Joseph J. Kaspar, an Emmy-winning NBC television engineer, spent years researching the 1947 Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus train. He collected 1105 photographs. Remarkably, he also obtained the original conductor’s notebook listing all the cars and what they contained. He then proceeded to build an HO scale model of the train, handcrafting everything, even the passenger car windows.
Mr. Kaspar’s model — four train sections, 108 railroad cars, 149 wagons and cages, 40 trucks and tractors, and 14 floats and carriages — now resides at the Circus World museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin.
1947 was the last year the train was painted red and yellow. It was also the last year 6-pole tents were used for the big top and menagerie.
That year the train traveled 13,346 miles carrying 46 tents and the poles and ropes to support them, 184 horses, 39 elephants, and food to feed 1377 employees 3900 meals a day.
Management and performers traveled in 18 coaches in the train’s forth section separately from the workmen. The first section had 3 stock cars, 18 flat cars and five coaches for workmen. The second section had 1 elephant car, 19 flat cars and 14 workmen’s coaches. The third section had 9 stock cars, 16 flat cars, and 14 coaches for workmen.
Everything was designed for maximum efficiency in unloading. The draft horses even traveled in their harness to minimize time needed to get to work when they arrived. The harnesses were removed later when they were fed and watered.
In addition to the people, the animals, and the equipment and rigging to put up the tents, the train carried a travelling city: wardrobe, tailor, sound and electrical shops; sanitation; the cookhouse and diners; stages, and circus rings; fuel trucks and buses; and customer seating.
Click on photos to enlarge.
It was off-season, so the museum had few visitors. But we also had the depressing thought that fewer and fewer people are alive who saw the circus in its full glory — and therefore, probably there will be fewer and fewer people to care about the museum.
Date of our visit: 7 September 2018