Erie-Lackawanna group adds circus cars to collection
By DAVID SINGLTON, The (Scranton) Times-Tribune
Jun. 21, 2017
SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) — A little piece of the Greatest Show on Earth will find a permanent home in Scranton.
The Erie Lackawanna Dining Car Preservation Society, a Dunmore-based rail heritage group with about 350 members nationwide, has acquired three cars from the former Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus train and will add them to its collection.
The society is "excited and grateful" to have the opportunity to preserve the cars, said Neil Finch, the organization's vice president for communications.
Two sleeper cars that were part of the circus's "Blue Unit" rolled into the city Sunday and are parked temporarily behind the Radisson at Lackawanna Station hotel.
The third car, known as a large animal car but basically "one of the elephant cars," left Florida on Friday and should arrive in the city within a couple of weeks, Finch said.
All three circus cars eventually will be relocated to the society's storage area in South Scranton.
Owner Feld Entertainment announced in January it was closing the iconic circus after 146 years of operation, citing flagging attendance and high operating costs. The circus, which performed at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre Twp., gave its final show May 21 at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island.
Finch said he could not go into the details of the Erie Lackawanna group's agreement with Feld Entertainment to acquire the cars. A donor who is a member of the organization paid to have them transported from Florida, he said.
Although the acquisitions are neither dining cars nor associated with the Erie Lackawanna Railway, the circus cars will support the society's objective of interpreting the golden age of long-distance rail travel for people who may have no memory of the Erie Lackawanna or may not even know what a dining car was, Finch said.
"There are a lot of people who have been exposed to the circus cars because of the circus, obviously, but now they will be exposed to our group. ... It opens up ways to complete our mission," he said. "So it's a win-win. Fans of the circus get to see the cars be preserved and at the same time we are able to carry our message to a new generation."
The sleeper cars also will answer a more utilitarian need.
Since 2015, the preservation society has partnered with Keystone Iron Works, sponsor of the Arts on Fire Festival at the Scranton Iron Furnaces, by housing visiting artisans and students at the annual event on its Pullman sleeper car, the City of Lima.
In 2018, Arts on Fire will coincide with the eighth annual International Conference on Contemporary Cast Iron Art, which will be held in Scranton from May 28 to June 2, and attract artists from around the world.
"We just needed more room at the inn," Finch said.
The two cars will add 36 beds along with showers and restroom facilities to the accommodations the society can offer during the conference, he said.
The sleepers would have accommodated performers, concessionaires or members of the stage or maintenance crews as the circus traveled from town to town. One car apparently was used by the stage crew, Finch said, because society members found a stage manager's signature on the inside of a door along with, "Thanks for everything."
The cars require some minor housekeeping but should be ready for use on the group's excursions within weeks, he said.
"They're actually in great shape inside," Finch said. "It's just a matter of making sure we familiarize ourselves with the mechanical systems and the nuances of the cars. On the outside, they look like older passenger cars, but on the inside, it's much more like a modern hotel than a 1950s sleeping car."
Information from: The Times-Tribune, http://thetimes-tribune.com/