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Ringling Circus Train Consist and Maintenance

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Train  

Part VII, Circus Train Consist, CircusTrain Maintenance and Union Pacific track maintenance.

Story and Photographs by Carl Morrison

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At Circus Train Red Unit Trainmaster, Tim Holan's invitation, I returned to the site of the stored cars, Lewis and Katella, in Anaheim, to watch some train maintenance.  Not knowing where the changing of some wheels would take place, I arrived at the residence cars where I'd met Tim earlier and found the bi-level car and the flats:


The single bi-level car in the consist (above and right).  
Management automobiles are first loaded on the
upper deck of the  bi-level, about 11:00 am
on closing day.


Flats (above and right) with transitional ramps


Flat (above [with bi-level beyond] and right)
showing trucks and tie-down chains for circus
wagons and animal cages.

Train resident transportation.

Car with middle foyer.


Car with middle foyer.

Car with middle foyer.

Circus performers and crew returning to residence
cars after a performance.

UP section crew working on rails at spot of
earlier animal car derailment.  Note curve to
the right, through which the cars were brought
perhaps too sharp for the long cars.

Changing wheels on the Animal Cars

Tom said he needed to change 9 wheel sets on the animal cars because of a derailment the previous week.  The animal cars and flats were being brought to the tracks near the residence cars for storage during the performance dates, and were derailed and the wheels were damages.  The curve in the track at that point may have been too sharp for the length of these cars.  In any event, Tom had to change out the wheels.


When I reached the Trainmaster's office car, I asked an employee as to his whereabouts and he directed me down the track south, across Katella, where I
found Tom (right) at the wheel of a fork lift putting damaged wheelsets onto a semi-trailer.  

He said the job had gone much better/faster than expected and that I'd missed the action, but we talked about the reason for the damage and bid farwell for the 2-year time period before the Red Unit will return with a new tour.

Tim Holan, Red Unit Trainmaster


Damaged wheelsets ready for departure from the scene.


The crane that had raised and held the cars
while the wheels were removed and
new wheels rolled in left the scene.

I wish I could have seen this monster in action.


Animal cars with new/replaced wheelsets.

Train resident transportation.


Circus performers and crew returning to the residence
cars after a performance.


Carpentry shop work, new steps for residence cars.


Circus vehicles near residence cars.  Circus bus (right)
which takes performers and crew from the residence
cars to the arena for each performance and returns
them after each performance.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Train Consist and Storage  Information

Red Unit    2003 Tour





Car Length

Truck Centers

Axle/ Truck

Maximum Height

Block Length

Block I

4 Stocks




14’6” ATR


Block II

32 Coaches



2 & 3

14’6” ATR



2 Container Flats




13’1” ATR


Block IIIA

9 Flats






Block IIIB

9 Flats




14’6” ATR



56 Cars







The Circus Train is operated as a solid unit train.   The train is stopped for crew changes, and to water the circus animals.  The one-hour “water stop” generally takes place midday at a crew change point. During this time, holding tanks on the stock cars are topped off and the animals in the stocks and flats are fed and watered.   Also during this stop, circus personnel mechanically inspect the train, making sure loads on the flats are secure.

At the final destination, the Circus Train may be placed in one location, or each block may be at a separate location.

BLOCK I-STOCKS:  SIDE-LOADING ANIMAL CARS.  The animals are unloaded out the side of the cars on ramps carried on the train.   A staging area of 20 feet adjacent to the cars on the track is needed.  The ground needs to be flat and level within the range between the tops of the ties to the top of the rail.  If the ground is lower than the ties, the ramp from the car to the ground becomes dangerously steep.  If the ground is higher than the top of the rail, the ramp does not have enough of a drop and the elephants hit their backs on the top of the door.   Because the large animals walk from the train to the arena, the unloading location needs to be as close to the arena as possible.   Once the animals are walked to the arena, they are housed there until the evening of departure when they are reloaded onto the train.

BLOCK II – COACHES:  OCCUPIED SLEEPERS.  Circus personnel throughout the stay occupy these cars.  The show bus, service trucks, and personnel need a two-lane road to the coaches   No electrical source is needed for the train since it has two generator cars supplying all electrical power to the train.   Water is supplied from railroad outlets or fire hydrants within 800 feet of the train.  

BLOCK III A & B – FLATS.  The flats are unloaded into a street crossing 60 feet or wider.   Cars can unload from two cuts on the same track from each side of the crossing or an existing piggyback ramp.   The bi-level car unloads on circus ramps over the adjacent flat car.  The circus wagons can only be unloaded in one direction (forward), so that the direction of the poles (wagon tongues) must be noted.  

When the train is stored, it is secured with blue flags and switch locks.

The train travels with the stocks as the first cars in the train, followed by the coaches and the flats are on the rear.   This arrangement gives the animals the best ride by placing them on the head end.  The occupied coaches are placed next in the train to keep slack action to a minimum.   The light flats are on the rear of the train behind the heavier stocks and coaches.

ARRIVAL.  When the circus train arrives in a city, the train is immediately spotted.   The entire operation is completed within two hours after the train arrives in town.   The coaches are spotted first.   The flats are spotted so the two ramp cars will be in the proper location for unloading. The Stocks are spotted and circus personnel secure these cars by applying the hand brakes and using wheel chocks.   Circus personnel begin unloading the flat cars.   The entire operation takes about four hours.

Before the animals can be unloaded, the necessary equipment for taking care of the animals at the arena has to be unloaded from the flats. Animals may be kept in the cars overnight until a reasonable hour the next morning for publicity purposes and for coordinating the operation with local authorities.

DEPARTURE. About 11 a.m. on closing day, circus personnel begin loading equipment that is not needed in the show.   Management automobiles are first loaded on the upper deck of the bi-level.   Other vehicles drift to the loading site during the afternoon.   When the last show ends, the teardown of the show begins, and within 30 minutes, the large animals leave the building and walk back to the stock cars.  They are loaded into the cars and are bedded down for the night.   The circus wagons begin arriving at the train.   Vehicles pulling the wagons from the building are driven onto the flat cars pulling the wagons they brought from the arena. The amount of time to complete the loading operation is completed about three hours from the end of the last show.  Flatcar switching may take place to insure that the train will be ready to unload on arrival at the next city.   The first needed equipment must be first off, so the ramp cars must be properly positioned in the block to allow unloading.

The road power is coupled to the stock cars and mechanical and airbrake inspections are completed.  The circus train is ready for departure to the next performance city.   The train is assembled and air tested within 11 hrs. from the last show's starting time.

So, the next time you plan to go to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, go a day early and see the train and the Animal Walk, you’ll be fascinated as you see The Greatest Show on Earth begin to take shape in your town.

Many thanks to Bill Misiura, Director of Transportation, Joe DeMike, Transportation Manager, and Tom Holan, Red Unit Circus Trainmaster, for their hospitality and information.

Source:  Feld Entertainment, Inc., Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Circus Train Consist and Storage Information .  Rev. December 20, 2002, pgs. 1-2.  Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, 1313 17th Street East, Palmetto, FL  34221.

Union Pacific Track Maintenance

on a spur adjacent to the Circus Train.

While I was at the circus train this day, I watched a Union Pacific crew use a large piece of equipment to raise the rails, cross ties and all, and tamp ballast under the ties, thus leveling that section of track, I presume.


Track before the maintenance operation.

Same track section after the maintenance operation.

The complete machine.

The front rig had two wires running back to the
main unit, showing alignment, I presume.


The main rig.

The rig as it approached, adjusting each cross tie.

The disk-shaped objects hooked under the top of
the rail and lifted the section, ties and all...

then the tampers pressed into the ballast, below the tie
and tamped in ballast under the tie to hold it in that
raised/leveled position.


One crewman was positioned outside, and one inside.

The red section could move forward and back within
the confines of the larger yellow frame of the rig.

Opposite end of the rig.

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