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Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Blue Unit Circus Train Underway between Bakersfield and Cajon Pass, California, July 9, 2012. By Carl Morrison

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Blue Unit Circus Train

Chasing the Circus Train through the Tehachapi Loop, California; Animal Walk in Anaheim;  Trainmaster Interview; Performance in Anaheim; and a Ride on the Circus Train from San Diego to Bakersfield.
July 9 - August 28, 2012

Videos, Photos, and Text
, except where noted, by Carl Morrison.  Comments welcomed at:

This Locomotive is the opening of,
but the power to relocate the circus train is locomotives from the host railroad, in Anaheim's case Union Pacific.
The locomotive in the photo above actually does not exist, but is an artist rendition.  Ringling may own switch engines at their Florida rail yard where cars are rebuilt for the circus train, but I have not seen the color scheme or style of any of these locomotives.

This report is very long, so you may want to bookmark it now and return to it after reading some of it.

You may read this report in chronological order by reading down the page, or click any section in the Table of Contents to go directly to any section of this report.

Table of Contents: 
Chasing the Circus Train - Bio. of Blue Unit Trainmaster,  Joe Colossa - Timeline and Fun Facts about the Circus TrainUnloading the 64 Circus Wagons - The Animal Walk in Anaheim -
Interview of Joe Colossa, Blue Unit Trainmaster - Dragons Performance in Anaheim - Riding the Blue Unit Circus Train from San Diego to Bakersfield
Slide show of all photos - Links

My favorite car on the train is the Pie Car, the Diner for the residents, and social center during a move to a new city.

"China, Cuba, Paraguay, and Russia are just a few steps apart...on the Circus Train," said Joe Colossa, Blue Unit Train Master, as he listed which car numbers housed the performing groups from these countries.

To identify the Blue Unit train (a completely different show from the red unit) look for the "Blue Globe" on each of the cars or pieces of equipment, not the color of the lettering.  To identify the unit while watching the circus, notice the globes on the foreheads of the elephants, they are blue for the blue unit and red for the red unit.  This color identification runs further, but less noticeable, such as in the color of the shirts worn by escorts as they hold the rope between the animals and spectators during the animal walk.  Also, this year I noticed that the trucks on the flat cars were blue.  However, there was one red pickup truck and I presume there was a need to take that piece of red unit equipment onto the blue unit train.

In talking to Trainmasters of the Circus Train, they explain that there is a friendly competition between the Red and Blue Units and each is proud of any advantage one has over the other such as which unit is featured in a major TV production.  This year Train Master, Joe, proudly stated that the Red Unit was 2 cars shorter than his Blue Unit.  Incidentally, the 61 cars of the Blue Unit make it one car too long to travel the coastal route through California because of the length of the sidings, so being proud for one fact may make for disadvantages in their railroad routes.  This explains why the Blue Unit this year traverses the Tehachapi Loop four or more times during its California portion of the 2012 tour.

Underway between Bakersfield and Cajon Pass, California

2012 Blue Unit Circus Train:
---61 Cars (40 conventional passenger-type cars; 21 TTX-[type] piggyback flats)
---4,490 Tons (when fully loaded)
---5,409 Feet (WITHOUT host RR's 3-locomotive power attached; 1 mile = 5,280 feet)
  --From Yahoo Group:  Circus Train

The complete Tehachapi Loop with the Blue Unit Circus Train's 61 cars crossing over the entry tunnel of the loop.

Video of the RBBB Blue Unit entering, traversing, and leaving the Tehachapi Loop. 4:02 minutes

Description:  Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Blue Unit Circus Train traversing through Tehachapi Loop, July 9, 2012.  Moving from Fresno to LA via Bakersfield and Cajon Pass.  Person in video is Chris Guenzler. Videographer is Carl Morrison,

First, On far right see the train crossing a bridge, heading for the loop.

Second, The Train coming through the tunnel into the loop

Third, The 3 Locomotives pulling the train around the loop and crossing over itself over the entry tunnel.

(It was breezy, so you may want to turn down the volume to eliminate the wind noise.)


Video of the RBBB Blue Unit leaving the Tehachapi Loop and heading east toward Mojave, CA.  4:27 minutes.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Blue Unit Circus Train leaving Tehachapi Loop, July 9, 2012.  Moving from Fresno to LA via Bakersfield and Cajon Pass.   Videographer is Carl Morrison,

Video of the RBBB Blue Unit traveling through Mojave Junction, Mojave, California, on a trip from Fresno to Los Angeles.  See details in the description of the video under the video when it is running.  4:53 minutes

Slow moving Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Blue Unit Circus Train heading south at Mojave Junction, Mojave, California.  You will be able to spot the different cars in this order:  Locomotives, 4 stocks (elephants, horses, etc. no cats they travel in trucks), 36 coaches (rooms for over 300 performers and staff), 2 COFC (Container On FlatCar), 19 flats (formerly auto haulers) with circus wagons and tractors to pull them to the arena.  Usually 6 or 7 circus wagons per tractor/mule.  Buses for transporting performers and staff to the arena from the parked coaches.  Equipment repair trucks - Blue for the Blue Unit.  Videographer is Carl Morrison,

The consist of the 2012 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Blue Unit Circus Train.  The Blue Unit Circus Train has 61 cars consisting of 4 stocks, 36 coaches, 2 COFC, and 19 flats.  Total axles, not counting the locomotives, is 260.  The total length of the Blue Unit Circus Train, without locomotives, is 5,409 Feet, 129 ft. longer than a mile.  The 4 stocks house nine Asian elephants and an array of 6 to 10 majestic show horses plus two miniature ponies.

Thanks to fellow Field Reporter, Chris Guenzler, for the following list and the work he did researching each car.  My notes are added in blue.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Blue Unit Train Consist for the July 9 run from Fresno to Los Angeles:

UP 4426
UP 8542
UP 6959
1 RBBX 60017 Stock 4 UP 6304 Baggage/Messenger  --Stock No. 1 is the only animal car of the four without handler accommodations.
2 RBBX 60010 Stock 3 UP 6318 Baggage/Messenger
3 RBBX 60006 Stock 2 UP 6312 Baggage/Messenger
4 RBBX 63009 Stock 1 UP 5762 Postal/Storage
5 RBBX 60001 Shop Circus Train Crew UP 5749
6 RBBX 40016 Coach 178 UP 5433
7 RBBX 41301 Coach 168 PRR 8242 Anderson Inn --One of two Chinese Cars
8 RBBX 42103 Coach 169 GN 1230  --The Russian Car
9 RBBX 41305 Coach PRR 8263 Jeanette Inn
10 RBBX 41405 Coach 170 SAL 55 Cedartown
11 RBBX 40011 Coach 180 UP Alpine Pass
12 RBBX 42015 Coach 179 UP 5432 --The Car in which I traveled from San Diego to Bakersfield 8/27/12.  This car has 6 compartments. 
13 RBBX 42016 Coach 178 UP 55433
14 RBBX 43003 Coach 177 UP 5507
15 RBBX 42010 Coach 183 1/2 N&W Pulaski County
16 RBBX 41309 Coach 175 N&W Duke University
17 RBBX 41308 Coach 174 PRR 8268 Lima View
18 RBBX 43009 Coach 173 UP 5418
19 RBBX 40006 Coach 172 UP 5459
20 RBBX 43007 Coach 171 UP 5540
21 RBBX 63010 Pie Car 181 UP 5770 {Postal/Storage} --The Pie Car
22 RBBX 63007 Generator 182 UP 5761{Postal/Storage}
23 RBBX 42001 Coach 183 UP 5401
24 RBBX 41304 Coach 184 PRR 8257 Elmara Inn --The Paraguay (Torres) Car
25 RBBX 41317 Coach 185 PRR 8288 Uniontown Inn
26 RBBX 41307 Coach 186 PRR 8267 Lewistown Inn
27 RBBX 40010 Coach 187 UP Alpine Camp
28 RBBX 41316 Coach 188 PRR 8260 Greensburg Inn
29 RBBX 42013 Coach 189 UP 5425 --The Clown Car
30 RBBX 41404 Coach 190 SAL 52 Pinehurst --The Band Car
31 RBBX 41312 Coach 191 UP 5513
32 RBBX 43012 Coach 192 UP 5541 --The Train Crew Car
33 RBBX 40013 Coach193 UP American General
34 RBBX 41402 Coach 194 B&O 7103 Kingfisher
35 RBBX 42011 Coach 195 UP 5421 --The Dancer's Car
36 RBBX 42006 Coach 196 UP 5410
37 RBBX 42009 Coach 197 UP 5418
38 RBBX 42005 Coach 198 UP 5407
39 RBBX 40014 Coach 199 UP American View
40 RBBX 63005 Shop 200 Circus Porter Car
41 RBBX 84802 COFC 89' MLCX 8900
42 RBBX 84801 COFC 89' GTW 304235
43 RBBX 84718 89 foot Flat Car CREX 351 --The black cages on this car are for the tigers and lions, which travel by truck, not on the train.
44 RBBX 84704 89 foot Flat Car Ramps GTW 303063
45 RBBX 84706 89 foot Flat Car Cat Flat TTGX 961763
46 RBBX 85702 89 foot Flat Car Cat Flat GTW 303142
47 RBBX 80715 89 foot Flat Car RTTX 911820
48 RBBX 80702 89 foot Flat Car GTW 303074
49 RBBX 80718 89 foot Flat Car FEC 4039
50 RBBX 84707 89 foot Flat Car GTW 303461
51 RBBX 80705 89 foot Flat Car GTW 303068
52 RBBX 84717 89 foot Flat Car BTTX 930349
53 RBBX 80708 89 foot Flat Car SP 515415
54 RBBX 80707 89 foot Flat Car GTW 303461
55 RBBX 80703 89 foot Flat Car ACF 4
56 RBBX 80704 89 foot Flat Car GTW 303063
57 RBBX 80710 89 foot Flat Car ACF 1968
58 RBBX 80714 89 foot Flat Car RTTX 911816
59 RBBX 80713 89 foot Flat Car ACF 1969
60 RBBX 84713 89 foot Flat Car BTTX 910675
61 RBBX 84719 89 foot Flat Car CREX 352

Video of the RBBB Blue Unit traveling from Cajon Summit downhill toward San Bernardino, CA, July 9, 2012  5:29 minutes

Slow moving Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Blue Unit Circus Train heading downgrade after Cajon Summit. You will hear me taking still photographs as the train passed below me at the left, through a cut. Other trains were in the area also going downhill. You will hear me say, "See you in LA" and "Hello" a few times. Many passengers were in the vestibules, because it was cooler now, and I could see them as they passed below me. Most were taking their own photos of the train as it curved back up Cajon Pass to the summit. Still photos in this report show views of what was in the open-topped cars.  At the end of the photo you can see Chris Guenzler walking across the tracks at a crossing, and a white truck of railfans heading out.

For the
video above, I was positioned high, directly above the passing Circus Train to my left as it passed through a deep cut that was only a few feet long.  These still photos show some interesting things not shown in the video.

This wide shot near Cajon Summit gives you a view of almost all of the 61-car Circus Train, and you can understand why it is called the "Longest Private Train in the World" nearly a mile long.

Click any photo below to see a double-sized copy; click BACK in your browser to return to this page.

These three locomotives were on point throughout the trip from Fresno to LA, but I understand there was a crew change.

This shows the proximity of the passing train to my photo spot.

Most vestibules were filled with performers and staff who live on the train enjoying the ride, and fresh air.  They all seemed to be taking photos as the train rounded the sweeping curve.  When the Blue Unit Trainmaster saw this report, he said this happened to be a photo of him and his family...what are the chances?!

Chris' research on the Circus Train calls the flat car with the bus the 'ramp car'.  You can see, behind the loader, the stands used to hold the ramps that will go from this flat car to the street crossing.  All the vehicles and circus wagons will be pulled off this end of the flats.  Some will have to navigate the length of all the flats to reach the ground at the end.  This provides quick loading and unloading.  This system is called 'Circus Loading'.  The black cages on the second flat are for the tigers and lions, which do not travel by train, but rather by air conditioned trucks.

Not until this last view of the circus train underway was I able to see that the red circus wagons were open-topped.  This wagon is holding the stands (called Bull Tubs) used in the elephant act.

This open-topped wagon is a “rubber wagon” there are 3 of them like this numbered 24, 25 & 26.  The black painted equipment you see is the Ring curb frame. The skin of the curb travels elsewhere so it doesn’t get damaged.

The 42 wagon you see in the picture, that is ¼ red and the rest white, is the steel globe,  in which the motorcycle group performs. The motorcycles store in the red part and the globe in the white part.  --Info. provided by Joe Colossa

The last two cars are typical with a tractor and 6 to 8 circus wagons that will be pulled to the arena.  All the wagons were in sets with a tractor so they can be pulled off the flats and reconnected to local, large wreckers and pulled to the arena.

The sun was setting as we watched the Circus Train snake down the rest of Cajon Pass for its twilight run from San Bernardino to Los Angeles.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus puts out many Press Releases about the circus, but I am especially pleased that they also include a bio. of the Trainmasters of each unit.  The following Press Release is about Joe Colossa, Blue Unit Trainmaster.

Joe Colossa, Blue Unit Trainmaster's Press Release from Ringling

Joe Colossa may not be a performer but he plays an integral part in Ringling Bros. and Barnum

& Bailey® Presents DRAGONS. As trainmaster for the Blue Unit of Ringling Bros.®, Joe is
responsible for the safety and welfare of more than 300 passengers, in addition to all of the
props, equipment and merchandise that is needed to put on The Greatest Show On Earth®.

Originally from New Britain, Connecticut, Joe comes from three generations of Colossas that
have worked with the circus. His great-grandfather was a performer who worked with elephants,
his grandfather was a performer who then became a concessions manager for various circuses,
and his father worked in concessions and was married to Joe’s mom who was a performer.

When he was six years old, Joe began helping his family as they traveled with circuses. At the
age of 10, he traveled with his uncle Wayne on the Blue Unit as he worked in the elephant
department. It was during that time that Joe knew he wanted to grow up and become a circus

“I remember following the trainmaster around and asking him a ton of questions about the circus
train,” Joe recounts. “I told him, ‘When I grow up, I want to become a trainmaster for the circus,
as well.’ The trainmaster said, ‘Son, you will change your mind 100 times before you are grown

In March 2000, Joe joined Ringling Bros. as a popcorn vendor during the Madison Square
Garden, New York engagement. Three weeks after he was hired, Joe was offered a
management position for Feld Consumer Products. From there, he worked his way up in rank
until he was eventually promoted to FCP Assistant General Manager in 2008. At the end of
2008, Joe was given an opportunity of a lifetime when the Trainmaster — who knew that Joe
was very interested in trains and working on them — decided to give him a chance and offered
him the position of Assistant Trainmaster.

At the end of 2011, Joe’s dream came true when he was promoted to Trainmaster. “I love my
job; it was the best decision I ever made!” Joe says. “I’m responsible for getting the train loaded
and unloaded and keeping it maintained. It’s similar to being a manager for an apartment
complex except our apartments are on rails and move to approximately 40 cities a year. And
when we travel, there’s nothing like watching the scenery and cities go by while riding on the
vestibule of the train.”

Recently married, Joe is now riding the rails with his wife, Carmen Torres*, the only female
motorcyclist featured in the Torres Family Globe of Steel, performing with her brothers and
--Press Release from Feld Enterprises                                                    

                  PS  I had met Carmen Torres in 2010 in the Pie Car of the Blue Unit in Commerce, CA, where she was performing in this same act.  You can see her photo at

From the Press Release, Historic Timeline:

•    1872    P.T. Barnum calls his circus, which travels by rail, The Greatest Show On Earth®.

•   1890    Ringling Bros. Circus begins to travel by rail.

•    2004    The Gold Unit of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, an all-new, intimate and interactive one-ring show, is introduced. The third touring show, the  Gold Unit, is able to visit cities Ringling Bros. was unable to reach by rail.

From the Press Release, DRAGONS Fun Facts:

Train and Travel

The average distance the Ringling Bros. circus train travels between cities is 350 miles.

Each year, an average of 1,000 hours is spent traveling by train from city to city.

109,500 meals per year are prepared at the Pie Car, the Ringling Bros. traveling diner.

The DRAGONS’ train will travel an average of 16,000 miles this year alone!

The Pie Car

The dining room on the train is called the Pie Car.

The Pie Car has a protégé called Pie Car Jr. which travels from the train yard to the arenas to feed the performers and staff.

When the train is moving, the Pie Car is open 24/7.

In the past, my reports have begun with the Animal Walk when the elephants, horses, and sometimes other animals are unloaded from the four 'stocks' (animal cars on the train) and walked to the Honda Center. 
However, as you have seen above, this year was the first time that I chased the circus train, getting videos of it underway in California.  Those videos are embedded above. 

My Rail Friend, Don Roe, called me 4 hours before the scheduled walk and said the Circus Train was traveling down Santa Ana Street in Anaheim.  This is where the train does some street running where the tracks are level with and in the center of a regular city street.

"Circus Loading" a Circus term still used today by railroads

In 1872 the P.T. Barnum Circus had grown so large that it was decided that they would only play at large venues, and that they would travel by train. P.T. Barnum had two of his partners, William Cameron Coup and Dan Costello, come up with a system to load the circus wagons on to railroad flat cars. Using a system of inclined planes, called runs, and crossover plates between cars, they developed a system of ropes and pulleys, along with a snubber post to get the wagons on and off of the flat cars. They used horses to pull the wagons up the run and then would hitch a second team to pull it down the run cars (flats). The off loading was much the same as loading, but a snubber post was used to help break the wagons' descent down the run. That system, first used in 1872, is still used today by the RBBBC, although through more modern methods.

When the circus switched to travel by train they began by using flatcars from the Pennsylvania Railroad, which turned out to be hazardous because the Pennsylvania Railroad's cars were in poor shape. In mid-season it was decided that they would buy their own cars, and when the P.T. Barnum Circus left Columbus, Ohio, it traveled on the first circus-owned train. It was made up of sixty cars, including forty-five flatcars carrying about 100 wagons.

Circus trains have proven well-suited for the transportation of heavy equipment (tents, rolling wagons, vehicles and machinery) and animals (elephants, lions, tigers and horses), despite tragic accidents over the years.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circuses separately and together grew to dominate live entertainment through their frequent purchases of many other American circuses. In modern times, they travel in two circus trains, the blue unit and the red unit, following an alternating two-year schedule to bring a new show to each location once a year. The RBBB circus trains are more than one mile (1.6 km) in length, and include living quarters for the performers and animal keepers. There are also special stock cars for the exotic animals and flatcars for the transportation of circus wagons, equipment, and even a bus used for local transportation at performance sites.

Another, the last operating carnival train in the United States, is operated in the east by Strates Shows.

Circus trains have always been enjoyed by the populace because of their unusual nature and photogenic qualities. Railfans monitor the annual movements of circus trains quite closely; weekends see pending train-runs of both RBBB Circus Trains, as well as the Strates Carnival train, posted on websites such as ""

Famous cinematic portrayals of circus trains include 1941's Dumbo by Ben Sharpsteen, starring Verna Felton and Margaret Wright, 1952's The Greatest Show on Earth by Cecil B. DeMille, starring Charlton Heston, 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and 2011's Water for Elephants.

--Wikipedia  (by Googling 'Circus Loading')    

I proceeded to the tracks near the arena (Sunkist and Cerritos), but the animal cars were not yet there.  I did notice the circus wagon flat cars were there, so I proceeded through the Honda Center parking lot to Auto Center Drive.  I could tell by the alignment of the wagons and tractors that unloading would be on Auto Center Drive.  I arrived there 2 hours before the announced Animal Walk time.  Ringling train workers were just arriving to set up the ramps for unloading the 49 circus wagons.  It took an hour to set the ramps, brace them, check for safety, and begin pulling the wagons from the flat cars onto the intersection and further to the Honda Center.

Several Circus Train Modelers read my articles, so the following photos of the unloading ramps are mainly for them.

Circus loading requires bridge plates at each end of all cars to enable the wagons and tractor to pass from car to car.

Ringling train crew arrives to unload the 64 circus wagons.

The first car in the cut, called the Ramp Car, has the supports and ramps for unloading the flats in 'Circus Loading' style.  This end loading/unloading system was invented by Ringling staff as mentioned above.

Here one bridge plate (which connect the cars so the wagons can be pulled along the cars to the unloading ramp) is removed and one is still turned up in running mode.

The proximity of the flats and the arena is shown here with the arena on the left across a large parking lot, the crossing on which unloading takes place, and the flats on the tracks to the right.

Right:  The ramp supports are unloaded and placed on the tracks.  The bobcat will pick up the ramp parts, turn in place, and lower the parts onto the supports to be locked in place. 

Seventeen-yr. circus employee from Florida, Dave P., oversees the placement of the supports.

Large jacks support each side of the car to stabilize against tipping.

The Assistant Trainmaster, "Rabbit" has picked up the first ramp, turned, and is lowering the piece into place.

Dave gives hand signals to the Bobcat operator.

The first of nine pieces is in place.

After the second ramp is in place, support spacers are added for stability.

Additional supports are added between the rails and the ramp and locked in.

Finally a plate is put into place to cover the space between the ramps.  The job is 1/3 finished at this point.

At this point the middle section is complete and the second, and final ramp piece is going into place. 

The ramp is complete and extra wooden chocks have been added under the ramp pieces to insure no tipping occurs at the end so the descent is less of a bump for the solid rubber tired wagons that have no springs or shock absorbers.

At this point the Bobcat is unloaded and off to the side.  Another couple of workers have been working preparing the wagons to be unloaded and putting down the bridges between the flats.  Dave  used the tractor to pull off the first set of wagons, 3 at a time and places them in the Arena parking lot.  Every 6 or so wagons, there is another tractor onboard.  The unloading continues for about  3 hours total.

The first wagon seemed longer than most.  Note the triple wheels in each corner.  The ramp worked as intended.

Dave pulls the first three wagons onto the crossing, makes a 90 degree turn, and continues to the Arena parking lot.

Nicely painted circus wagons like the one below, when emptied, will be placed around the venue's property as billboards to tell the local community that the circus is in town.

For about a half hour during the setting of the ramps, Joe Colossa, Blue Unit Trainmaster, and I chatted.  What a cordial and accommodating gentleman he is!  I had read his bio. (above) which mentions his recent marriage to Carmen Torres, the only female motorcyclist featured in the Torres Family Globe of Steel, performing with her brothers and cousins. I mentioned his marriage and that I had met Carmen in a Press Event in Los Angeles in 2010He related that they were married at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Fla., in the patio area overlooking Sarasota Bay. 

On another subject, he said that Ringling has a new 500,000 sq. ft. building at it's winter quarters in Florida.

Joe left the circus wagon unloading saying that at 3 pm they were to move the animal cars into position for the Animal Walk and that he needed to supervise that.

The Animal Walk in Anaheim, California

Ringling Press Releases had announced that the Animal Walk would take place at 4 pm, in this case 2 days before the first performance.  I was glad to have received this press release because each year some of my readers e-mail me asking when the walk will take place and this year I was able to tell them the time.  Those readers spotted me at the walk and told me they were glad to have had the information, and that their regular source of information had provided nothing in the way of a time for the walk this year.

Many parents and kids, city workers, railroad workers, and passersby were on hand to watch the circus animals walk from the train to the Honda Center.  The announced time was 4 pm, and two UP switch engines pushed the 4 stocks into place about that time.  A bus of escorts and animal handlers from the coaches pulled in and took up their positions.  This escorting job is called "Cherry Pie" for the performers because it is a chance to make extra money.  All the escorts I spoke to live on the train and are clowns, dancers, or other performers.

The Anaheim Police seemed to be a bit late in blocking off traffic through the intersection compared to earlier years.  However, the Angels game ended about this same time in the nearby Angels Stadium which complicated things a bit.  However, the animals took precedences and they were all moved safely to their arena accommodations.

Joe Colossa, Blue Unit Trainmaster, talks with Event Security while awaiting the arrival of the four stocks with the elephants and horses.

Westward beyond State College Avenue we saw the small consist, stock No. 1 on point with a Ringling employee on each side.

Joe had the engineer pull as close to Sunkist Avenue as possible where the track was nearly level with the street.

Individual photos (right and below) are of railfans and/or circus fans who had contacted me by e-mail to find out when the animal walk was scheduled.

--Official Ringling Photo   

I talked with this young man who was an escort in the Animal Walk.  He said he was a clown from North Carolina and yes, he lived on the train.  He loves living on the train and being a clown.  I mentioned that the show runs for 2 years, but he said the clowns and dancers have 1-year contracts allowing them to renew their contract and perhaps get a raise in pay for the second year.  His room on the train sounds like the size of a Amtrak Bedroom, with a hallway along the side of the car, not down the middle as with Amtrak roomettes.   He has a bed, sink, TV, and cooks everything on a George Foreman.  When it is time to jump to a new site, all he has to do is put a bungie cord over his TV.

Neil Armstrong said, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."  This looks like a giant step for an elephant, but (below) it is safely navigated.

This mother elephant will join another mother, then their offspring  for a truck ride to the arena.

The first Mom to be unloaded (right) is walked down to greet the Mom being unloaded out of Car 3.

A welcome elephant trumpet is sounded.

And like Amtrak passengers, greetings and comments are made once friends from different cars reach their destination.

Sonny, the grey haired gentleman (above), handles the elephants in the show.  He has been with the circus since 1963.  He told me that Feld owns the elephants, and someone else owns the cats.  He said there are 9 elephants on the train.  He also mentioned that there are 16 trucks that carry cargo for the circus including the cats which were already at the venue.  

I mentioned that I loved the act where all the elephants put their front feet on the elephant in front of them.  He said, "That act is called The Long Mount and is older than I am," and smiled.

A semi-truck pulled up and I believe these two mother elephants were loaded into the trailer from the side next to the train.  Two younger elephants were unloaded from the train as well (below), and loaded into the semi for a ride to the arena rather than walking.

The semi leaves with a 4-elephant load for the arena.

Right:  Finally 5 more elephants are unloaded.  Since they will be leading the parade to the arena they are 'dressed' in their Blue globes representing the Blue Unit of the circus and train.

The elephants are lined up abreast, but turn and walk single file, trunk-and-tail to the arena.

There is time for a rear-hoof check before the walk.

"And they're off!"  Blue shirts are animal handlers and, if they are holding a rope, they are performers and other circus employees doing the 'escorting' as an extra pay duty.

Look how different their front legs look.  I guess it just depends on how heavy the elephant is as to how long their front legs look.

"Tail Up" describes the way they connect their trunks and tails while walking.

This is the first year I've seen the horses having bareback riders for the animal walk.

This year there were elephants, horses (ring stock), but I did not see any Lead Stock (llamas, ponies, etc.) even though there are some in the show.

"And Away They Go."  Notice that they walk under the 57 Fwy., turn right, and proceed down Douglass St. to their arena quarters.

Animal Walk Video 1:02 minutes  (

Elephants and Horses from the four 'stocks' railroad cars of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Train in the background.  Animals are walked less than a mile to the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA.  Two younger elephants and their mothers were loaded into a semi and driven to the arena.  Tigers in the show are transported by truck, not on the train, and were already at the arena. Those holding the yellow rope are clowns, dancers, and other performers in the circus earning extra money as escorts.  Blue-shirt riders are animal handlers.  Maroon shirts are event security. 

Notice how fast the humans have to walk/run to keep up with the elephants' regular walking pace.

My Interview of Joe Colossa, Blue Unit Trainmaster, in Anaheim, California

At the circus wagon unloading, Joe Colossa, Blue Unit Trainmaster, said he would welcome an interview by me for  We set the date for the following Saturday at noon, after the first performance in Anaheim on Friday night.  We agreed to meet in the Pie Car (diner for train residents) where the residential coaches were tied up near Lewis St. and Katella Avenue.  The residential cars are split into two equal cuts of about 18 cars each which fit on two of the 4 or 5 storage tracks in that area.  That morning when I arrived at the Pie Car, I noticed that Joe and his crew had been removing the western-most set of disconnected tracks that ran parallel to the circus train.  The removal of the tracks and old ties would allow service vehicles to reach the circus train from the west side of the cuts leaving active tracks on the east side for rail service to the businesses in that area.  I arrived about 20 minutes before the interview time and learned from a worker that the pie car was located on the south end of the 2nd cut of cars. 

When I reached the vestibule of the Pie Car, I could see Joe walking toward me down the 18-car cut.  He walked me through the Generator Car where the two CAT diesel engines were generating electrical power for the train.  Adjacent to the Generator Car was the Pie Car and we entered.  Joe asked if I liked hamburgers or cheeseburgers then ordered us lunch from Vera, the cook on duty.  I chose a Dr. Pepper bottle from the drink cooler and a pack of potato chips.  Vera kindly made our lunch and delivered it to our table where we had started the interview.  About 3 workers were in the Pie Car watching some of the Olympics on a TV mounted high at the end of the car above the seating area of 4-place booths.  Michael Vaughn, Chef, came into the Pie Car and I remembered interviewing him two times previously on the Circus Train.  It was good to see Michael again and he was as jovial as ever. (See LINKS at the end of this report for Michael's Bio. and earlier Photographs.)

Joe has a long heritage in the circus, four generations to be exact.  He used to be a juggler, but it was when he worked with elephants that he decided he wanted to be a trainmaster.  That wish has come true and he wishes he could find the person who told him he would change his mind 100 times before he decided on a career, but he never changed from wanting to be a trainmaster.  Since we were talking about elephants I asked about the rules for exercising the animals on a long jump from one city to another.  Joe said the rule is that if the run is 750 miles or longer, they unload 'the girls' (elephants) to exercise and water them, even though they always have water in the cars.  I also noticed that they have electric fans and water misters in the elephant cars as well.

Around 300 people, from 30 different nationalities, including 135 performers, live on the train.  They pay $10 a week for the accommodations and that is because federal law requires a fee since they travel between states on the tour.  Back when it was $5 a week, I had heard that they got the full amount back if they stayed with the show the entire tour, this is no longer the case.  However, there are periodic bonuses to workers in the circus. 

Wages always come whenever people talk with me about the circus.  I did not ask Joe about wages, but the kidzworld Internet site interviewed Philippa Hayball, an acrobat and dancer with Cirque du Soleil's circus, Quidam, who said:  Entry-level jobs in the Cirque du Soleil circus might pay around $300 a week, while featured performers like acrobats, contortionists or trapeze artists can make between $40,000 to $70,000 a year. You also get free room and board while you're traveling with the show, which is an added perk.  (Remember, this is Not Ringling information and you can tell by the last sentence that things are different between circuses.  Ringling does say they pay competitive wages and I have a link to Ringling Careers at the end of this report).

There are 16 semi trucks that travel with the circus.  They are the modern-day "Flying Squadron"--workers who arrive first to set up the show.  They carry the cats and other materials for the circus, and usually are on site prior to the arrival of the train.  The train carries 49 circus wagons plus the mobile cages for moving the cats from their outdoor cages to the arena for each performance.  The circus wagons carry the 'bull tubs' (stands the elephants balance on in their act), the steel globe for the Torres Family motorcycle act, plus wardrobe, concessions, lighting, rigging, etc.  It takes 12 hours to set up the show. 

Train Inspections and new cars.

When the circus train arrives in a city, there is an 'Inbound Inspection' where the circus train crew inspects the entire undercarriage and other features under the train.  During a stay, items found in need of repair are fixed.  A few times a year there is a train inspection by an independent, outside firm.  New things in the works for the train is a new No. 3 elephant car.  Also there will be a new 'Chinese' coach car.  I understand that the large Chinese troop has 2 cars on the train with their own kitchen.  Other troops with their own cars are the Teeterboard group and the Torres Family car.

The power to pull the 61-car train during moves is ordered from the railroad company that owns the tracks.  Union Pacific provides the power and Joe decides how much power is needed depending on the terrain of the move.  Since the move into and out of the Los Angeles area involves going through the Cajon Pass and the Tehachapi Mountains, he ordered three 6-axle locomotives.

The Red Unit and Blue Unit shows are made up new each 2 years, and they go to opposite halves of the US each year so no one city ever sees the same show.  The Gold Unit, which travels by truck, visits cities where the trains do not or can not go.  This show uses some of the costumes and riggings from the train units and is made up each year.  The train units visit 90 cities and travels 50,000 miles in its 2-year run.

There is a specific schedule for the train shows.  After the first year, they go to Orlando for refurbishing and time off for the performers of about 3 weeks.  At the end of the second year,
in mid-November, they go to Tampa for about a month to take on the new show.

You might have noticed in my video above, of the traveling circus train where I was above the train looking down, that the HEP guards go down the center of the train, but jog to the side where the cars are coupled.  I asked Joe why they did not just continue down the center of the cars and he said the 480 service that runs through these guards must jog over because it is between the cars that the service is connected for the next car.

Before I left, Joe took me to his 1/2 car living quarters on the train where his wife, Carmen of the Torres Family Troop, and his two daughters live on the train.  Entering their quarters from the vestibule there is a kitchen with sink and stove along the left wall and dining table along the right.  Further into the car is a couch on the right and an organ! on the left.  The bathroom has one of the 6 bathtubs onboard.  Finally through a sliding door is the kids' bunk beds and play area.  I would guess the area is similar to 6 Amtrak Deluxe Rooms (1/2 a car), but without a hallway down the side like the Amtrak bedrooms.  There is a center door in the car, between the two 1/2-car apartments, that may be required as an emergency exit.  Joe also mentioned that there are two teachers for the children of those living on the train.  There are 30-some children who are taught by these two teachers.

The original circus train was the Red Unit.  In 1956 the last performance in a Big Top took place.  In 1957, '58, and '59 they moved the circus by truck except the elephants and horses which moved by train.  In 1959 a 15-car train was started, no flats, with gutted coaches which carried circus wagons.  These cars had canvas ends and were loaded railroad style with bridges between the cars for pulling wagons through.  By 1960 there were many arenas, so they started a second train unit in 1968.  In winter of 1968-69 they built the Blue Unit which was painted white until the 70s when they painted it silver like the other train.

Some of the cars are known by their inhabitants.  The Clown Car is 189, Band Car is 190, Dancers are in 195 (The Virgin Car with a sign saying Male Visitors must be Announced), The Chinese are in 167 and 168 (They have a 1/2 car as a Diner and many have electric woks in their rooms.) The Pie Car is 181,  The Torres Family is in 184,  The Cuban
Teeter Board Act is in 170, The Russians are in 169,  and Car 192 is the Train Crew.

Finally, Joe invited me to ride the circus train for its jump from San Diego to Bakersfield about one month after this interview.  I will be in Car 179.  For me this will be the highlight of my 10 years reporting on the circus train, because I have never ridden the train, nor have I ever seen any private accommodations on the train.  That is why I said earlier in this report that Joe Colossa is the most cordial and accommodating Circus Trainmaster I have ever met, Thanks Joe!

Joe Colossa, Blue Unit Trainmaster, in the Pie Car

Joe's company truck, blue for the Blue Unit.
The first car in the cut on the left is the Pie Car (Diner), next to it is the generator car which provides power for the train while it is stable and underway.  The first car on the right, with the stairs, is a shop car.

The 'Pie Car' can be identified by the American flag.

Vera, from Bulgaria, fixed us a tasty lunch even though the kitchen was not officially open.  She is known as "Mom" by the residents.  Order your food from her and continue to the tables.

Tables in the Pie Car

Efficient storage of provisions in the Pie Car.

The Generator Car is next to the Pie Car.

Two sets of extra wheels are carried on the train, this is how they are transported and available when needed.

The center door indicates that this car has two half-car residences.

Not all residents are performers nor workers, as noted by the umbrella strollers outside some coaches.  There are two teachers for all school-aged residents.

Son, Matthew, and I visited the Colossa family in their quarters where they have an organ.  Matthew played them a piece while Carmen, Emily and Lily listened.

Joe gave me a rare copy of THE CIRCUS MOVES BY RAIL which I asked Carmen Torres Colossa and Tony to sign.  Now I have a Circus Train Master's and a Major Circus Performer's signatures!

Joe instructed Lily where to sign her name as well.

Joe and son Matthew relaxing in Joe's Family's quarters on the train.

As we left, Joe pointed out these gauges in his car which are functioning pressure, speed, and emergency indicators.  He can stop the train from his quarters if need be, eliminating the need to travel through the train or radio someone else.

Finally, Joe wanted me to say this about railfans who take videos of the circus train when it is on a move from one city to another.  The following day he looks on YouTube for those videos as a check of the equipment.  Since he cannot observe the flats from within ask he can a coach car while in route, he uses railfans videos to watch and listen for defects such a flat wheel.  Then while in a city he can have his train crew attend to anything he has noticed in the videos of the move.

While discussing YouTube and the Circus Train, Joe proudly showed me the time the Challenger pulled the Circus Train to celebrate a Ringling Anniversary.  I will put that video's link at the end of this report.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum
& Bailey Circus Anaheim Performance Photographs

"The Girls" dressed up, cleaned up, and performing the Long Mount in the show.

The elephants and other circus animals are on display 90 minutes before  showtime in selected cities like Anaheim. 

The hay that they throw on their own backs is cleaned off with a leaf blower and the bridle-like blue globes are put on before they appear on stage.

Ringling Bros. has the largest herd of Asian elephants in the Western Hemisphere, and the most successful breeding program. Many of the elephants on the Blue Unit were born into the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation breeding program.

Sixty minutes before showtime ticket holders are invited onto the arena floor where the kids can participate with the clowns and other performers.

Members of the Torres Family (above and right) are on hand to allow children to sit on one of their motorcycles for photos.

The clowns engage the kids in some of their skits on the arena floor.

Clown Billy Murry.

Of course souvenirs are available as well at costumes for those who want to play dressup.

The show begins with the National Anthem.

Followed by the Grand Parade of all performers.

The younger elephants appear at this point. 
Younger elephants are introduced to traveling with the Show
and start with limited participation in performances.

The Torres Family

One of the first acts:  Riders of the Wind

Their Five-Man Pyramid on galloping horses (right).

Motorcycle High-Wire act.

Alexander Lacey and his mixed tigers and lions display.

Hair Hang Heroines

A Shaolin Warrior from China jumps blindfolded through 48 rotating steel blades with a ring of fire.

The Torres Family Globe of Steel with 8 motorcycles at once in the 16-foot globe going 65 mph.

How the show got the name - DRAGONS.

Anaheim Loading for the move to Oakland, CA

To see when the Circus Train is expected to move from one venue to another, you might check the Yahoo Group:  Circus Train.  The following information about this move is from that site.:

151.625 is the Circus Train Operations radio frequency.

AUGUST 6 BLUE UNIT TRAIN-RUN from to Anaheim to Oakland CA. Most likely routing is over TEHACHAPI LOOP. This does NOT preclude the possibility of sending the train via the Coast route (Santa Barbara), however the Blue Unit's train is longer than that route's longest passing sidings, so it's doubtful -- for that reason -- that Union Pacific will allow the Blue Unit to use the Coast route. Expected arrival/Oakland is early morning, August 7.

2012 Blue Unit Circus Train:
---61 Cars (40 conventional passenger-type cars; 21 TTX-[type] piggyback flats)
---4,490 Tons (when fully loaded)
---5,409 Feet (WITHOUT host RR's 3-locomotive power attached; 1 mile = 5,280 feet)

BLUE UNIT -- 142th Edition -- "DRAGONS" -- now in the first half of its 2-year tour.

Among railfans online, there was quite a discussion as to why the Blue Unit Train did not go via the coastal route.  At the loading I asked Joe this question and he said the siding limit is 60 cars and this unit has 61.  I mentioned that I had seen the Red Unit last year go through San Luis Obispo and he responded that the Red Unit had 2 less cars than the Blue Unit.

This move started after the Sunday night performance, August 5, 2012--exactly 50 years after the death of Marilyn Monroe.  Joe mentioned that Marilyn Monroe had ridden a pink circus elephant at Madison Square Garden in 1955.  I found some still photographs and a video online and will put the link at the end of this report.

The loading usually takes place about 2.5 hrs. after the last show ends.  In this night's case about 10 pm the animal cars are brought to the loading spot.  Earlier the loading ramp was set up for the flat cars.

The first tractor pulls the first two circus wagons up the ramp.

A second tractor pulls up two more wagons.

Then, goes around back to push those wagons up and make a connection.

Eventually this first set became 7 connected circus wagons and it was pulled the full length of the 21 piggy-back cars and locked in place.  This set and tractor will be the first off in Oakland.

A local wrecker pulled many wagons at once from the arena to the loading area.

About 11 pm the elephants, who make no noise as they walk on the street, silently appeared, followed by the many horses of the Cossack riders.

The elephants lined up 5 abreast, with their backs to the train, while the animal handlers unloaded and set up the ramps for boarding.

I spotted Sonny, light shirt, at the loading.  The elephants quietly board the train from only verbal commands.

The last elephant, perhaps because of her large size, backs up the ramp and into the car.
Since she cannot see behind herself, and has no rear view mirror, I imagine the tail puller is actually guiding her back up the ramp.

After she was safely in the car, the loading continued with the younger and adult elephants from the semi-truck. 

When the horses and elephants were loaded, the four animal cars were moved toward the location of the residential cars and would become the first four cars in the consist--the smoothest riding of all cars.  The flats take much longer to load and lock down.  The entire consist moved out about sunrise.

The original reason for the elephants, the most valuable animals in the circus, being placed in the first cars of the circus train consist was  when the slack was taken up between each car as the move was started, the first cars felt it the least.  A Train Master from a past circus train told me that the best engineers to pull a mixed freight like the circus train were older engineers who had passenger experience.  Current train cars do not have as much slack as in the past, but the elephants still are housed in the first four cars.  In fact, because of the slack between cars, the last flat car, the last car in the 61 car train, does not move until the locomotive has moved about 40 feet, so that can be quite a jolt even with today's equipment.

Since this evening's move started on Sunday, Aug. 5,  the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death, and the fact that she rode a pink elephant in 1955, my nephew, Paul of, edited one of my photos to make one of the elephants pink.
RIP Marilyn

From this point on, no need to click a thumbnail photo to get a larger copy of a photo.

Riding the Circus Train from San Diego, CA, to Bakersfield, CA.

Tehachapi Loop  Copyright 2000, By Anne Marie Novinger (661) 823-8333

The highlight of my yearly Circus Train Report this year was a ride on the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Train.  Above is an aerial view of part of the route we took while moving from San Diego, California, to Bakersfield, California. 

The videos at the beginning of this report, taken when I chased the Circus Train on July 9, were through the Tehachapi Loop shown above.  
On that July 9 trip, the circus train was headed south for Southern California.  It entered on the left of the photo, progressed through the loop, and exited on the upper right of the photo.  My camera position at that time was above the tunnel you see near the top of the photo.  I was up the trail you see leading up to the left, then branching off to the right so that I was right above the tunnel.  You will see in the video that I did not turn off the camera as I turned from photographing the train through the loop, then watching it move past the tunnel eastward.  Of course, the vegetation was not nearly as green in July as it is in the photo above.

How my Ride on the Circus Train was Accomplished

I did not 'Run Away And Join The Circus' as some characters of
questionable reputation supposedly did in the past, nor did I jump on a passing train in the middle of the night, not knowing it was a circus train, like the main character in the 2011 movie, Water for Elephants. (A Link to the movie trailer is provided at the end of this report.)

My Circus Train Ride was not nearly as death-defying as those instances, but none the less a grand and exciting adventure for me.  This being my tenth year to report on the Circus Train for, while it was in Southern California, I guess I was due for an invitation to ride it.  However, the invitation would never have been made without meeting the Blue Unit Train Master, Joe Colossa.  While interviewing him this summer, he actually asked if I'd like to ride.  Trying to control my emotions, I said, "It would be the highlight of my 10 years of reporting on the Circus Train!'  And, arrangements were made for me to meet the Circus Train in San Diego, after the last performance Sunday, August 26, 2012.

From my home near Fullerton, California,  I took the Amtrak Surfliner, leaving at 4:39 pm.  It arrived at San Diego's Santa Fe Depot where I hopped on the Trolley.  I departed the Trolley at the 12th and Imperial Transit Center where I called Joe for a ride to the Circus Train which was tied up in the BNSF yards.

My 1/6-car-room was in one of the four cars in the foreground. 
As you can see, one has to cross the San Diego and Imperial Valley RR yards
as well as the expansive San Diego Trolley yards to get to the circus train on BNSF tracks,
so 3 separate security forces keep the circus train very secure.

The San Diego and Imperial Valley Railroad did their work after the Trolleys were finished for the day.

The Pedestrian Bridge from the Hyatt to Petco Field, Harbor Drive at Park Boulevard, was an excellent platform from which to take the photos above and below.

Petco Park with BNSF/San Diego and Imperial Valley RR, and San Diego Trolley tracks in the foreground. 
The Gaslamp Quarter Stop and 12th and Imperial Trolley Stop are on the left and right of the Stadium and the closest stops for games.

Accommodations on the Circus Train

The coaches on the Circus Train are built in various configurations, the largest accommodations being 1/2 of a car.  Half-cars travel near the front of the train and have vestibules in the middle of the car.   This is the largest accommodation of the train and usually is the home of the Trainmaster, Ringmaster, General Manager, etc.  Only one of these 1/2 car accommodations is accessible from the rest of the coaches while the train is underway, and that is the Trainmaster's accommodations. 

All other cars have an approximately 2-ft. wide hallway down one side with the rooms taking up the remaining 5 feet of the 8-ft. wide car.  This is similar to the upper level of an Amtrak Sleeper Car on the Bedroom half of the car (not the roomette half where the hallway goes down the middle of the car). 

I was assigned Room 1 in a car which had 6 rooms.  The illustration below is of a car that had 8 rooms in a car.  The only thing that I know of that is inaccurate in the schematic below is that in reality there is a corner cut off Room 1 and Room 8 (like Bedroom A on Amtrak) to make a wider aisle from the center door in the end of the car to the long hallway.  All cars have the central 'Utility Area'.  This Utility Area has an over/under washer/dryer and if there are no showers in the rooms in that car, there are two showers in this area.  My favorite part is the vestibule on the end of the car.

My 1/6-car room had bunk beds running along the window side, and opposite was a counter with sink, stove, refrigerator with cabinets above and below the counter and a microwave built into the cabinets...a most efficient design with cabinets in areas I would not have thought of.

The railing on the upper bunk pivots down and becomes a ladder.


During the day, the lower bunk makes into a table with two seats.

While walking through the coaches, I noticed that there are at least six various floor plans including 1/2, 1/4, 1/6 (above), 1/8, 1/11, and 1/14-car sized rooms.  The hallways look the same in all cars, with the center of the car always being a utility area...also a nice place to pass when meeting other passengers.  Some residents have added posters  like the clown car's collage below.


The last car to pass through before reaching the Trainmaster's Car is the Dancers Car.  The warning on the door was duly noted by Yours Truly.  It was not nearly as exciting as one might think.  The only difference was that the doors (always closed) were decorated in a feminine way as one might see in a girls dorm at a college.  Many of the dancers are from Brazil.  I asked a young male cook, newly hired on in Fresno about 5 months ago, if he liked living on the train.  He responded that there were lots of girls from Brazil on the train and they don't seem to wear many clothes in Brazil.

The light on this unit indicates a car on the Blue Unit Train.  Makes one wonder if colored lights will ever be used outside the doors of the Red Unit.

Now this is a hearty breakfast, prepared by George. 

George also prepared a supper of burgers for us the previous night.  Yo, the new Chef in the Pie Car, had a delicious Shepherds Pie (casserole with ground beef, vegetables such as carrots, corn, and peas, onions, topped with mashed potatoes) the following evening and cold sandwiches for lunch on jump day.  Soft drinks, bottled water and Starbucks  Frappuccinos  are stocked in a cooler.  Meals seemed to run a little over $5 including drink.

Marty Petersen enjoying his French toast and eggs and while I had sausage gravy on biscuits with scrambled eggs and bacon with orange juice. 
Marty was wearing an Elmo shirt in anticipation of seeing Joe's two small children later in the day.

During lunch on the run from San Diego to Bakersfield.

The Pie Car (above) is the social center on the Circus Train on runs.  Marty and I enjoyed conversations after supper with the bus driver, director of land transportation and the sax player with the circus band.  They all had many stories as well as factual information about other Shows such as Strates Carnival Shows.  Strates also travels on a 61-car train...a generator car, 10 coaches and 50 flats.  As it turns out, the sax player in the Circus Band went to Indiana University, about 30 miles west on Highway 50, from where I was born and raised on a farm near Hayden, Indiana.

Time for my Circus Train Ride from San Diego to Bakersfield, California

I arrived on a Sunday evening, checked into my assigned accommodations on the Circus Train, and enjoyed an expertly prepared burger with all the trimmings for supper.  Marty and I walked to the pedestrian bridge for some night photos then hit the hay.  The Departure Time the next morning, Monday, was to be 10:05 a.m. so after breakfast in the Pie Car, we peered out a vestibule to see that the flats had been loaded and the train was buttoned up and ready to roll.

The first order of business was for the BNSF locomotives to attach the coaches to the flats.  The 10 a.m. departure time had been selected to let the many San Diego Trolleys depart the adjacent yard for their work, then for us to leave town.  Joe was a little concerned as 10 a.m. came and went, but communication with the dispatcher indicated that when we left, we would be a priority train and things should move quickly with the possible exception of an earlier fatality on the tracks near Old Town, through which we had to pass.

Local rail workers who had gotten to know Joe came by to wish him well.

Joe invited us down to his quarters to await the departure.  We were hooked up at 10:45 and left San Diego's BNSF Yards at 11:18.

Ever-on-duty Joe kept a watchful eye on the flats as we headed through San Diego.

We moved northward past the Convention Center

Joe's youngest knew where the action would be, so she joined us in the vestibule.

The San Diego and Imperial Locomotives were doing work next to Petco Park

Gaslamp Quarter is adjacent to Petco Park and about two blocks from the Circus Coaches during the stay.

Santa Fe Depot and trolley tracks as we passed.

This Surfliner had uncommon Genesis power usually seen on long-distance trains.

San Diego Trolley passed us between Santa Fe Depot and Old Town

Looks like a future Circus Trainmaster in the making!

At 11:54, I looked back toward the flats and noticed smoke coming from the first flat car. 
However, I also noticed "Ever-Vigilant-Joe" pulled out his radio to stop the train.

While the hand brake was being released back on the first flatcar, Joe's wife took time for a camera lesson for their youngest daughter.

As we headed through CP Miramar toward Del Mar, Joe was still keeping watch over his train.

When a Marine or Navy helicopter passed over us, I thought we were getting a "Military Escort".

As we came under Hwy. 101 onto the Del Mar Bluffs, vacationers gave the Circus Train a wave.

Since I had signed a waiver to ride on the Circus Train, I felt legally obligated to spend as much time as possible waving at railfans and circus fans along the way.  ;- )

Many Circus Train riders had their cameras ready on their vestibules as we traversed the Del Mar Bluffs.

A feature that I've never seen mentioned as an advantage of riding on the Circus Train is the opportunity to use any of the 74 open vestibules to photograph or just enjoy the scenery and fresh air.  As you know, it is illegal to open the vestibules on an Amtrak Train.  True,  private cars have open vestibules and platforms, but if they are full of riders you do not have 72 more choices to go to.  Most of this trip I had both sides of the train from which to photograph, with no one else in the same vestibule. 

With the past evening having had an early final performance, most residents had enjoyed the evening until early morning hours and as we rolled along, most were still asleep, leaving the vestibules mostly unused.
  Since I spent most of my time in the vestibule, even through hot San Bernardino, I felt somewhat like dehydrated beef jerky by the end of the trip, but it was an opportunity I was not going to miss.

Looking southward from the Del Mar Bluffs toward Torrey Pines.

As we passed Wave Crest Resort in Del Mar, where Sue and I have a timeshare, I pointed it out to Joe. 
He said he knew why I liked this spot...for the proximity to the railroad and the ocean view and beach for the rest of the family.

Old Del Mar Station still stands, but it is not a train stop any more.  This eliminates trains stopping across Ocean Blvd.
Now the stop is at Solana Beach, about 2 miles north and still with access to Del Mar Racetrack.

Del Mar Racetrack.  Racing season this year is July 18 - September 5.

The DMU Sprinter runs from the Oceanside Depot inland to Escondido, California.

North of Oceanside is the Marine's Camp Pendleton. 
Here I was able to photograph Webb Asset Management - WAMX 4047 and 1401 locomotives.

Have you ever heard of this RR?

Chris Guenzler, right, chased the train in San Diego and Orange Counties and you can see his photos at

San Bernardino Station with original Harvey House inside.  New Metrolink boarding at the west end nowadays.

Mormon Rocks ascending Cajon Pass.

A bridge in Cajon where I've photographed BNSF freights before.

Being over a mile long, the Circus Train can be well up the hill and one can still photograph the flats following along.

Cajon is also the only place one can photograph the lead locomotives from the side.

High Desert running near Victorville

North of Victorville, the tracks parallel old Route 66 and I noticed some remnants of past time railroading and driving on The Mother Road.

This Burlington Northern caboose was still in service.

This one was being used as a billboard.

This looks like a place I might have stopped when driving Route 66 to California 50 years ago.

If the colors are true to its heritage, this might have been a Gulf Station.

These sand dunes, between Victorville and Barstow, were the only dunes I saw along the way. 
I pondered titling this report:  From Sand Beaches to Sand Dunes.

West of Barstow, we again joined Trainmaster Joe in his vestibule to enjoy conversation and the cooler desert evening air.

In the photo above, I like "The Greatest Show on Earth" globe on the adjoining car and the Silver Rails in this photo and I think the blurred signal tower indicates our maximum speed of 60 mph.  I guess sunset on the desert is to some "The Greatest Show on Earth" especially when you are on the "Longest Private Train in the World".

We sped westward toward the California desert sunset and a "Moonlight Ride through the Tehachapi Loop".

This rotary wrecker is the type that is contracted at each venue to pull the circus wagons from the flat cars through city streets to the arenas.

Sunrise found us tied up in Bakersfield where the Train Crew from the Circus had already unloaded the wagons from half the flats

Joe was operating the Bobcat moving the ramp from the set of flats that had already been loaded to the second set of flats.

This TL100 New Holland tractor is capable of moving a railcar on its own.

The unique tie-down rack is added to former auto haulers to create the many flats for the circus train.

The bridge that allows the circus wagons to be pulled the full length of the flats and unloaded at the end of the run of cars, "Railroad Loading" style.

A view under the bridge between cars.

The braces for the ramps at the end of the row of flat cars.

How the bridge looks rigged for running, with a circus wagon onboard.

A beautiful sunset welcomed me home in Placentia, CA, after my first-ever Ride on the RBBX Train.

Jack, an 80+ year-old friend, after I had completed my 40 hrs. on the Circus Train, said, "That must have been very exciting.  What are you going to do to top that, Jump Out of a Plane?!"

I am forever indebted to Joe Colossa, Blue Unit Trainmaster of the RBBX Train, for this fantastic opportunity to ride the Circus Train.  My knowledge of the operation of the Circus Train is much more accurate and complete now.  Additionally, meeting the Circus Train Crew, Joe's family, and others who live on the train made it seem like a real family, or a  small town where all the residents are working toward the same goal which happens to be The Greatest Show on Earth.

I look forward to meeting the Circus Train in Anaheim again next year when the Red Unit will be in town.

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Please visit the links below for additional information about the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

For a Slide Show of All Photos in this Report in Large Format, Click Here.


Before you go to these external links, bookmark this report so that you can easily return here to check out the next link.

[ 142 Blue Unit Fun Facts

Full Description of the 2012 DRAGONS Circus Acts and Personnel

| Circus Terms
| Circus Terms Flashcards

Earlier photos from the Blue Unit Pie Car including Michael Vaughn, Chef, Clown Paulo, and Carmen Torres

Michael Vaughn's Bio from an earlier report

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Trainmaster Job Description

Job Information for the Circus and other Feld Companies

| The UP Challenger pulling the Circus Train 9/28/10 Video from Ringling helicopter. (Joe is the second man in the cab)

Circus Train Yahoo Group

|  Marilyn Monroe's still photographs of her riding a pink circus elephant in 1955. 

A Video interview of Marilyn Monroe after she rode the pink elephant.

An Interview of Blue Unit Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson about living aboard the Ringling Bros. circus train.

Water For Elephants, 2011 Movie.  Click 'Watch the Trailer'.

Some actually do run away to join the circus, an article about some Blue Unit Performers by Kim O'Brien Root.

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