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Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Train 2008, Anaheim, CA

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Train 

2008 Blue Unit Circus Train Report and Photos from Anaheim, CA, by Carl Morrison

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Town Without a Zip Code, Ringling's nickname for their Circus Train.

The Red Unit and Blue Unit trains criss-cross the country 11 months out of the year, logging more than 25,000 miles as they bring America's Living National Treasure® to millions of families in more than 90 cities! More than a mile long, each of the privately owned Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey trains is an international melting pot of cultures and skills.  --Ringling Website.

Setting Up The Show

After the train arrives in a new city, the show's equipment is brought to the building [from the train] in specially designed wagons. Each touring unit of The Greatest Show On Earth® travels with approximately 500 tons of equipment. The weight of the overhead truss alone, which sits three stories in the air and supports lighting and rigging, is 40,000 pounds!

All the equipment is laid out on the floor as it will be positioned later, high in the arena. Guy wires are attached, and the rigging is raised to a height where workers can attach and secure lighting fixtures, trapezes, aerial apparatus, rope ladders, and all the technical elements you see throughout the performance. More than eight miles of rope and wire are used in setting up each production!

As the assembled rigging is hoisted on pulleys toward the top of the arena, workmen on catwalks balance and secure the frames to specially constructed joints and rings in the arena roof. It takes 60 rigging points in an arena ceiling to secure the truss 36 feet above the hippodrome track! Once the completed rigging is in place, each and every element is checked for safety, a process that is completed before and after each performance.

Over the course of about 14 hours, approximately 175 people will be involved in setting up the show. It's hard work, to be sure, but every second of effort pays off in the smiles on the faces of Children Of All Ages at The Greatest Show On Earth!  -- Ringling Website.

As I request each year, the publicist in this area for the circus got me an interview with the Ringling Blue Unit Trainmaster, Keith Anderson.  Each year the Red and Blue Units rotate into this Southern California market.  This allows them to have each Edition of the Circus run for two years, and guests never see the same show twice.

When I arrived at the area, off Katella Avenue between Lewis St. and the 5 Fwy., where the coaches for the circus are always placed in Anaheim, CA,  my view of the circus coaches was blocked by a UP freight picking up product from local businesses:

(Click any photo in this report to see a double-sized copy; Click BACK in your browser to return to this page.)

A circus employee awaits access to the coaches.
The second locomotive in the set.
The lead locomotive moves past the circus cars.
It was like a train curtain, opening like a stage show, allowing me to finally see the star of the show, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Train Blue Unit.

As the freight moved north, to reverse and switch to join the eastbound main, I started looking for Car 181, the "Pie Car," where I was to interview Keith.  Seeing that these cars were numbered in the 160s, I rounded the end of the two cuts of the coaches thinking 181 might be in the other line of coach cars, as the freight (right) came past on the main line.
I noticed that this year they erect an American flag on the last car at the end of each cut.

The west cut had better exterior light for photos.


Some residents of the coaches bing their own local transportation (right).
I caught up with Keith Anderson, Trainmaster of the Blue Unit...

and interviewed him in his office.

His office is at the end of the shop car.

Keith's work truck is an F-350 crew cab.

Since the Ringling Blue Unit Train hauls circus wagons; performers and staff; and animals, I asked Train Master Keith Anderson, How is this train treated with such a diverse cargo?  Answer, Passenger-Freight Combination.

There are 61 cars in the Blue Unit consist this year.  There are 36 coaches (residential cars), 2 container cars, 19 flats, and 4 animal cars making the train 5,409 ft. long (129 feet longer than a mile)! 

This prompted me to ask, I ride Amtrak a lot, and many times we have to take a siding since the freights are so long these days, longer than some sidings. With your length are you given priority?

Keith said,  Actually the freights can be 2 miles long nowadays, so we get stopped sometimes as well.  We're supposed to get priority because of the animals, but it doesn't always happen.

I asked, How is the train made up considering your cargo of animals, passengers, and circus wagons? 

Keith answered, "95% of the time it is Animals first, Coaches second, and Flats third.  Coming down just 20 miles from Los Angeles, we split the train in two.  We do this when we go through New York City also, because freight cannot go through the terminal there."

Why are the animal cars first in the consist?  Because those are the smoothest riding cars. 

Then I wondered, 'Is that why the sleepers are first on an Amtrak train?'

I mentioned that I'd seen animal rights activists at previous circuses.  Keith mentioned that he'd seen a guy holding a sign saying, These animals work from fear.  Keith responded, I work from fear, these animals have it made, working only 2 hours a day.  If they weren't here, they'd be logging. 

I mentioned that the elephant cars have misters and fans.  Keith concured saying they can lower the temperature 20 degrees with misters and fans, but air conditioning would make them sick because of the temperature change.  Their previous two venues had been much hotter before they came to Los Angeles then Anaheim.

I asked, I know as Train Master you call for power/locomotives to move your train, what kind of power do you require?  It depends on distance and type of track.  We used 4-axle locomotives from Los Angeles to Anaheim because the short turns once we get to Anaheim.  Usually, such as going to San Diego, we use two 6-axle locomotives on long hauls.

What special considerations do the engineers need to know?  First, our speed restriction is 60 mph.  Also, the older engineers are the best because they remember how to do power breaking or stretch breaking to eliminate the jerky motion for the animals and performers on the train.  Most new engineers use dynamic breaking which is too rough for the circus train inhabitants.

As I walked the train looking for Keith when I first arrived, I noticed that car 174 looked brand new to me.  I asked about that, and Keith said the trains get 1 or 2  reconditioned cars a year, depending on needs.  This season he has 2 new cars. 

Coaches are reconditioned in Palmetto, Florida, where the RBBB shops are located.  Flats are reconditioned elsewhere.  Specifically, I found the following info. on the Internet: 

Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey

1313 17th St E, Palmetto, FL , 34221-2850  
Phone: 941-722-1990
FAX: 941-721-1299
Business Activity: Exporter / Importer

Products Description:
Rebuilds railroad cars Railroad support equipment and systems, Railway and tramway machinery and equipment, Locomotives and electric trolleys, Railway and tramway cars

About 200-plus circus staff that live on the train.  I wondered how their single room was paid for and how the cost of food in the Pie Car was set for them.  He said that their union contract states that they are to pay $1 a day for the room, but at the end of the season, they are reimbursed $5 a week.  So if they are still with the show at the end of the show, you will have paid $2 a week for your room on the train for the 11-month run.  As for food, the contract says it should be reasonable.

The publicist neglected to call me for the Animal Walk from the train to the Honda Center, so I asked Keith how one could find out when that would be.  He says the arrival walk is hard to tell because the tents must be up and ready to receive the animals before they are taken off the train.  The animals are walked back to the train after the last show, however.  I did not know this.  Therefore, to assure yourself of seeing an animal walk, check the schedule for the last show in your town, add about 3 hrs. for the duration of the show, then you will know about when the animal walk back to the train will take place.  Go to to check the schedule for your state and town.  For instance, the last show in Anaheim is Aug. 3, at 5:30.  I'll be on the route between the arena and the animal cars about 8:15 to photograph the animal walk.

Do you see many rail fans along the way when your train is on the move?  Yes, especially when we went through the Tehachapi Loop on our way to Los Angeles. 

(Keith added that if anyone had a picture of his blue unit going through the Tehachapi Loop earlier in July, he'd sure like to have a copy.  If you have such a photo, e-mail it to me,, and I'll forward it to him with your name and e-mail so he can respond to you.  I'd like to use the same picture in this story, with credit to you, if you don't mind.)

St. Louis is the hometown of Keith Anderson, Train Master of the Blue Unit of the Ringling Bros. and  Barnum & Bailey Circus.  Before coming to work with Ringling, he was an Inspector of Freight Repairs for Norfolk Southern RR.  He has been Chief Mechanical Officer.  He was Assistant Train Master of the Red Unit last season, and on April 17 this year became Train Master of the Blue Unit.

It was a joy to interview Keith.  He enjoys his work and is very well-qualified, informative and friendly and has the respect of his workers.  Thank You, Keith.

The east side cut seemed to stretch to the horizon
The shield on the side of the cars (right) indicates by the background color that this is the Blue Unit.  This blue shield also adorns the elephants in the animal walk and the uniforms of staff. (The red unit shield has a red background.)


One car had the Old School logo.
Newest logo.

As I left the interview, I saw the animal cars being moved from the unloading track beside Cerritos Avenue, to a storage area since they will not be used until after the last performance.
I'll try and return after the end of the last show on Aug. 3 to see them walk the animals from the arena and load them back into the animal cars and prepare for the train trip to the next venue, San Diego, Aug 6 - 10.

At the Circus,

more than one hour before the performance, you can walk among the animal cages, and buy programs and souvenirs at the All Access Pre-Show.

Elephants dust themselves with sand from their individual sandpiles.

Some do that trunk pose.
Some enjoy the cool moist sand bed.
Hard-rubber wheeled circus wagons are parked on the perifery of the lot.

My favorite souvenir (above)

You'll see animals that will later be seen in the performance.

Guess what they use for hair dryers for the animals and elephants...leaf blowers!

First time I've seen a tiger bed.

Even a water tank was provided for the big cats.
One hour before the performance, the doors open and the audience is encouraged to come down on the arena floor for up-close-and-personal time with some of the performers.

If you've ever dreamed of joining the circus, then our Free All Access Pre-show is your chance – and you don't even have to run away! Step onto the all-new open arena floor for the All Access Pre-show, free to every ticket holder, one hour before every performance of the 138th Edition of The Greatest Show On Earth® and meet our awesomely athletic Ringling Bros .® stars!

Mix and mingle with an amazing amalgam of acrobats, aerialists and animals, find out what it takes for them to stay in phenomenal CircusFitSM condition and attempt awe-inspiring activities in a circus-sensational experience that makes The Greatest Show On Earth come alive!

Converse with Cossacks, and cavort with clowns. Fit yourself out in circus finery, dabble with dancers and sign up for a chance to win a "mammoth masterpiece" painted by the Picasso of Pachyderms. There's so much to do and see, and the show hasn't even started!

So join our popular Free All Access Pre-show, a one-of-a-kind Ringling Bros. experience that starts one hour before The Greatest Show On Earth.

--From the website

The pre-show on the arena floor.
James E. McGrath


Cossack rider (right) helps youngsters have their picture taken on a stable horse (right).



Jenny Vidbel's barnyard act



IMG_2534.jpg IMG_2536.jpg

One of the Torres Family of Paraguay who rides motorcycles in a steel sphere.
Jaquline Lopez



Jamarr Woodruff

Orange County residents, Sue, Teri, and John were enjoying some circus food before the show.

The Hernan Troupe
IMG_2559.jpg IMG_2556.jpg

Original painting by an Elephant.
Souvenir photos can be taken.

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