Motorists driving in the 1300 block of 8th Avenue on Tuesday, June 13, were surprised to see a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey sleeper - RBBX 41307 - in the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society shop.
There were no stock cars for elephants or tigers. None of the flatcars for wagons or equipment. None of the more than a hundred cars Ringling Brothers once owned.
Just this one car.
The sleeper is one of many cars rendered useless when Ringling Brothers trains stopped touring the country forever in May. And the company wasted no time in getting rid of its cars.
So who now owns RBBX 41307?
"We bought it in May for $15,000, which is dirt cheap," said Borden Black McGahee, of Columbus, Georgia, who, with her husband, Nelson, and partners Charles and Kathy Pults from Georgia and Dave and Jean Reppy from Pennsylvania, closed the deal.
The McGahees also own the private car "Dearing," which is named for a little town in Georgia, and both cars will be stored in the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society's South Yard.
They bought the private car - which includes a galley, dining room, three bedrooms, a rear-facing lounge and an open rear platform - 10 years ago. Ever since they made the car Amtrak-worthy four years ago, it has been on the rear end of the society's four annual New River Train excursions to Hinton, West Virginia. The Pullman Company built it in 1925 as 12-section/drawing roon sleeper "Thompson."
The owners operate the car on special excursions like the New River Train, but there was a problem.
"We needed to add more bedrooms, McGahee said. "That makes it more cost-effective."
The Budd Co. in Philadelphia built the circus sleeper as 21-roomette car 8267 "Lewistown Inn" for the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1949. It is a mate to the society's own parlor/lounge car "Braddock Inn," which began life as PRR 21-roomette sleeper 8246.
Ringling Brothers reconfigured car 8267 with six en suite apartments, most of them with upper and lower berths, each of them with a two-burner stove, microwave oven, refrigerator and sink, and a bathroom with toilet and shower. A central room was equipped with a washer and dryer.
The society will redo the interior to feature five en suite rooms - "a little larger," McGahee said - with side-by-side single beds or queen-sized beds, each with a toilet and shower.
"It will be just a sleeper," McGahee said. "There will be no cooking because it will always be paired with the 'Dearing'."