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Story Sunday: Circus Train Cars For Auction In North Carolina

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Barnum & Bailey Circus Rail Car Image One
Image Credit: NC State Surplus Property

If you haven’t finished your holiday shopping, the North Carolina Department of Transportation is offering up a piece of Americana but, it’s going to cost you a pretty penny.

When the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus closed their doors, NCDOT saw an opportunity to add to its fleet. That plan was derailed before the cars could hit the rails and, now, they’re being put up for public auction.

NCDOT spent just over $380,000 on [the] Ringling Brothers rail cars.

“These cars have a great and amazing history,” said Jason Orthner, director of the NCDOT rail division.

However, plans to refurbish the cars were quickly put on hold when NCDOT calculated the costs. “This was more on the long-term play of really looking into our rail program and how we take it into the future,” said Orthner.

Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Poster Wiki Image Two
Image Credit: New York Public Library
Wikimedia & Wikipedia

Funding from two federal grants totaling $157 million rendered the rehab of the Ringling Bros. cars obsolete and will soon allow the NCDOT to replace their entire fleet.

“If we hadn’t been successful at winning those grants, we would’ve taken a really hard look at putting these in service,” said Orthner. “We really want to do the best thing for the citizens of North Carolina with the limited funding that we have available.”

That’s why they’re listing the rail-cars on the state surplus site for a minimum price that’s $32,000 more than the NCDOT paid for all of the cars but, without any bids, it’s unclear if anyone will actually buy them.

“Tourist railroad operations, car collectors and other enthusiasts would certainly be interested in these cars,” said Orthner. “There are operations around the country that run train service for excursion purpose, or other purposes, that would be interested in equipment like this.”

Currently half of the rail-cars are stored in the NCDOT rail-yard in Raleigh and the other half are stored on an abandoned line in Nash County.

Want To Own A Piece Of History?
Holden Kurwicki
WNCN/CBS17
12-21-2020

I had no idea my state’s DOT had purchased Ringling Bros. train cars. ~Vic