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Jessica Wehner of Sarasota peers into the Wisconsin, John and Mabel Ringling's private rail car, at The John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota

See Ringlings' sweet rail car ride

Sarasota Herald Tribune: Friday, January 23, 2009

By Cathy Zollo

More than a century after John Ringling ordered his private train car, the Wisconsin, from the Pullman Company, it is back in Sarasota for good.
The Wisconsin is on display at the Circus Museum on the grounds of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.



• Built by the Pullman Co., it is 65 tons, 79 feet long, 14 feet high and 10 feet wide and cost $11,325.23.

• It was the personal car of John and Mable Ringling from 1905 to 1916.

• The car contains an observation room, three bedrooms, a dining room, a kitchen, a bathroom and servants’ quarters.

• John Ringling sold the Wisconsin to the Norfolk Southern Railway, and it wound up in Morehead City, N.C., where it was used as a fishing lodge by officials with the Atlantic & East Carolina Railway.

• Circus buff Howard C. Tibbals found the car and confirmed it was Ringling’s.

• It was restored by the North Carolina Transportation Museum in 1990 and donated it to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in 2003.


The kitchen aboard the Wisconsin.
The supply list for John and Mable Ringling’s train car in April 1905 included: 4 1/2 pounds of porterhouse steak, $1.13
3 1/2 pounds of bacon, $0.56
14 pounds of ham, $1.54
1/4 peck of apples, $0.15
1 gallon of cream, $0.75
12 splits of Apollinaris Water, $1.08
12 pints Apollinaris Water, $1.32
12 pints Pabst Beer, $0.72
1 quart of rye whiskey, $1.00
SOURCE: John and Mable Ringling Museum

Now parked in the Circus Museum on the grounds of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the 1905 rail car still smells of paint and varnish.

A relic of the splendor that the Ringlings knew, it is open for public viewing beginning today. Visitors can look in on what traveling was like for the Ringlings from a six-foot-high surrounding platform.

Sarasota was one of the more frequents stops during the 11 years that the car was the Ringlings' home on rails. The couple traveled around the country, but mostly they took the train between New York and Sarasota.

"Wouldn't it have been something to have seen this car roll up at Lemon Avenue and stop at the old Seaboard depot?" asked David Duncan, a Pullman car historian from Tennessee, who consulted on the restoration.

The Wisconsin was the 1905 equivalent of a lavishly appointed private jet. Gold leaf designs frame the ceiling, and mahogany inlaid panels line the walls. The car served alternately as an office for John Ringling, a hotel and a place to entertain guests. Outside of railroad owners and officials, Ringling was one of only 11 people in the nation who owned private cars.