The Circus Moves by Rail

PDF-file by Tom Parkinson

The Circus Moves by Rail PDF ebook download My wife and I happened to stop at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, WI a couple of weeks ago and, train lover that I am, I was just fascinated by the logistics of moving the circus by rail so I ordered this book from the library. Apparently, the army used to follow the circus around to learn methods for moving a large amount of equipment rapidly and efficiently. Despite all I have learned, I remain totally astonished and incredulous that the circus could disassemble huge tents, load up hundreds of animals and people (on four different trains), travel to the next town, unload, set everything up and put on two performances, then start the process all over again. Every day! And without bulldozers.I am in awe.

We came back and poked around their library for several hours. It seems the circus kept diaries (called route books) of unusual events during each season and those were then published. These have been collected and put on the web. They make just fascinating reading. Here's a link to the Ringling Bros route book for 1892. (You have to scroll down about half way to get past the precise list of acts and participants to the "A Concise Account of the Haps and Mishaps, Accidents, Incidents, Business, Fun and Doings, Wise and Otherwise."

The idea for moving the circus by rail came from William Cameron Coup and the first was implemented in 1872.Until that time, circuses and menageries, struggled from town to town in parades of wagons, all drawn by circus horses. They had to deal with mud, dust, and weather of all manner.The train provided relative comfort with coaches for the performers and rest for the animals, not to mention shelter from the weather. At first, there was reluctance to adopt the new means of conveyance as is typical with any new innovation.Barnum, himself, who later promoted the "circus"train in his advertising was at first very much against the idea.

It soon became apparent that a new design was needed for the cars.Typical railroad flatcars of the time were of different heights and had hand brakes sticking up at the ends of the cars making rapid loading and unloading difficult.The first load took 24 hours, but after redesign of flatcars to be of the same height, connected by ramps, and with brakes handles out of the way, loading and unloading could be accomplished in as little as 3-4 hours; and this from as many as 65 cars in three sections (separate trains.) They could now travel as far as 100 miles during the night, arrive in the morning, setup all their tents and equipment, put on 2-3 shows, reload the trains and be off for the next town, all in 24 hours or less.Phenomenal.The only advance work might be the "flying squadron" of about 20 men who would travel ahead with an advertising car to drive tent stakes and shower the area with handbills.

The heyday of circuses in the United States was the 1920's and Ringling Bros, Barnum and Bailey circuses trains often had 100 cars in three sections.The last circus train was Cole Bros in 1957.Ironically, the famous circus train movement from Baraboo to Milwaukee that would bring thousands of onlookers to watch the beautiful wagons go by in southern Wisconsin was canceled a few years ago because the flatcars were no longer safe (not to mention liability concerns for valuable circus wagons.) This year, the movements to Milwaukee will all be by truck (ugh) for the parade on July 12th.(Link for those interested:

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