HIDDEN HISTORY: Remnants of ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ are hidden in the woods of one county


SPRING HOPE, N.C. (WNCN) — Remnants of “The Greatest Show on Earth” are hidden in the woods in Nash County.

Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus train cars that once toured the country are now parked on an unused rail line just outside of Spring Hope.​

“These were dormitory cars for all of the staff of the circus,” said NCDOT Rail Director Jason Orthner. “They were built in the 1960s.”​

The North Carolina Department of Transportation purchased nine of them for $383,000 when the circus closed in 2017. ​

“We don’t have the space at our active yard to hold all nine cars,” Orthner said of why they’ve been sitting there for so long. “So this was the best alternative.”​

Giant eye-catching tigers, elephants, and gorillas are still painted on the side. Orthner tells CBS 17 the original plan was to add the historic rail cars to the fleet that travels to Charlotte. ​

He added, “At the same time we were considering refurbishing those cars, we were awarded a federal grant to purchase new cars.”​

The $77 million federal grant is enough to buy at least 13 new rail cars. Orthner says refurbishing the old circus ones will cost $3.5 million dollars apiece. For now, they’ll stay hidden until at least the end of this year.

The NCDOT is working on a study to determine the best way to spend the grant money. ​

“At this time we are evaluating our options as we look at the new cars, what we’re going to do with the older cars that we bought.”

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