This story is being reposted in entirety because it is so AWESOME. Written by a real circus train pro!
MOONLIGHT LADY: A CIRCUS TRAIN ADVENTURE – Last ride for the elephants
RED UNIT 2016 – “CIRCUS X-TREME”
By Rhett Coates
Folks, it has been my greatest adventure in life to be associated with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, AKA “The Greatest Show On Earth.” For those who have known of my time aboard the two railroad tours, the Red Unit and the Blue Unit, you already know how enthusiastic I get when talking about the tours and the people who operate them both in view of the public and behind the scenes.
I never would have suspected, when I was younger, that I would be a part of the largest live stage show in history and while there LIVE ABOARD the longest passenger train(s) in history – 6 years on Red Unit and another year, cumulatively, on Blue Unit. Now they call me one of their “purple people” for having been a part of both railroad tours. If boot camp turns a boy into a man, then life on a Ringling’ show will turn a confused, directionless youth into a successful, disciplined adult. ‘Anyone you know fit the first description? If so, then highly recommend a tour on either of these two amazing productions. They ARE hiring…..
Anyway, after 146 years, the show is retiring the elephants after THIS WEEK. Folks out west will not have the opportunity to see Ringling’ elephants any more: it would seem political correctness has trumped good sense even here. But that’s another story, for another website. This thread is to share with everyone the JOY and WONDEROUS ADVENTURE it is to share “your back porch” with all your friends aboard a train so long that it’s not usually possible to see either end when you’re riding it. That’s astonishing, to be sure, but what happens when – with 349 other people – you share the ride with elephants, horses, zebras, camels, dogs, cats, jeeps, wagons, automobiles, trucks, …and a BUS!? It becomes a real Circus.
I still like to refer to the show’s bus, on either RBBB train – when it’s on the LAST car during a run – as a “CA-BUS.” Even if it’s not on the actual rear of the last flat, it’s close enough. Now, what about the train overall? I call it the “MOONLIGHT LADY” – and here’s why: during a run the Red Unit took in 1987 from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to El Paso, Texas, I was riding outside in a vestibule the first night out – and the aura of that evening evoked this passage in that run’s Trip Report:
“….An occasional street light flashes by as the Circus Train rumbles swiftly through the silvery, moon-lit night…. Continuous welded rail under us makes the ride exceptionally smooth, resulting in a gentle, bouncy sway…. I’m watching the night-time scenery from my usual hangout during train-runs: the [opened] vestibule between cars…. Rails of the parallel track reflect like mercury in the bright moonlight, and I stare at them, leaning on the bottom Dutch-door while sitting on a stool. The rails’ continuity is mesmerizing; their silvery sheen feels soothing, almost to the point of romance, as if I were in love with the Circus Train itself, some mysterious, silvery lady. Moonlight Lady! Yes! Perhaps it’s beyond understanding, akin to that elusive, secretive wonder of The Greatest Show On Earth….”
That was then, and this is now: that feeling about the train around those who work live aboard her has not changed; it simply grows wider in the hearts of those who live the Circus life and who dare to say they “have sawdust in their blood.” I have, proudly, been one of those since 1985, off and on.
Due to a variety of reasons, both practical and not, the show has chosen to retire the elephants from the two tours – much to the dismay and disappointment of cast and crew alike, as well as most of the general public. What do I think of his development? Only that if we Americans (and I count myself in this crowd) would stand up for what we want and/or believe, we could keep what has been created instead of lose it to political correctness, and minority voices who would otherwise dictate their agenda over everyone else’s; it’s happening, to our nation’s great discredit.
The animals on the Ringling’ shows are treated magnificently in every regard: statements to the contrary are simple lies…. I’VE BEEN THERE, I KNOW BETTER. There, that’s my soap box.
Now, it’s time to get the train on the (rail-) road – one more time with elephants aboard: April 25 and 26, 2016, en route from Charleston, West Virginia to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on a round-about routing that would take almost all of those 2 days, most of it on Norfolk Southern.
The train I.D. for this entire run would be “NS 047”, and motive power would be the held-over CSXT engines from last week’s run into Charleston from Washington, D.C. – CSXT 5343 and CSXT 3259. And yes, this would be the LAST RIDE for the Red Unit’s elephants before they [are] to be retired and sent to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation.
To be certain, it’s bitter-sweet having this take place, however those on the show know their animals will always be loved and cared for no matter where they are.
As of the night before departure, the coaches were “built” (assembled) on the mainline at Dickenson Yard several miles southeast of Charleston, so all that was left was for the stock cars and flats to be loaded downtown and moved to Dickenson upon the completion of that task.
Monday, April 25, 2016:
An interesting railfan website for the “West Virginia Secondary” rail line: http://wd8rif.com/wv_sec2.htm
7am – Stocks and Flats depart downtown Charleston WV, for Dickenson Yard behind the two CSX engines; NS 8853 coupled to rear to switch flats onto west end of coaches upon arrival. As the lead CSX engine’s air horn sounds for crossings, its blast is heard echoing back and forth, and back again, across the narrow valley between the mountains on either side of the Kanawha River. The morning air is cool and calm, and weather reports say today will be clear and warm: the perfect day for a train ride! At one point along the line, this section passes a large billboard advertising the show from along highway 60: railfans snap photos of the billboard with train behind it – for the last time with elephants aboard.
Upon arrival at Dickenson Yard, the CSX engines take the 4 stock cars around the coaches and couple onto the east end, as the NS unit ties flats to the west end of the coaches. After a walking inspection and brake test, they’re ready to go. The lineup of this train, the Moonlight Lady, will be:
CSXT 5343 Engine
CSXT 3259 Engine
RBBX Stock cars 4 through 1
RBBX Coaches “low to high” end (House Numbers in the little, yellow stickers denote this sequence). Blue Unit’s generator car, RBBX 63007, swapped out a week ago with Red Unit’s, and is in the middle of this section next to the Pie Car.
RBBX 84804 COFC (from the Blue Unit, still with blue “globe logos”)
RBBX 80803 COFC (Red Unit’s)
RBBX 87801 SPINE FLAT, fully loaded
RBBX 84709 Flatcar, 89-ft.
RBBX 80717 Flatcar, 89-ft.
RBBX 80711 Flatcar, 89-ft.
RBBX 80706 Flatcar, 89-ft.
RBBX 80719 Flatcar, 89-ft.
RBBX 84702 Flatcar, 89-ft.
RBBX 80712 Flatcar, 89-ft.
RBBX 85703 Flatcar, 89-ft. (loaded with empty Cat cages)
RBBX 80701 Flatcar, 89-ft.
RBBX 85704 Flatcar, 89-ft.
RBBX 85701 Flatcar, 89-ft.
RBBX 84710 Flatcar, 89-ft.
RBBX 80716 Flatcar, 89-ft.
RBBX 84708 Flatcar, 89-ft.
RBBX 84703 Flatcar, 89-ft.
RBBX 84705 Flatcar, 89-ft.
RBBX 80709 Flatcar, 89-ft. (loaded with the BUS, and ramps)
Here, now, comes what some may call “THE REST OF THE STORY” in news reporting terminology: it seems that a group of ordinary citizens who live in Wilkes-Barre have read in their newspapers that a certain animal rights group is planning to send a contingent of their members to Pennsylvania for the train’s early Wednesday morning unloading to protest and potentially disrupt the animal walk from the train to the building upon their unloading Wednesday morning…. However, concerned Pennsylvania citizens have decided to stand up for their love of Ringling-Barnum, and have so informed the show managers of this threat. The managers in turn inform Ringling H.Q. in Florida, who in turn contact Norfolk Southern to have the train expedited as far ahead of schedule as possible. This will have a major impact on the train-run: they will end up arriving in Wilkes-Barre more than 6 hours ahead of schedule, leaving the animal rights protesters with nothing to protest. People like me couldn’t be happier at this development! Folks, this is but one way to stand up to those who would take away our heritage: we stand together as “one,” or we will most certainly fall as a people. This time, those that are We The People of Wilkes-Barre stand with The Greatest Show On Earth to thwart a threat – with the intention to succeed! I am often told of such occurrences taking place out of sight of the public eye, and withhold that knowledge until after events conclude – such as this Trip Report now reveals after the fact – and I keep a smile on my face in doing so: I will protect this show and its people, and animals, with my last breath, just like the people of Wilkes-Barre courageously chose to do. That’s not defiance; that’s love.
And the train rolls on.
9:22am – DEPART CHARLESTON, WV (Dickenson Yard). Inside a Macdonald’s restaurant directly across the street from the yard, an elderly man, eating breakfast with a table of 7 other friends, notices the train is beginning to move, and states “There they go.” People in th restaurant, outside in passing cars, in a stopped municipal bus, in coal mine trucks and more, turn to watch as the Red Unit Circus Train begins to roll out of town. Most are not aware that this is the LAST time the elephants will be aboard; however many others who have been going in and out of the Macdonald’s and adjacent convenience store have indeed read the local papers, and are well aware of this fact.
As the train negotiates this former New York Central rail line (now owned/operated by Norfolk Southern, but soon to be taken over by the Wabco short line railroad family), hundreds of people on parallel Highway 60 and the many towns along the right-of-way between here and Deepwater all stop to pause and wave to those who are already awake and riding in the vestibules of the coaches. As has taken American by storm, most are using camera phones to film the train’s passage by their homes and factories. CSXT locomotives 3161 and 614 lead an empty, westbound coal-hopper train through Montgomery, WV as the Red Unit Circus rolls by in the opposite direction, directly across the river; the audible effect of the two trains moving near each other in the river valley overwhelms the quiet morning for about 3 minutes.
10:30am – the Circus Train STOPS at Deepwater, WV to change crews.
10:40am – DEPART Deepwater, WV – turning south on the old “VIRGINIAN RAILWAY” line to the town of Mullens. A peaceful Allegheny mountain vista with chirping birds and only an occasional passing truck or car now fills with the thunder of two powerful locomotives biting into the rails to lift this 5,000-ton behemoth of a Circus Train up the incredibly steep grade. In fact, it’s so steep, the line twists and turns as it follows a meandering creek to gain altitude without undue stress on the couplers that hold the train together. At Deepwater Baptist Church, beside the railroad bridge above the street with the name “VIRGINIAN” still adorning its flanks, railfans snap photos and take videos of the event – and some of those are using high-flying drones to capture the images presenting themselves today.
Creaks and groans emanate from the cars over the terrain; the thundering engines alerting anyone within a mile or more that NS is hard at work lifting tonnage up the mountain. Parallel highway 61 has sporadic traffic; all of them show astonished, happy looks upon seeing the Circus Train on the grade. Residents at home next to the rail line, starting about a mile south of Deepwater, appear to have known the show would roll by: they’re all out, along the entire route, with cell phone cameras and with both families and pets, watching the mile-long train pass them by. Evidently, this has become a tradition here, as each year the other RBBB train graces NS rails to and from Charleston by way of Deepwater.
11:00am – at Robson, WV, zip code 25173, the train traverses a deep rock cut at “LOOP CREEK BRIDGE RD.” crossing. Railfans have stopped here to film the train’s move through this dramatic scene; it takes more than 3 minutes for the full train to get by this location.
11:10am – The train is passing what appears to be an abandoned coal mine at North Page, WV. In a sign of the times, this train will pass at least a dozen coal mines today, but only three will “appear” still in service – it is this Report’s sincere hope that the number cited here is an error, and at least 2 or 3 others seen during this run are indeed still in service loading coal for power plants and foreign nations untold. As the train passes another rural backyard beside the rails, a woman is seen filming the train, waving to those riding the vestibules. Within 5 minutes the train is rolling steadily through Page [township]. Two women in a car have been caught by the train at a crossing, but her disappointment in having her journey disrupted quickly changes to that of the joyous wonder of a child given a surprise Christmas present; just south of the crossing and across Rt. 61 from the track, an elderly couple stands hand-in-hand, smiling as they watch the train passing their front porch. (It’s obvious that the people of Wilkes-Barre aren’t the only ones who love The Greatest Show On Earth!) And THAT IS OUR GREAT LINK, folks: the shared love of a common item of American heritage that I am told the Congress has granted the title “A Living National Treasure.” Thank Feld Entertainment for keeping it alive as long as it has despite the ups and downs of a struggling economy.
North of Ingram Branch Rd., a man who has been riding a lawn mower has stopped cutting his grass upon seeing the Circus Train rolling by his house. His attention is intent on the train; one wonders of his thoughts concerning the “sight to behold” before him!
11:49am – the train is rolling around a sharp curve at the Oak Hill cutoff; the line used to continue into town, but that route has largely been removed; only the line south to Mullens is still in place.
12:12pm – rolling through Pax, WV, a local girl is about to take a short-cut along the right-of-way to work, but chooses to stay and watch Ringling Red roll by. She is impressed by the train, as well as the people on board – including many children seen riding outside by the vestibule Dutch doors.
12:20am – a stranded motorist beside the highway, nursing his broken down car (near where Highways 64/77 pass over the rail line), seems to have had his morning troubles briefly lightened by seeing a RINGLING BROS. AND BARNUM & BAILEY train rolling by, if his face is any indication. How marvelous, this train is – converting even one who is in distress into one with hope!
How can I embellish a simple railroad train with such an abundance of admiration? It’s easy: the show embellished me with a sense of purpose when I worked here full time; it taught me who I am when I needed that most, and I choose to be a thankful man for it.
A cell phone call from a friend at work in Richmond, Va. interrupts the ride: we’re discussing the general area the train is rolling through (beautiful West Virginia countryside), when the engines begin to negotiate Sweeneysburg Trestle, soaring far above the bucolic landscape: our phone conversation instantly goes from “We’re currently traveling through—” to WWOOOWW!!!!!!!! And the guy on the other end of the phone is panicking – WHAT!? WHAT!? When he’s told what, he, too, remarks WWOOWW!! Outside, railfans have congregated at the foot of the trestle far below for photo ops: one has a drone camera, and it takes a dramatic shot from high above the train with West Virginia stretched out behind. Meanwhile, people aboard the train are also taking photos of this dramatic high bridge….
About a mile further, the rural road below the rail line has climbed the hillside to a point where the former Virginian Railway passes underneath the road: the railfan caravan of nearly a dozen has quickly congregated about the bridge, and a dozen of them snap photos of the train as it rounds the bend and rolls beneath them, still climbing the long grade from Deepwater; area residents are curious as to what they are doing, but when they see what train is coming through, their questioning eyes question no more.
12:48pm – workmen with a bulldozer just south of Eccles, WV pause to film the train passing their location, while motorists on the street between them and the railroad slow down to do the same thing, or just smile and wave to people riding the vestibules. It’s getting nice and warm outside now, and the sun is high in the sky: it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, and Ringling Red is visiting for a brief minute or three in every town along the way.
The train rounds a left-hand turn near the intersection of Highways 3 and 3/28, across Rt. 3 from what appears to be a closed up Lakeside Country Store: a woman has stopped her car in the former parking lot and is standing beside it filming the train’s roll-by with her cell phone camera.
1:05pm – RBBB Red is passing through Lester, WV and a church beside the grade crossing. This train does more than turn a distressed person into a hopeful one; it transforms people: a lady who is obviously NOT a railfan is chasing the train in her red car, filming it with her cell phone as she pauses at the grade crossing here. Two minutes later, a recorded voice is heard over the radio scanner, reporting that this train has “…NO DEFECTS.” Throughout the town of Lester, WV, people pause in their work, including a contingent of local policemen who stand outside their office a block from the rail line, watching as the mile-long Circus Train rolls by. Just north of downtown, the highway crosses the mainline; lines of traffic are halted by the show-train, and even more people have been waiting trackside to film them go by, having earlier parked beside the crossing.
Ahead is a tunnel under “Jenny Gap.” It has been a long climb from Deepwater, but as the train passes the mid-point inside the mountain, the line crests at the summit and begins a tilt downhill toward Mullens, WV, not far ahead…. NS has a maintenance crew on duty in the siding south of the tunnel: the Circus Train’s engineer gives a double toot on the air horn; the crew watches the train go by, also waving to those aboard. The sudden downhill seems severe; its gradient is evident even with the naked eye. The engineer has the dynamic brake on from here to keep his train from becoming a runaway. Half way downhill a Pepsi delivery driver is on break, and is surprised to see RBBB slowly grinding its way downhill and across a meandering stream from his lunchtime, roadside oasis.
1:56pm – As the train pulls slowly into Mullens to cross the Rt. 16 street crossing, people emerge from store fronts while others step out from their cars which have stopped at the downtown grade crossing. Smiles, waves and camera phones held high toward the train…. It’s becoming a national pastime these days with the two Circus Trains, Red and Blue.
2:20pm – The Red Unit Circus Train, or what I like to call the “Moonlight Lady,” STOPS at Elmore Yard for re-crew, while railfans stop on the bridge above the lead engine, and film the scene with drone cameras. This crew-change is quick: the crew has been standing by, having had their call early due to the issue surrounding the need to keep the train moving ahead of schedule. The outbound crew is aboard and has had their job briefing, departing Elmore Yard at 2:26pm.
3:08pm – Rolling through Pineville, WV. This area of West Virginia is amazingly scenic – following the Guyandotte River valley as the river meanders through the mountains; cell phone service is almost non-existent through much of this area as it is so far deep into the hills. Not far ahead, buses are departing Wyoming County East High School; the last few busloads of students, and others in the line of departing traffic, note the passing Circus Train just across the river.
3:17pm – A black-painted switch engine with lettering for “Tygart River…” sits with loaded coal cars on a siding as the train approaches Roadfork 51 Deep Mine – still loading coal. (At least this one is still going.) A family at the next town is seen filming the train…. Evidently, the entire region has been alerted that this train is coming through today – and they’re out in droves.
3:35pm – Wyoming, WV (County seat): there’s an abandoned rail line branching off to the right of the mainline and Highway 97 has been paved over the rails. Past the former grade crossing, trees are growing up through the rails and ties. The train cuts through a tunnel here, winding around the Guyandotte River route, and a mile or so after emerging passes another active coal mine load-out at Mariana, WV which gets a Circus roll-by at 3:30pm.
3:44pm – Baileysville, WV (with a nod to the last name adorning the Circus Train’s flanks).
4:12pm: rolling through Hanover, then Gilbert, WV at a leisurely 30-ish miles per hour. The rail line leaves the parallel roads, heading into the mountains and by another railroad junction; finally after about 20 minutes the train diverges to the left again, entering a long tunnel which emerges above Highway 97 at “Big Branch” where railfans are filming using drone and still cameras. The show’s General Manager is riding his vestibule and sees a drone camera flying about the train – and waves enthusiastically to it. About another mile or so ahead the line enters a much longer tunnel, and upon emerging swings back into Godfrey’s Corner to roll on a bridge above the highway junction of 97 and Highway 52. Past here, rock slide detectors are seen on the right side of the track between the line and steep cliffs. Fallen rock is seen between the sheer cliff and the fence; this area is obviously not for hiking. Traffic on area roads slows so motorists can see the train and – yes – film its passing. Ahead, past the town of Justice, WV, large concrete bridge supports remain in place across the river where a former rail line once ran.
At 4:30pm – train stops briefly at Gilbert Yard, but soon enough is rolling again: at 4:40pm. RBBB Red enters the NS mainline at the Tug Fork River (across from the West Virginia-Kentucky border), south of Wharncliffe, WV. – and now the train can speed up to a faster pace.
6:04pm – Iaeger, WV. – where N&W caboose 557784 is displayed on a pedestal beside Rt. 52. At a ball field about a mile past town, about 60 school age children play games while their parents watch; their games take on a new light when the Circus Train rolls into view: they all stop to wave to the dozens of Circus folk riding outside in the warm, sunny afternoon glow. Now coming out of the mountains and into “civilization” again, hundreds upon hundreds of locals witness the train’s passing – and yes – they are filming it going by on cell phone cameras and more.
The Red Unit passes a westbound manifest freight inside a tunnel a few miles west of Roderfield, then turns left and takes the line through Big Sandy, toward Bluefield.
7:55pm – Red Unit STOPS in Bluefield for another crew-change at the former Amtrak station. NS auto rack train 272 departs as they are pulling in, but Red Unit will wait until another west bound manifest arrives; the line is single-track for a while east of Bluefield. As the show awaits departure, several area railfans congregate to see the train, peering into the first two cars behind the locomotives to watch elephants walking around inside their cars. Photos and railfan conversation is how this Circus Day draws to a close….
9:12pm – Red Unit DEPARTS Bluefield, WV. The run downhill from town is slow but steady; the coach lights atop the vestibules light up the entire area around the railroad: it also provides some serious street-lights for parallel highway 112.
9:50pm – Ingleside shows the railroad lit up with a GREEN-OVER-GREEN on the old CPL signal mast.
10:02pm – Oakvale, WV. A family has a large bonfire and cookout going beside the highway 112 (Oakvale Rd.) grade crossing, and everyone is excitedly waving to late-night Circus Train vestibule riders. Now the train is picking up speed, having left the hilly area of the rail line…. It’s around this area most of us turn in for the night: another Circus Day has finished, and another Circus Day will soon dawn. Overnight, Roanoke, Virginia is another crew-change point, and the show departs there at 1:05am…..
TUESDAY, APRIL 26, 2016:
By early morning, at 5:14am – with the sunlight only beginning to brighten the coming day, the Red Unit Circus Train rolls through downtown Waynesboro, Va., under the CSX North Mountain Subdivision that is currently leased to the Buckingham Branch Railroad. This time of morning, not many people are up to see them yet – but that will soon change on the line ahead. With the train rolling consistently, it’s easy to sleep – unless you are one of those “early risers” who can’t stand to miss anything the rail line has to offer. And this time of year, Virginia countryside is a divine work of art as the purple-pink coming sunrise bathes the region in dawn’s early light.
5:42am – passing through Grottoes, VA, the morning commuter traffic on highway 340 has begun – and in earnest: lots of peoples’ attention is attracted by the long line of BRIGHT SPOT L IGHTS atop the coaches rolling by at about 40mph and at every crossing they whip out the cell phones to film it – but what kind of image can they get before direct sunlight shines from above?
6:05pm – heavy traffic is turning off Rt. 340 into the Coors Brewery, while ever brighter sunlight increases. The train takes a dramatic, banked curve to the right beside the Merck & Co. factory, just north of N. Berrytown, and traffic waiting at grade crossings to get to the Merck & Co. factory get an eye-full with the mile long passenger mixed train now in even greater sunlight.
6:12am – RBBB Red passes through Elkton, Va. Soon, another crew-change will occur: the show is now about 6 hours ahead of schedule thanks to NS’s cooperation on their effort to get them to Wilkes-Barre as far in advance of the Transportation Order as is possible.
6:27am – Red Unit STOPS at the Shenandoah, VA. Yard Office for another crew-change, and as all the others so far, the outbound crew is already there and jumping at the bit to get the train going: they do so at 6:37am, having held the train only 10 minutes, plenty of time for a job briefing. Red Unit rolls on, still far ahead of schedule. Well done, NS!
7:06am – Railfans in Stanley, Va. film the train’s passing, and one hightails it out as the flatcars begin rolling by – ON THE CHASE! Many more locals are now out and about, and every one of them seems to appreciate the fact that they got to see the Circus Train!
7:17am – RBBB Red rolls by Luray, Va.’s former passenger station, while a NS official in a chase truck keeps an eye on the progress of this special move; he will pace the train far into Maryland, as will other NS officials who are there to protect The Greatest Show On Earth from any harm from those who don’t want to see the show continue with animals as part of their production.
Now, with the sun up over the eastern horizon at last, the area landscape basks in glorious, golden morning light, awakening the earth for another sunny, Spring day. Rain had been forecast, but it occurs to some that perhaps God watches the weather reports and shakes His head, saying to Himself, “Naw, I have something else in mind.” LOL, either way, today is shaping up to be one bright and beautiful – rainless – morning!
7:30am – Red Unit passes southbound intermodal freight 201.
7:55am – railfans are out in droves now at Compton Trestle: still cameras, video and drone cameras will capture the train rolling across the high bridge as the NS official in the white blazer looks on…..
8:25am – the train passes a trash dump area just south of Front Royal, Va., where the elderly gentleman in charge pauses in his task of sweeping up stray, wind-blown items to wave to people already up and riding the vestibules. As the train approaches Riverton Jct., a crew overseeing major construction on new bridgework for N. Shenandoah Ave. watches the train pass beneath them as it slowly takes the wye to the north and over the Shenandoah River at 8:46am. It is at this point during the run that distant storm clouds are seen moving into the region; apparently God did have some rain in mind today, but at this point we don’t know how much will fall upon the Red Unit Circus Train.
After a quick breakfast, it’s time to see the scenery again. With railfans on the chase all day today (most people know this is the LAST time elephants will ride this train), crossings are filled with people filming the move.
10:15am – the train is pulling into NS’s Hagerstown, Maryland Yard for the next crew-change, stopping there at 10:20am precisely. Railfans and locals congregate at the yard’s south end; the railfans are planning local strategy to get to points north for more picture-taking. It isn’t long before this expedited move gets underway again, however…..
10:37am – DEPART Hagerstown, MD. (‘Expedited move, indeed!)
11:05am – railfans are out and about at the grade crossing in downtown Maugansville, MD. – at the town’s namesake street; personnel at the firehouse there come outside to watch Ringling Red roll by, and just south of the crossing, children and teachers at the town’s elementary school pause to watch them going by as well, waving to vestibule riders.
11:09am – the Circus Train enters Pennsylvania! The train is just about a quarter mile west of I-81 at this point and is rolling north at a steady 40-ish miles per hour over the farm-and-dale area that is this region of America. The show-train passes another NS manifest freight here.
11:38am – in Chambersburg, PA., a gray van is parked in the parking lot of Spherion, with an apparent railfan inside, while a man at Nitterhouse masonry Co.’s lot (where Cleveland Ave. intersects with E. McKinley St.) looks over and waves to Circus Train riders.
11:53am – a family has stopped to film the train going by beside highway 696, just south of Shippensburg, PA. where the train slows to roll by M.O.W. crews and an hy-rail vehicle stopped on the train just north of the junction. Dykeman House Bread and Breakfast sits across the road and a duck pond; beautiful landscape is everywhere today – from central Virginia all the way into lower Pennsylvania.
NS takes the train at track speed now to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the state capital; the train sits south of the Susquehanna River Bridge for traffic to clear up in downtown: Amtrak NEC and freights galore run through here, and railroad congestion is the norm. This isn’t a terribly long delay, yet it still smacks of what old-time Circus people often refer to as “The Silver Snail does it again.” One gets used to these stops; truth be told, this run has everyone remarking of how Norfolk Southern is REALLY moving them ahead of schedule – which is rare on most Circus Train-runs.
2:40pm – with a southbound freight clear of town and passing RBBB Red, the show-train gets the signal to come into town: the train is rolling slowly over the massive stone-arch bridge into Harrisburg, with the rear passing the Amtrak station area at 2:50pm. A lady with a baby stroller walking along Front St. stops to use her cell phone camera to film it, while a grandmother and her grandson also film it; people working outside the Comfort Inn Riverfront also pause to wave to people on the train. Residents in row houses along Front St. peer out from their windows; two women walking dogs come outside to see the Circus Train as well, while traffic motorists and people in adjacent business towers trough out downtown (in sight of the railroad bridge) wave to everyone they see riding outside the Circus Train vestibules. A traffic helicopter soars above the train – but no one knows if the Circus Train is what they’re looking at. The Red Unit stops at the downtown fuel pad to change crews once more. The train will take the line through Sunbury, PA. to reach their final destination.
3:40pm – DEPART HARRISBURG, PA. Railfans have taken to positioning themselves along Cemetery Rd. for photos, pulling out for the chase as soon as the train gets by. As the train takes to the mainline north of town along Highway 22, hundreds of afternoon motorists perchance to drive alongside the train: every one of them notices it’s a RINGLING BROS. train, and all of them slow up just a bit to see better while not holding up traffic.
When Rt. 22 diverges away from the railroad, chase vehicles continue parallel to the line on S. River Road, and pass other railfans who are lining the street trackside: two are up on ladders to gain altitude. Clever, these railfans!
About 4:15, the train is passing Halifax, PA. to the delight of townsfolk – and even more railfans, it is presumed from the vestibules – who are filming them more and more the farther north the train rolls. Those storm clouds seen earlier have shed some rain in the area, but only enough to wet the pavement of local streets to a small amount – and there’s no real “rain” to speak of. The sun continuously peeks out from behind cloud-cover, but the clouds are moving faster than the train (RBBB is rolling at what appears to be a steady 40mph), and so are not ever-present. It’s still, basically, a great day for train-chasing! This area must have had some serious “heads-up” notices that the Circus would come through: there are people at virtually every grade crossing the train rolls through, and it’s evident that many are not railfans, but are out to see this rare event – a Circus Train rolling by their homes and through their towns. THIS is the part of the run that excites onboard personnel the most: interacting with people along the railroads the Circus Train takes each week, just like interacting with people at the show.
4:53pm – RBBB comes to a STOP in the siding at control-point “N. Boyles,” Milepost BR 266.7 – waiting to get track authority north from here to Sunbury. Railfans out on the chase congregate at the Susquehanna Rail Works facility to wait their departure. Other than the noise of frequent highway traffic on Rt. 147, the scene is completely tranquil, with lazy waters roiling by on the other side of the rail line, and birds chirping in the trees. A gentle breeze cools the air as the sun, behind rolling clouds, peeks in and out during this wait. In about an hour’s time the track authority is issued and the show is underway once more.
5:42pm – rolling slowly through Sunbury, PA. brings out so many locals to see them by, they are nearly uncountable, standing at every grade crossing through town; the train takes the junction to the line north to Wilkes-Barre VERY slowly, while dozens of stopped motorists at the Shikellamy Rd. crossing watch in astonishment at the sheer length of the train moving before them. Overhead the skies clear up and the sun, still above the horizon, lights up the afternoon in bright, silvery light.
6:37pm – passing through Riverside, many locals are out here as well, waiting to film the train rolling through town. Children and their parents playing at a site beside the 2nd St. and Avenue D grade crossing stop to film them going by and wave to Circus folk; a couple with a baby stroller and another, elementary-school-age boy, are walking a block west and also wave to those aboard. Around the curve at the former passenger station, two groups of railfans and locals are also at trackside along S. D&H Ave., armed with a variety of cameras which click and roll as the train comes by. People in the convenience store at the Mill St. crossing look up from behind the counters and windows to watch them roll by, and stopped motorists appear pleasantly surprised to see the RBBB Circus Train in town!
7:10pm – the train is rolling through Mifflinville, to the delight of children and their parents to happen to see the fast-moving train.
Highway traffic on Pond Hill Rd. (Rt. 239) between Wapwallopen and Mocanaqua have no space between the track ballast and the road’s pavement; it’s RIGHT BESIDE the coaches for many train-chasers. Also, several rock outcroppings force traffic to diverge around them – it’s a thrilling, fast-pace chase beside the very wheels of the Circus Train, quite unusual even for the hardiest of railfans, but certainly worth the time to make the chase. At Mocanaqua, many more railfans and locals are also waiting to see and film the train, now not far from its final destination. Everyone appears happy to see the train and the people on board; no protesters here in Pennsylvania – only people who love trains and The Greatest Show On Earth!
8:30pm – RED UNIT ARRIVES WILKES-BARRE, PA., stopping at the Fellows Ave. grade crossing where the Luzerne Susquehanna short line railroad waits with three switchers to take the coaches into their storage tracks. The train is broken down thus: as about 30 people brave the suddenly chilly-cold wind and post-sundown arrival antics, the CSX units take the 4 stock cars north of the crossing and switch. The 3 L&S units move onto the mainline and tie onto the coaches. Then they take the coaches, after uncoupling from the trailing flatcars, down the hill into the storage tracks (it takes them several moves to get them all spotted on multiple tracks). As soon as the coaches clear the mainline, the CSX units shove back with the stocks to pick up the flats, then depart to cross the Susquehanna River to get to their own spotting location.
…..and the elephants are unloaded under the cover of darkness: the animal rights protesters coming from Virginia have nothing to see upon their Wednesday morning arrival – Norfolk Southern has saved the day for The Greatest Show On Earth, bring the Red Unit Circus Train into town five and a half hours early!
Now, there is that bittersweet ending to a glorious train-run: that the elephants will no longer ride the “Moonlight Lady,” the Red Unit Circus Train. And the Blue Unit’s final run with their elephants is taking place this coming week….
I’ll end this Trip Report on a good note. It began with a nod to the 1987 Red Unit trip to El Paso; here’s how that one ended, and I think it’s appropriate to share that again here to honor the men and women who, as movie director Cecil B. DeMille once described them, fight to make this The Greatest Show On Earth – through hard work, perseverance, and the LOVE of what they do day in and day out. Here’s that story’s ending, in a nutshell:
“….Through this powerful, life-changing Circus Train Adventure, I have come to understand the hypnotic effect upon the soul generated by the rhythm of the rails: guiding, supporting, always moving ahead toward a new destination, yet allowing enough time to enjoy and reflect upon the ride along the way. Few things are left that allow that kind of time anymore; trains still do. Perhaps it is the overwhelming feeling of going somewhere that leads railfans to trackside, and brings “children of all ages,” like myself, to see (or work in) the Circus.
“It really is the going, and not the getting there, that’s good!
“This trip has become history; it is finished, completed. I myself wouldn’t mind another day of going, but as it is with life, such journeys end in a destiny. What is the Circus’s destiny? To paraphrase Shakespeare, “The show’s the thing.” Our purpose out here on the rails, where the green lights of integrity command us to continue on, mile after silver mile, is to spread a little love and then move on again. This is what makes riding the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Train unique among all other train rides: it’s not just a train ride; it’s a journey in our own home. Nowhere else can one experience life like this from our own porch as well as share the adventure with all his neighbors, all of his Circus Family. This is the thrilling story of life aboard the Circus Train, The Greatest Show On Earth’s “Moonlight Lady” … the last place where the romance of the railroad still brings us the wonder of the Circus.”
To everyone at Trainorders.com and everywhere else this Red Unit Trip Report finds itself being posted, here’s to ALL OF YOU out there: be safe, be Blessed, and come on out to see the Circus Train – AND ESPECIALLY THE SHOW for which the two trains, Red Unit and Blue Unit, exist – when you can. I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed.