Luxury on Wheels

Riding the Rails of History with John Ringling's Wisconsin

The private rail car, restored to its former glory, is a popular sight at the Circus Museum.

By Isabel Lower July 10, 2017

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Inside the restored luxury rail car, the Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin was John Ringling's private rail car.  Built in 1896 by the Pullman Car Company, it was refurbished at John Ringling's request in 1905. For the next 11 years, John Ringling conducted the business of the circus aboard the Wisconsin. As the advance man, he would often arrive first in a city before the big show, but the car was also frequently joined with the circus train.

The Ringlings also took vacations aboard the car to Utah and Yellowstone National Park, as well as Sarasota when they bought their property here in 1911. Like a luxury yacht, a luxury rail car had its own set of monogrammed table and glassware, of which the museum has only a single glass.

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All aboard!


Weighing in at 65 tons, the Wisconsin is a wooden rail car, outlawed by the city of New York because of the fire hazard they posed entering the city's tunnels; as the Ringlings were spending more time in their New York apartment, they sold the Wisconsin in 1916.

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Historic photo of the Wisconsin.


The Wisconsin changed owners and names over the rest of the 20th century, finally coming to rest on the side of a lake in North Carolina where the Atlantic and East Carolina Railway Corporation used it as a fishing cabin for its employees. In 2003 it was given to The Ringling by the N.C. Transportation Museum, where it underwent significant restoration to uncover the original paint, gold plating, and beautiful stained glass windows.


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The living was easy aboard the plush rail car for John and Mable Ringling.


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