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  • Andrew Fitz

The History of Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Trains

Circuses have been a part of American history since the founding of our country. Small circus troupes dating as far back as the the late 1700s would eventually give way to larger shows that began using freight cars to travel from city to city. Those circuses that transitioned from wagons to rail were able to reach far more cities in much less time which, in turn, generated more revenue.

In 1881 P.T. Barnum and James A. Bailey decided to combine their shows, creating the Barnum & Bailey Circus, which also carried the moniker The Greatest Show On Earth. Just a few years later, five brothers with the last name Ringling would embark on starting their own circus and, in 1889, they began traveling their growing show by rail. In 1907 the Ringling Brothers purchased the Barnum & Bailey Circus but operated them separately until 1919 when they combined to form Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey now maintains two separate trains that visit different major cities each year; the "Blue Unit" Train and the "Red Unit Train". Each train is a mile long with more than 50 passenger, freight and stock cars to transport their workers, performers, animals, supplies and vehicles. Both of the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey trains are very similar to each other with the only real distinguishing feature being the different color logos. These trains and cars, along with all their circus predecessors small and large, have become a major part of railroad history.

The images above are of the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey "Blue Unit" and "Red Unit" trains distinguishable only by the Red and Blue RBBB&B "Globe" logos. Notice the proprietary "RBBX" Road Numbers for the cars.

Beginning in the late 1950's, various model railroad equipment manufacturers began offering Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey themed train products and several, like Bachmann, Micro Trains and Lionel, continue to do so to this day. Sadly, many of the original model railroad companies have passed on into history but their circus products, like those still produced today, are some of the most beautiful model trains ever produced and remain highly collectible. If one searches diligently these vintage models can often still be found in new or mint condition. We here at MRCHQ are nothing if not diligent and we have spent literally hundreds of hours searching for, acquiring and assembling one of the worlds largest collections of vintage and new HO and N scale model circus and carnival train products. Debuting hand in hand with this new, radically upgraded web site, new product categories and hundreds of other model, circus, carnival and amusement park products, we proudly offer you this magnificent collection of historic and collectible model railroad products.

Our mission always has been, and remains, to introduce the joys and benefits of scale modeling to a new and ever growing hobbyist audience of all ages. Whether you want to build our models just for the joy of building them or if you want to assemble elaborate railroad scenes complete with ALL the goodies, you will find everything you could dream of only at MRRHQ, your model vintage train Superstore. Welcome aboard!

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