DER-1 locomotives handing James E. Strates Shows carnival train. Whiting St. yard, June 1949.
Starting around the 1850s, circuses started to move by rail. Wild West shows followed, and then carnivals. These shows purchased their own rail cars, often of specialized types, and paid the railroads to move them. With its two rail yards, proximity to Hartford, and the sizeable population of New Britain itself, the city was a common place for such shows to visit.
Modeling Show Trains
The basic consist of show trains was flat cars. Two primary types were used in this era, one built by Warren and one by Mt. Vernon, and both have been produced by Walthers. These were unusual cars for the era, being 72' long. These cars were purpose-built to this length since railroads charged to move the train per-car, rather than weight or length.
Aside from the flat cars, there were coaches, usually purchased second-hand from railroads and thus older designs, and stock cars. These were also purpose built 60' or 70' single-sheathed cars, and instantly recognizable (and easy to pick out in photos).
The largest shows were 40-50 cars, with select shows such as Ringling Bros. larger, but in this era a 40-car train is typical. For example, World of Mirth in 1950 consisted of 3 coaches, 2 stock cars, and 35 flat cars. The James E. Strates Shows train was also 40 cars in 1950, with 34 flats and 6 sleepers.
Bob Goldsack reports in World of Mirth...a Remembrance that the 1958 train consisted of 25 Warren flat cars, 6 Mt. Vernon flat cars, 2 flat cars built from old stock cars, 1 stock car, and 2 coaches.
Carnivals and Circuses in New Britain
These are the circuses and carnivals I've been able to confirm in New Britain during this era. Only the largest shows traveled by rail. Shows listed in italics are those that I've confirmed moved via rail.
Coleman Bros. Carnival is a Middletown, CT-based company still in business today.
June 9-14 - Coleman Bros. Carnival (truck)
June 26 - King Bros. Circus (truck)
July 21-26 - Lawrence Greater Shows Carnival (truck)
May 5-8 - Coleman Bros. Carnival (truck)
June 11 - Hunt Bros. Circus (truck)
June 14-19 - John H. Marks Shows Carnival (truck)
June 17 - Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus
June 6-11 - James E. Strates Shows Carnival
July 6-11 - Ross Manning Shows Carnival (truck)
July 18-23 - Coleman Bros. Carnival (truck)
June 19-24 - James E. Strates Shows Carnival
May 21-26 - Coleman Bros. Carnival (truck)
July 2-7 - James E. Strates Shows Carnival
August 16 - King Bros. & Cristiani Combined Circus (truck)
None that I could find in New Britain!
June 30 - Mills Bros. Circus (truck)
July 6-11 O.C. Buck-Model Show Carnival
June 23 - King Bros. Circus (truck)
June 26-31 - Coleman Bros. Carnival (truck)
July 7-12 - James E. Strates Shows Carnival
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
I think this photo is of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus train on June 17, 1956.
It's clearly a show train, and the large number of stock/box cars and the placement of the letter boards leads me to believe it's the Ringling Bros. train. DERS-2c No. 529 was delivered on September 3, 1950. New Britain Station was razed at the end of November, 1956. But that same year was the only year that it would be traveling westbound from New Haven (toward Plainville). This would also be the Ringling Bros. last stand in Plainville.
Ringling Bros. (almost) in New Britain
The 1948 season was the first year the Ringling Bros circus performed in Connecticut following the tragic fire in Hartford on July 6, 1944. Joe Tinty of Plainville apparently convinced Ringling Bros. to return to the state, and used his property for the Plainville stand.
The 1948 route included Bridgeport on June 15-16, Waterbury June 17, and Plainville on June 18, and New London on the 19th. The train would be routed via New Britain and the Berlin Line on the evening of June 18. But the June 17 show was originally scheduled at New Britain but the fire marshal declared the lot unsuitable and it was relocated to Waterbury.
Plainville would be a regular stop after this and following the show the train would usually pass through New Britain:
June 16, 1949 to Wallingford
June 13, 1950 to Springfield
June 16, 1951 to Albany (but from Springfield)
June 26, 1952 to New Haven
Ringling Bros. skipped Connecticut in 1953 and 1954, and visited Bridgeport, New Haven, and New London in 1955.
June 17, 1956 to Willimantic (from New Haven)
Here's a 1953 Ringling Brothers Route Book which includes all routes from 1919-1953.
Here are some videos of Ringling Bros. setting up (no trains):
Here's a video unloading the train at Hartford on July 5, the day before the fire:
James E. Strates Shows Carnival
DER-1 No. 0705 and a second handling James E. Strates Shows carnival train at Whiting St., June 1949.
The James E. Strates carnival is the only show still moved by rail today. Numerous photos of the Strates trains were taken in New Haven territory, including many in New Britain. This is the train I should probably start with if I model one.
Jerry Britton has done an excellent series of posts on the Strates trains. Unfortunately, he starts his research at 1956, just after my era.
During my era it was a 40-car train:
34 Flat cars
In November of 1954, Strates purchased an additional 10 Pullman sleepers for the train.
In 1945 Strates had a fire that destroyed most of their rides and wagons, but not the train. As a result, all of the trailers were new for the 1946 and later show.
O.C. Buck-Model Show Carnival
It's probably not surprising to learn that the show train equipment would frequently change hands over time as shows came and went.
In 1940 Art Lewis converted his show hauled by truck to a railroad show. He owned five flat cars, and purchased an additional 15 Mt. Vernon flat cars, a stock car, a day coach and a regular coach that had previously been used by the Hagenback & Wallace Circus from Ringling Bros. His show was unsuccessful operating over rail and sold the cars to James E. Strates in 1943.
Strates put together a second rail show with J.C. Weir utilizing 17 flats, 2 coaches and a box car for 1944, but it was unprofitable. Strates then helped finance a new show with Dave Endy, who operated the 25-car show from 1945-1950.
In 1952 Strates again decided to send out a second train, and Dave Endy managed the Model Show for Strates. Due in part to labor shortages caused by the Korean War, in 1953 Strates agreed to pool resources with O.C. Buck, creating the O.C. Buck-Model Show, again with Dave Endy. It started the year with 18 flats and two coaches but may have added an additional 5 flats during the season. It appears to have run only in 1953 and 1954, Strates put the train up for sale in 1954. The show reverted to truck transportation.
World of Mirth Carnival
K-1-d No. 404 with World of Mirth train in New Britain. Note flat car in yard.
Kent Cochrane, August 1940.
World of Mirth was a frequent visitor to New Britain, although not in the era I model. Here are the years the carnival visited including the prior and following destination.
1940 - Hartford - New Britain - Boston
1941 - Hartford - New Britain - New Bedford
1955 - New Brunswick - New Britain (a day late) - New London
1956 - Stamford - New Britain - Worcester
1957 - Charlestown - New Britain - Middletown
1958 - New Brunswick - New Britain - East Hartford
1960 - New Brunswick - New Britain - East Hartford
1961 - New Brunswick - Plainville - East Hartford
World of Mirth train at Whiting St. yard, New Britain
Tom McNamara, June 1957.
Trackside with Tom McNamara has a series of photos of the World of Mirth train in June 1956 at Berlin and Newington Junction.