The Circus Has Come to Greater Los Angeles, On a Train

On Monday, February 12, 2010, I learned from a railfan site that a special train was arriving from Fresno about the time I would be getting home. The train, known on the Union Pacific Railroad as SFRLA-12, was a special, customer unit train - the “Blue Unit” of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Circus!

For the uninitiated, here is a short description of this awesome and historic show from a press release:

Since its first show in 1871, the spirit of artists performing in what has become know as The Greatest Show On Earth® has fascinated onlookers and established the foundation for success of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Circus. The all-live performances, full of comedy, grace, color, precision, athleticism, suspense, music and the harmonious interaction of humans and animals, bring people back time and time again. Ringling Bros.® is part of the American cultural heritage and is the only show business phenomenon to run in three consecutive centuries. 

Ringling Bros. is a 139-year tradition that combines the classics – extraordinary animal performances, captivating clown escapades and daring high-wire acts – with contemporary surprises and thrills to make the circus-going experience memorably unique. Families can depend upon Ringling Bros. to return the same time every year with a new show, and it is a family tradition handed down from generation to generation. Ringling Bros. has three independent units, the Red, Blue and Gold. 

Ringling Bros. hosts millions of visitors and travels to more than 90 cities in North America each year.

I wasn’t expecting this opportunity so I found myself trackside, on my way home from work, with only my Apple iPhone 3GS with me to record the event. I grabbed a roll of electrical tape from the trunk of my car and taped my phone to a nearby signpost to steady the shot best I could.

After a few minutes wait, she came into view. Here is the video I shot of the “Blue Unit” train going through Ontario, California:

The train is comprised of mostly very historic passenger cars from the days when Amtrak was considered a misspelled word that have been modified and extensively upgraded by the company’s dedicated staff of shop forces. For example, the first four cars of this train are where the elephants and horses are housed and maintained during the trip. There are sleeping quarters, shop cars, offices, and even a “pie car.” The pie car is circus vernacular for a “dining car.”

Extreme Trains: The Complete Season OneThere is a very interesting show that I recommend to anyone interested in learning more about this fascinating train and the dedicated men and women who maintain and live on the train. It is the episode called, appropriately enough, “Circus Train” from that awesome History Channel’s series Extreme Trains.

Truthfully, I thought that this episode of Extreme Trains would be my least favorite one of the whole season but it was not. After re-watching it to bone up on the facts for this post, I came away with a a greater appreciation of the entire Ringling Bros. outfit and for circus trains in general. I highly recommend it.

In fact, you can purchase the entire season of Extreme Trains for just $9.99 plus shipping right now. Simply click on the DVD photo on the right.

If you live in the Los Angeles area and missed the move or would like to see it again, you are in luck because the circus is scheduled to play Ontario, California next followed by Anaheim, California. Both dates will require the train to move again, not to mention when the circus moves on to the next area, the Bay Area for shows in mid-August.

Revive the magic of your childhood, go to the circus, or at least see the train go by!

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    Since its first show in 1871, the spirit of artists performing in what has become know as The Greatest Show On Earth® has fascinated onlookers and established the foundation for success of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Circus. The all- live performances, full of comedy, grace, color, precision, athleticism, suspense, music and the harmonious interaction of humans and animals, bring people back time and time again. Ringling Bros.® is part of the American cultural heritage and is...

Reader Comments (2)

Cool! Much longer train than I would have been expecting. Kinda brings back memories as a kid when I wanted to run away with the circus.

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBeau W.

I, too, have seen the Circus Train (with giraffes sticking out!) as it passed the Deer Park Tavern in Newark, DE. The circus folk seem to be as creative with their accommodations as they are with costumes for the show.
Running away with the circus is a time honored kid fantasy, but I'm pretty sure the reality of the lifestyle is less romantic. Although those who choose it would probably just think me foolish.
As always a good posting. Thanks TFord Spokane, WA

July 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

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