PERU, Ind. (AP) For 145 years, performers with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus traveled the country by train to put on their world-renowned acts. The trains eventually became one of the most iconic parts of the “Greatest Show on Earth.”
But in May, performers boarded the circus train for the last time to put on their final show in Uniondale, New York. After a 146-year run, the big top permanently closed down.
But on Friday morning, one solitary Ringling Bros. train car made its final journey from New Jersey to Peru, where it was greeted by its new owner, Brian Miser.
If anyone knows about circus trains, it’s Miser. For 10 years, he and his wife, Tina, performed with Ringling Bros. as the human cannonball – one of the most heart-pounding acts offered by the circus. For the last five years, he leased his act to Ringling Bros. and personally trained the up-and-coming cannonballs.
The two Peru natives had been life-long performers and cut their circus teeth as kids performing with the Peru Amateur Circus. It was in 2003 when they joined Ringling and traveled the country on the trains with hundreds of their fellow performers for around five months. After that, Miser decided traveling in a sleeper car wasn’t for him.
“I didn’t like it,” he said. “There was no freedom in there. The windows don’t open. That’s not me. I was just too cramped and I had to get away.”
But Miser was there Friday morning to watch as the Ringling Bros. coach car pulled into the train yard on Benton Street.
A crew of workers was also on site. Their job was to remove the car from the tracks, hook it to a trailer and haul it to Miser’s house located west of town.
A group of friends, onlookers and circus aficionados gathered at the train yard to watch as a massive crane pulled the 70,000-pound car from the tracks and placed it on temporary tires before it was hauled away.
“This is exciting,” Miser said. “But getting it into my property is going to be a little bit tricky.”
Miser said he first thought about buying the train car in January, when Ringling Bros. first announced it was permanently closing and planned to sell off all its equipment.
“I said, ‘I might be interested in that,'” he said. “But at that point, I thought, ‘Yeah, right.’ The more I thought about it and inquired about it, though, the more I realized it might be a possibility.”
And the more Miser thought about it, the more he realized how cool it would be to own and preserve what is now an authentic piece of circus history that also played an important role in his own life.
Not only that. Miser knew he also would be bringing the train to Peru, the self-proclaimed “Circus Capital of the World” that once served as a winter quarters for Ringling Bros.
“It’s bringing back some history here,” he said. “This is an end of an era, so I’m keeping this car exactly as it is.”
That means leaving the large red banner running across the bottom identifying it as a “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey” car, as well as the large, round decals reading “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
Miser said the 10-foot-by-84-foot sleeper car contains five small separate bedrooms, all complete with bathrooms, showers and refrigerators. A small open area in the middle holds a washer and dryer.
“It’s small, but for a train, it’s not bad,” he said. “If you were riding on this train with the circus and had a room like that, you were doing good.”
Miser first joined Ringling just after graduating from high school in 1982. He first signed on as a trapeze artist, and spent an entire year traveling on the trains before switching gigs and then later starting his own circus act.
“There’s no other traveling experience like traveling with Ringling,” he said. “Most people that were with the show, you ask them what they miss the most, and it’s always the train. It’s the number one answer. They said it was the best sleep they ever had, because it just rocked you like a cradle.”
But that changed during his second stint with Ringling that started in 2003. Then, he was traveling with Tina, who was pregnant at the time. They decided it made more sense to travel from show to show in an RV.
“When I was younger, I loved it,” Miser said. “But as I got a little older, things changed.”
Even though he didn’t like riding on the trains later on, he said, he’s glad to now be the proud owner of one. Miser said the car he bought was built in 1949 and was first used by the Pennsylvania Railroad before Ringling purchased it in 1991 and converted it into a circus car.
Miser said most of the Ringling cars have now been sold off to other railroads. He said only two circus performers – himself included – bought one of the trains with the intent to preserve them.
But the train car will be more than just a museum piece on his property. Miser said he is actually going to use it as a guest house for family and friends. He said he also plans to start a circus camp next year, and students will be able to stay inside the Ringling car while they’re there.
“It needs cleaned up and I have to do a few things on the electric system, but other than that, it’s good to go,” he said.
On Friday morning, Miser pitched in and helped the crews get the train off the tracks, leaving his arms smeared with grease.
Crane-safety operator Lance Lattimer also was on scene. He said helping unload a Ringling train was a kind of dream come true, considering he’s a circus aficionado who performs as a clown with the Shriners.
“My girlfriend asked me if I was going to show up on the job site wearing my clown costume,” Lattimer said. “I said, ‘You know, that’d be pretty cool to have a clown out here directing the lift.’ It’d be fun as hell.”
Gazing at the train car, he said, “I was really excited when I found out about this. It’s kind of cool. Just talking about it gives me goosebumps.”
Peru Amateur Circus Producer Michelle Boswell, who has known Miser since she was a kid, was also at the train yard to watch the undertaking. She said it was exciting to know Peru would be home to another authentic piece of circus history.
“You just feel like you’re seeing a piece of history happen here in front of you,” she said.
But, Boswell said, she got the most joy from knowing that the Misers would be able to hold on to a little piece of their past with “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
“Circus is their life, so to be able to purchase this piece of history and have it on their property, it’s beyond cool. It’s awesome,” she said.
Source: Kokomo Tribune
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.