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This Page Last Updated on 02/19/2004

The circus trains of the early 1850's consisted of only six or so cars and were moved in regular freights, or perhaps, sometimes as a special by the railroad.  Until about 1856, circus owners probably hired cars at each town or whey they changed railroads since different rail gauges existed at the time.  In 1856, Gilbert Spalding started the Spalding & Rogers Railroad Circus and ordered nine custom-built railroad cars from James Goold & Sons of Albany, New York.  Very little is known about this venture, but the show probably moved its equipment from regular box cars with adjustable axles to accommodate changes in track gauge of the different railroads to the show grounds.  This show trekked through Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Canada, and into Michigan and at the end of this first season, the custom railroad cars ended up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the show reverted back to tried and true wagons.

In the dozen or so years leading up to the driving of the golden spike at Promontory Point, Utah, in 1869, railroads and track had been built just about everywhere in the eastern United States. Late that same year, C. S. Noyes Crescent City Circus switched to rails and never stopped traveling by rail for five years. Unlike the Crescent City Circus, which never went further west than Texas, the Dan Castello Circus had its “advance man” on the first through train after the spike was driven at Promontory. Although this show also traveled on only about eight railroad cars, it was getting closer to what would become the modern railroad circus. Its equipment was packed in wagons which were then loaded on flat cars rather than carrying its gear in box cars as had been done previously. During its trek westward, the show would leave its railroad cars and move overland by wagon to cities such as Denver, where the rails had not yet reached, and pick up its train in another city.