after 1932 more illumination was needed for the big top so another light plant was added, No. 126, just like 111 and 112. Another baggage wagon to load an automobile into was needed so No. 140 was added, almost identical to 141.
In the early part of the 1920’s when R-B presented cat acts in steel arenas the performing cats were housed in cage wagons kept in the backyard. These were numbered 140 to 150 inclusive and varied in length from 16 to 24 feet. These cage wagons, as well as the two for the sea lions, were loaded on the third section. Incidentally, in those days they didn’t use chutes for the cats to run through on their way to the steel arenas as Clyde Beatty and Terrell Jacobs did in the 1930’s. Some seasons cage wagons about 14 feet long pulled by a two horse team were used to bring the cats into the steel arenas. Other seasons smaller cages about 10 feet long and mounted on pneumatic tires were used for this purpose. A large group of prop boys pulled and pushed these wagons in and out of the big top. Some seasons three steel arenas were used, one in each ring, while other seasons four were used, one on each stage.
Originally the three water wagons No. 102, 103 and 104, all had round tanks. About 1930 two new wagons were built with square tanks. Although they were a bit shorter their capacity was greater than the old wagons. These two new wagons were numbered 102 and 104, I believe 1936 was the last season for these tank wagons as a number of Mack tractors were equipped with water tanks by that time so took their place.
If anyone has any information on cages with numbers 68, 72 or 75 in years prior to 1935 the writer would be most interested to hear about them, or about any corrections or additions to this list or these remarks.
Even though there have been no circus wagons in actual use anywhere in the country for several years now, there are a few in museums at various locations. It is doubtful if we will ever have a flat car type circus on the road again. “Gone, but not forgotten” would apply here. A circus wagon is one of the finest things ever built by man and they live on in the photo collections and in the memories of all circus fans who were fortunate enough to see them, back in the “good old days.”
Train Loading List for 1932
Stock Cars No. 10, 11, 12 Baggage Stock
Flat Cars – Baggage Cut
- 12 Baggage stock trapping wagon – 18′
- 105 Layout wagon – 16′
- 107 Stake driver – 12′
- 136 Mack tractor
- 6 Commissary wagon – 20′
- 46 Concession dept. wagon – 16′
- 108 Stake driver – 12′
- 2 Steam boiler wagon – 16′
- 7 Cookhouse baggage wagon, meat – 18′
- 10 Baggage stock canvas wagon – 20’6″
- 102 Water wagon – 11′
- 9 Blacksmith shop wagon – 18′
- 11 Baggage stock pole & rigging wagon – 20′
- Station wagon (auto)
- 128 Mack tractor
- 5 Cookhouse baggage wagon, dishes, etc. – 18′
- 8 Cookhouse canvas & pole wagon – 20′
- 103 Water wagon – 11’8″
- 106 Stake driver – 12′
- 4 Cookhouse baggage wagon, dishes, etc – 18′
- 3 Cookhouse baggage wagon, ranges, etc – 16′
- 1 Cookhouse water wagon – 15′
- 132 Mack tractor
- 14 Menagerie canvas wagon 21′
- 15 Menagerie pole wagon (poles 42′ long) – 30′
- 104 Water wagon – 11′
- 13 Menagerie stake & chain wagon – 16′
- 69 Cage wagon, hyenas – 16′
- 71 Cage wagon, tigers – 15′
- 67 Tableau cage wagon, nilgai – 14′
- 88 Hippo cage wagon – 20′
- 87 Tableau cage wagon, gensbuck & brindle gnu – 14′
- Dragon Spec float
- 83 Tableau cage wagon, kangaroo – 14′
- 85 Tableau cage wagon, tapir 14′
- 76 Tableau cage wagon, stork & crane – 14′
- 97 Giraffe wagon – 16′
- 96 Giraffe wagon – 16′
- 92 Giraffe wagon – 16′
- 89 Cage wagon, monkeys – 15′
- 79 Cage wagon, chimpanzee & orangutang – 18′
- 73 Cage wagon, tigers – 16′
- 80 Cage wagon, puma & black leopards – 14′
- 84 Cage wagon, brown bear 18′
- 121 Yellow ticket wagon – 18′
- 78 Cage wagon, rhinoceros – 16′
- 74 Cage wagon, rhinoceros – 16′
- 70 Cage wagon, tigers – 16′
- 86 Giraffe wagon – 16′
- 77 Cage wagon, macaws – 15′
- 81 Cage wagon, deer – 14’4″
- 152 Baggage wagon for Spec floats – 20′
- 109 Menagerie trapping wagon – 16′
- 117 Elephant trapping wagon 16′
- 82 Cage wagon, lions – 15′
- 47 Ring stock trapping wagon – 16′
- 90 Tableau cage wagon, Reedsbuck & audad – 14′
- 91 Tableau cage wagon, porcupines – 14′
- 95 Cage wagon, leopards – 14′
- 53 Prop wagon – 22′
- Coaches No. 70 Connecticut, No. 71 Indiana, No. 72 Minnesota, No. 73 Michigan.
Stock Cars No. 13, 14, 15, 16, 17. Baggage Stock. Flat Cars.
- 119 Sideshow panel front wagon – 20′
- 120 Sideshow panel front wagon – 20′
- 115 Sideshow panel front wagon – 18′
- 36 Performers rigging wagon 15′
- 123 Red ticket wagon – 18′
- Mack sideshow bus
- 135 Mack tractor
- 114 Light dept. wagon – 16′
- 64 Wardrobe dept. wagon – 16′
- 116 Sideshow panel front wagon – 18′
- 200 Baggage wagon for auto. 18′
- 202 Midway lunch stand wagon – 18′
- 111 Midway & menagerie light plant wagon – 16′
- 40 Big top side pole & rigging wagon – 17’3″
- 133 Mack tractor
- 57 Prop wagon – 22
- 37 Big top canvas wagon – 21′
- 42 Big top canvas wagon – 21′
- 39 Big top stake & chain wagon – 16′
- 141 Baggage wagon for auto. 19′
- 137 Mack tractor
- 129 Mack tractor
- 58 Prop wagon – 26′
- 49 Ring stock canvas & pole wagon – 20’6″
- 125 Prop wagon – 16′
- 50 Backyard stake & chain wagon – 16′
- 30 Carpenter shop & ring curb wagon – 15′
- 38 Big top stake & chain wagon – 16′
- 112 Big top light plant wagon – 16′
- 113 Light dept. wagon – 16′
- 110 Backyard light plant wagon – 16′
- 45 Big top red quarter pole wagon (poles 33’6″ long) 32′
- 44 Big top blue quarter pole wagon (poles 41′ long) 35′
- 134 Mack tractor
- 43 Big top center pole wagon (poles 55′ long) – 40′
- 220 Train light plant wagon 12′
- Coaches No. 74 Illinois, No. 75 Florida, No. 76 Wisconsin, No. 77 Nebraska No. 78 Maryland, No. 79 Alabama.
Stock Cars No. 18, 19, 20 Baggage Stock. No. 32, 33 Supplies & extras. Flat Cars.
- 101 Wardrobe dept. wagon – 18′
- 63 Wardrobe dept. wagon – 16′
- Spec float
- 94 Cage wagon, sea lions – 16′
- 201 Concession dept. wagon 18′
- 61 Prop wagon – 17′
- 23 Bibleback wagon – 14
- 93 Cage wagon, sea lions – 16
- 41 Prop wagon – 17′
- 24 Bibleback wagon – 14′
- 20 Long side grandstand chair wagon – 19′
- 65 Wardrobe department trunk wagon – 17′
- Ford Taxi
- Zacchinis Cannon truck
- 122 White ticket wagon – 18′
- 25 Bibleback wagon – 14′
- Spec float
- 35 Extra red seat wagon – 15′
- 99 Dog wagon (with baggage section at rear) – 18′
- 51 Trunk wagon – 19′
- 17 Blue seat plank wagon – 13’6″
- 16 Blue seat plank wagon – 13’6″
- 142 Short side grandstand chair wagon – 21′
- 56 Wild west wardrobe & prop wagon – 16′
- 27 Bibleback wagon – 14′
- 26 Bibleback wagon – 14′
- 54 Stage wagon – 21′
- 118 Band top & wardrobe wagon – 16′
- 55 Prop wagon – 18′
- 48 Ring stock trapping wagon – 16′
- 59 Trunk wagon, Bradna’s wagon – 18’8″
- 21 Bibleback wagon – 14′
- 52 Trunk & prop wagon – 14′
- 22 Bibleback wagon – 14′
- 143 Short side grandstand chair wagon – 21′
- 34 Grandstand seat stringer wagon (stringers 38′) – 32’6″
- 19 Long side grandstand chair wagon – 19′
- 153 Ring curb & stage sill wagon – 20′
- 29 Seat jack wagon (1/2 blues & 1/2 long side) – 20′
- 28 Seat jack wagon (1/2 blues & 1/2 long side) – 20′
- 33 Blue seat stringer wagon (stringers 35′ long) – 30′
- 32 Blue seat stringer wagon (stringers 35′ long) – 30′
- 18 Long side grandstand chair wagon – 19′
- 100 Amplifier wagon – 12′
- 66 Wardrobe dept. wagon – 18′
- 60 Trunk wagon – 18’8
- 31 Grandstand seat stringer wagon (stringers 38′) – 32’6″
- 139 Seat jack wagon, shortside grandstand – 20′
- Coaches No. 94 Atlanta, No. 95 New Orleans, No. 96 Portland, No. 97 Pittsburgh.
Stock Cars No. 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 Ring Stock. No. 26, 27 Menagerie Lead Stock. No. 28, 29, 30 Elephants.
Coaches No. 81 Louisville, No. 82 Des Moines, No. 83 St. Louis, No. 84 Cleveland, No. 85 New York, No. 86 Worcester, No. 88 Los Angeles, No. 89 Seattle, No. 90 Washington, No. 91 San Antonio, No. 100 Jomar (private car).
Stock Cars, Flat Cars, Coaches, Totals
Advance: – , – , 2, 2
1st Section: 3, 15, 4, 22
2nd Section: 5, 11, 6, 22
3rd Section: 5, 14, 4, 23
4th Section: 10, – , 11, 21
Totals: 23, 40, 27, 90
A total of 145 pieces loaded on 40 flat cars for an average of about 3.6 pieces per flat car. The lengths given for the wagons are the actual lengths of the bodies, not the space taken up on the flat car.
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 Ð 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
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.