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Ringling Bros. Animal Walk to Long Beach, CA, Arena, July 21, 2003

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Train

Red Unit, 133rd Edition, July 21, 2003, Long Beach, California

Part I, The Animal Cars.


Animal Walk from Pier F to Long Beach Arena

Photos and Story by Carl Morrison

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The Circus was in town again this July and I learned the location of the "Animal Train"from Feld Entertainment, Inc.  The time was corrected to being four hours later than scheduled. The show had finished in Los Angeles and was moving to Long Beach, California.  The unloading was to take place at 2 pm and the walk to start at 2:30 for about a mile and a half from Pier F in Long Beach, California, to the Long Beach Arena.

I arrived about 45 minutes before the unloading time to find 17 empty flat cars (flats) and four animal cars (stocks).  I assumed I'd been given the wrong time and that I'd missed the whole thing, so I began to photograph the empty cars.


Double-decked, open-topped car #RBBX 84712, with P&O intermodal container passing behind headed for the port.

I started recording the numbers on the 17 flatcars:  84714, 80701, 85701, 84706, 84702, 80705, 84707, 80716, 80709, 80717, 80713, 84709, 84711, and the four animal cars:  64004, 60004, 63006, 60002.   I spotted Frank, an employee of Morton Salt at 1050 Pier F Avenue, Long Beach, CA 90802, across the street from the animal cars.  He said the cars had arrived about 6 a.m., and had unloaded all the vehicles on the flats about 10 am.  He confirmed that this is where the cars were parked for the show last year also, so if you search for Morton Salt on Pier F Avenue in following years, you should find the animal portion of the train across the street..  Note:  This street is a 4-lane truck route for pickup and delivery of intermodal (ocean-going) container freight, so watch your step...both with the animals and the trucks!  

By now I had noticed an elephant trunk moving inside one of the cars!  This meant they had not been unloaded yet!  As Frank and I talked, at precisely 1:50 pm, animal handlers appeared, seemingly out of nowhere (perhaps from handler quarters within the train or from a white Ringling Bros. van).  More vehicles arrived at the point including


Emmett Cooper, Pipeline Safety Engineer, while
supervising an insulated 20" bunker fuel pipeline
installation across the street, pointed out the
triple-axel truck under the animal cars where
most cars have twin axels.

Soon the handlers began their unloading preparations.  First sliding out the heavy ramps from under the cars.  Then sliding out and attaching sides to the ramps.  Finally moving down the line of four cars repeating the ramp installation.

Other Circus personnel were arriving and I was most fortunate to meet Mark Gaipo, Red Circus Touring Unit General Manager.  For those who can remember "The Circus Strong Man" of yesteryear, after shaking hands with him, Mark fills that image.  I asked him a few quick questions and he answered with seeming pride about the Red Unit Train.  I asked about the Residential Coaches which make up the rest of the train and he said there are 37 such coaches for the staff, cast, and crew.  There is a complete food service car, called the "Pie Car," which is the social center for the train.  During runs between show towns, the Pie Car is open 24 hours a day and is accessible from the whole train.  The train has four Catapillar generators onboard making self-sufficient cars.  He said there are 57 cars on the complete train including the four 'stocks' we were near at the moment.  He had to take charge of the walk, so quickly looked on his cell phone directory for the phone number of Tim, the Red Unit Trainmaster.  My last question was about the refurbishing shops in Florida where cars are remodeled before joining the unit trains and he gave me the phone number of the person to contact for further research in that area.  I'll have to say that this was the most informative and pleasant interview I had all day, and with the most important person on the property!

As the horses were taken off the first car and staged, followed by the elephants,

I chatted with Charlie.  He pointed out that the Red Unit cars all had a red background on "The Greatest Show on Earth" logo on each car, the bridles on the horses were red, as well as the logos on the elephants heads and the shirts on the helpers.  At that moment, I recalled the train logos being blue when I photographed the animal cars last year in the Blue 132nd Editon.  So, remember, there are two Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey trains, one is the Red Unit Train and it currently houses the 133rd Edition Show, the other is the Blue Unit Train housing the 132nd Edition Show.  Today the Blue Unit is playing in New Orleans.  The Shows have a 2-year duration and no geographic area ever sees the same show.  The Blue Unit was here last year and the Red Unit this year, and both units reorganize this winter for the next two years' run.

Quickly, the walk began with the (All-Asian) Elephants taking the lead, hooked up tail in trunk:


As Charlie predicted, when the elephants passed,
the pipeline workers stopped for a moment to 'watch
the parade pass them by.'


Identical colored manes.


Immediately after this photo, the handler on the right
corrected a problem with the black Friesian horse's hoof, and
all was well again.

The fellow on the left had a large belt buckle that
referenced a Rodeo...made me wonder if he had
been a champion rider.


A large handler, or dwarf horses?

Actually these are 'Miniature' horses.  They date back to prehistoric times and they stand no taller than 34 inches at the withers (last hairs of the mane).  [You will find facts on all the animals at their website.]

By 2:45, the whole company had left the train behind and they were under way.  I quickly returned to my car and became part of the police escorted walk to the Arena.  The last vehicle in the parade was a street sweeper...for obvious reasons.  Earlier when I asked a port officer if the animal train was nearby, he said, "Just down'll smell them!"  Actually, to a farmboy like me, that was music to my ears, I could finally follow my nose to the circus!

I had read on the Ringling website, in a journal by a Boss Clown, that clowns had the duty during the walk of entertaining the crowds along the way so the handlers could tend to the animals.  On this walk, for whatever reason, there were no people along the streets watching the walk, and no clowns.

The glimpses I had from my car of the parade ahead of me made me realize how incongruous these Asian Elephants looked in an urban society.


The Queen Mary, a modern cruise ship,
and the dome that formerly held the
Spruce Goose, were visible from the
bridge we crossed.

We proceeded eastbound on Shoreline Drive,
the same route of the Long Beach Gran Prix, but
at a few hundred miles per hour less.


Long Beach Arena, our destination.
The elephants were turned left off Shoreline Drive into
the east parking lot of the Arena.  

I left to find the residential coaches in Anaheim.  Mark said he had decided to have the coaches parked in Anaheim, the next show town, since Long Beach was only a two-day stand.  Performers could be in one place for twelve days this way, instead of picking up and moving  after only two days if they had stayed here in Long Beach.

Comments about this story and the photographs are welcomed via e-mail to: .

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