Ac­cord­ing to Chris…

Chris muses on an of­ten over­looked mod­el­ling sub­ject – cir­cus trains.

Model Rail (UK) - - CONTENTS -

Just be­fore he went off for a hol­i­day week in France, my son and I got into a con­ver­sa­tion about movies. As usual, I was be­moan­ing the fact that, de­spite there be­ing around 75 chan­nels on Free­view – and one or two of them with sig­nals ac­tu­ally strong enough to pen­e­trate the dig­i­tal wilder­ness that is East Northamp­ton­shire – I could sel­dom find any­thing worth watch­ing. I men­tioned scrolling through new ad­di­tions to the itunes list and he asked if I wanted to bor­row The Great­est Show­man, which he had on DVD. This is a mod­ern Hol­ly­wood mu­si­cal based around the story of Phineas Tay­lor Bar­num (1810-1891). Bar­num was, of course, one half of Bar­num & Bai­ley, whose ‘Great­est Show on Earth’ was a mas­sive cir­cus with a three-ring big top which toured by train around the turn of the 19th cen­tury. The Euro­pean tour re­quired new rolling stock and W.R. Ren­shaw of Stoke-on-trent built the four trains to­talling more than 60 bo­gie ve­hi­cles. In or­der to ac­com­mo­date the huge horse-drawn wag­ons, the 30-plus flat­cars were longer than any then run­ning in the UK, and for ease of load­ing from ground level they ran on very small wheelsets, cast in Ger­many. There were also bo­gie stock cars for the horses, a camel car and three huge ele­phant cars. The cir­cus tour of the UK was a lo­gis­ti­cal mas­ter­piece. At each town the show be­gan with an af­ter­noon pa­rade through the streets fol­lowed by a huge dis­play of out­side stalls, sideshows and caged an­i­mals. As the even­ing per­for­mance took place in­side the big top, the out­door show was dis­man­tled and moved to the rail­way yard where it was loaded and the trains dis­patched to the next lo­ca­tion. Even as the crowds de­parted the site, the big top came down and was loaded onto the horse-drawn wag­ons and taken to the rail­way yard. From there, the last two trains, in­clud­ing the eight sleep­ing cars of staff and per­form­ers, de­parted for the next town where, af­ter an early morn­ing ar­rival, the whole pro­ce­dure was re­peated. De­spite its ‘po­lit­i­cal in­cor­rect­ness’, the GSOE has long fas­ci­nated me. I once stum­bled across pho­to­graphs of the Bri­tish train with­out know­ing what it was. The re­search to iden­tify and un­der­stand what I was look­ing at was ut­terly en­thralling. Af­ter the GSOE re­turned to the USA, many of the rail­way ve­hi­cles were used by Buf­falo Bill’s Wild West, which toured the UK around 1905 and was owned by Bai­ley. Af­ter that, the trains were split up and sold. Many went to the Alexan­dra (New­port) Docks & Rail­way, where the ele­phant wag­ons be­came tran­sit ve­hi­cles for grain stor­age and sev­eral sleep­ing cars be­came trail­ers for the rail­way’s rail­mo­tors. Res­cued at the be­hest of preser­va­tion­ist D.M. Rouse, one of these coaches, which had be­come a bun­ga­low in Devon, is now stored as part of the Welsh Mu­seum collection. The GSOE had one ve­hi­cle which trav­elled on its own, and that was the ad­vance car. It ran sev­eral days ahead of the show so that its staff could pro­vide all the ad­vance pub­lic­ity. The metic­u­lous op­er­a­tion by both the cir­cus and the nu­mer­ous pre-group­ing rail­ways which moved the train be­came leg­endary. The show never missed a per­for­mance, de­spite the Bri­tish weather and the fact that it toured some sur­pris­ingly small towns, of­ten up to 150 miles apart. Way back in the 1980s, I be­gan to build some of the cars. Only the body of the ad­vance car sur­vives as a re­minder of the days when the prospect of car­ry­ing out the let­ter­ing by hand did not de­ter me. Per­haps I should fin­ish it off?

CHRIS LEIGH COLLECTION

The real thing in Ren­shaw’s pub­lic­ity pho­to­graph. The sleep­ing cars were ma­roon and the wag­ons were yel­low with red let­ter­ing, shaded blue.

Mostly hand-let­tered, on both sides, my Bar­num & Bai­ley ad­vance car just needs bo­gies and cou­plings and a gen­eral tidy-up.

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