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Trivia & Terms

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This page last updated 02/15/2004



Longest single jump  The longest, single railroad jump between two cities by a circus occurred April 20-25, 1924, when the Al G. Barnes Circus moved 2,058 miles to avoid an animal quarantine from California to the Mississippi river.  The ATSF  had set a schedule of eight days for the move, but moved the train on such a rapid schedule that it beat its own schedule by three days.
Shortest run  If not the shortest railroad jump between two show lots, this one comes darn close.  In 1930, the Sells-Floto Circus played in the Chicago Coliseum and the next date was at the Chicago Stadium.  Trucks were hired to move the wagons, but the horses, lead stock, elephants, and people all went to the circus train to move the 18 blocks to a closer siding.
Currency  Beginning with W. Coup's very first move by rail in 1872, the circuses always had to prepay cash to the railroad at the time of the move.  The railroad agent had to keep the office open or try to find the right person on the circus train to get the cash.  This procedure remained unchanged through 1972.  Beginning in 1973, invoices were sent to the Ringling headquarters and the transportation fees were paid on a monthly basis.
Blue Unit  In 1969, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey set up a completely new, second unit to the circus.  The original show was designated as the Red Unit and the new show was called the Blue Unit.  This new show required a new train which used eleven coaches purchased from the Penn Central's Twentieth Century Limited and the Rock Island's Rocket.  The rest of the train consisted of four stock cars, one tunnel car, and for the first time since 1957, four flats.  The pride of this new train was the observation car, Hickory, which had been the tail end car from one of the Twentieth Century Limited trains.


Poles to Engine or Poles to Caboose This term referred to the direction the wagon poles or tongues should face when the flat cars were loaded to facilitate unloading for the next day's show.
Runs  Either the location where the flat cars are loaded or the ramps placed at the end of a flat car so that the wagons could be loaded and unloaded.  Not all flat cars were equipped for these ramps.  Those that were so equipped were designated as "run cars."
Crossover Plates  Crossover plates were the metal plates placed between the ends of two railroad flat cars.  They permitted the wagons to be moved from one car to the next during loading and unloading.
Jump or Run  The train trip between two cities or towns.
Dukie Run  A Dukie was a box lunch prepared by the circus cookhouse when there would be a lengthy trip between show towns and the circus would not be set up to prepare a meal.  It was distributed to the circus employees so that they would have a meal on the train during the jump or run between towns.
Bull Car  Circus elephants are called bulls, regardless of gender.  The railroad stock car used to transport the elephants may sometimes be known as a "Bull Car."
Pie Car  The Pie Car was the closest thing that the circus train had to a Dining or Club Car.  It was a place where circus troopers could congregate and buy a snack, play cards, and socialize.
Two Car Show  Unlike a flat car circus, these small shows usually traveled on two cars, a coach and a baggage car.  Normally, they consisted of only two cars but may have had as many as five.  It made no difference, circus people always referred to them as a Two Car Show.
First of May A person who joins the show after the weather turns mild or an inexperienced person who has joined a circus for the first time. 
Gilly  To carry by brute strength alone or a nickname for a towner (a local resident).
Gilly Wagon  A wagon that loads through the end door of a baggage car or a wagon that is basically skeleton and four wheels which can be taken apart and loaded into a baggage car.
Poler The person that steers the wagon on the flat car by the pole of the wagon.
Bill Car  The advance or advertising car that travels ahead of the main circus train.
Chalker  The person who blocks the wagon wheels with wheel chocks on the circus train flat cars.
Mud Show  A horse drawn wagon show.
High Grass Show A circus that plays mainly small, isolated towns.  Designated High Grass because the lot where the circus would set up was normally overrun with weeds and high grass.
Low Grass Show  A circus that normally plays the large cities and towns.  Designated Low Grass since the circus lots were usually well maintained.