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Pie Car at Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus

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The following is all I knew about Michael before I was invited into his Pie Car, spotted at Randolph and Eastern in The City of Commerce, California, July 20, 2006.


For over 11 years, Michael has been a Ringling Bros.® fixture in food services and his reputation for keeping hundreds happily fed each and every day precedes him – from performers to production staff to people who are just plain fans. Michael thanks his Grandmother for teaching him nearly everything he knows about cooking, but takes full credit for his signature barbeque, which no one seems to be able to get enough of!

This sounds like a nice enough guy, but it really doesn't say anything, I thought.  This is why I was a bit nervous when I approached Car 180, the Pie Car, at 10 am.  I arrived 1/2 hour early and walked 3/4 of the 35 coaches, taking down the car numbers for use in this report.  I decided that I wouldn't have time to finish the consist list, so I headed back to the middle of the train, to car 180.  It was very warm for 10 am in Los Angeles, so the air conditioning units under each car were humming and the generator cars were identifiable by the diesel exhaust coming from the top and the muted sound of the engines inside. 

DSC00212.jpg<< I was surprised at how long the 35 coaches of the Blue Unit were.   I had only seen the circus train in Anaheim where it had to be spotted in two sections, rather than this location where it can all stay in one long line.  The car at the end where I arrived, is one of the two generator cars, with side air intake vents.

As I was writing down the consist numbers, my cell phone rang and it was Jill, Queza if B.S. Public Relations, who had set up the interviews for me.  She wondered if I'd found the train.  I told her I was headed her way along the train and my GPS had directed me to the intersection with no problems.

I followed her into car 180.  It was very exciting because in my previous three reports on the Circus Train, I had never been invited inside the Pie Car!  In previous years I had been in the Trainmasters Office, Generator Car and in the workshop car, but never the mysterious Pie Car!  I had read about it and knew it was where train residents take their meals, and is the only public car on the train, but I hadn't been inside, much less met or interviewed the Food Service Manager.

DSC00224.jpgOnce in the Pie Car, Jill introduced me to Michael.  My uneasiness, created by the brief bio. of Michael on the Ringling web page, was immediately waylaid when I shook his hand and noticed his broad smile.  Michael was very congenial and informative and quick to laugh.  The interview was more a conversation with a new friend as he told me about how he got started in his job with the Circus.

In addition to the Pie Car on the train, there is the Pie Car Jr. which is at each venue to provide food for the staff and performers on two- and three-show days when they do not have time to return to the train for meals.  In fact, more food is served from Pie Car Jr. than from the Pie car!  This is true, in part, because train residents have cooking facilities in their residential units, and they do some cooking themselves.  They have hotplates and microwaves.

The hours of operation in the Pie Car are: 

Breakfast starts at 7 a.m. and the car closes at 1 pm.  The train crew is always at the train for breakfast, lunch, and breaks. 

Evening meal is 6 pm to 7 pm when the crew and train residents have the evening meal.

The Pie Car closes at 9:30 pm, or one hour after the last bus arrived back at the train from the venue.  This means, in some cases, that the Pie Car is not closed until 11:30 or 12:30 at night.

If there is an early bus to the venue, the Pie Car opens one hour before the first bus leaves, usually 6 a.m.  Of course there is at least an hour of preparation time before the Pie Car opens.  Michael and I discussed the many hours involved in keeping the car open.

On days when they are moving to a new city, the Pie Car is open 24 hrs. a day.  For instance, on Sunday, when they move from Los Angeles to Anaheim, the Pie Car will not close until one hour after the train is spotted in the next city, Anaheim.

DSC00225.jpgI asked Michael how he got started with the Circus.  He said he has been with them for 13 years.  He was born in Los Angeles, but was raised in Louisiana since he was 11 years old.   When the circus was in
Baton Rouge, a friend contacted him saying they needed help on the Circus Train while it was in town.   He had, as many of us have, heard just rumors about working for the Circus.  And he was surprised that you get a regular pay check (not dependent on how much cotton candy you sell) and that you had insurance!  He began the job in Baton Rouge, and when they were ready to move, they asked him to stay on.  He agreed to go with the Circus to New Orleans, Houston, and Dallas-Ft. Worth.  The rest is history, all most.  He took 2 years off from the Circus and worked for UniCal offshore.  He found this work boring, compared to working for the Circus, so he returned.

He related that there is a school teacher that travels with the Circus, and a Nursery School.  Mail for the staff and performers is mailed to the main office, and Fed Exed to the train twice a week.

The challenges of the job involve feeding the performers from many nations, and the requests he gets from the train residents. 

Pleasures of the job included the times when they have a Guest Chef who cooks special means, such as Chinese food enjoyed  and appreciated by the Chinese performers.  The School Teacher, who is from India, has cooked some special barbeque chicken.

Food is supplied to the train by Sysco and US Food Services, with some items coming Sam's Club and Cosco.

Michael has a crew of 5 employees and he is short handed at the time.  He has managed Food Service operations for the Red Unit, Blue Unit, and Barnum's Kaleidoscope.  Each of these operations is responsible for feeding over three hundred people each day.  Each unit is equipped with two Food Service facilities.  One is a train dining car and the other is a mobile food service trailer that is set up on the grounds in each venue.  The units tour throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico non-stop, year-round.

Michael has been responsible for coordinating food service for special corporate functions such at Black Tie Receptions, Opening Night Galas, and Unit Holiday Parties.

Michael has

As I left after Michael's interview, he handed me a copy of the job description of both the Food Service Manager and the Director of Food Services.  He mentioned that the Director of Food Services position has been eliminated and included in the Food Service Manager's job.

Food Service Manager

Responsible for direct operations and activities of  food service facilities of the Blue Unit.  This includes:
Director of Food Services (added to Food Service Manager's job)

(If you are interested in a job with the Circus, check  for Jobs.)


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