While the 140th edition of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is all about P.T. Barnum and how the train is an integral part of the circus, it's the performers and those supporting them behind the scenes who will bring the tale to life. Hanging out with the ringmaster and his wife, a clown, the train master and the food manager for everyone in the show gives you a sense that even though it's the "Greatest Show on Earth," they're all just family. — Sherry Robinson, Times staff writer
Love under the Big Top
Back in 2000, Johnathan Lee Iverson was in his third year as ringmaster for the circus when a pretty Brazilian circus dancer caught his eye. One night, they went out and he said he wanted to discuss some "serious" matters. The next fall, Iverson made the dancer his bride. Now, two kids later and five years removed from the day-to-day circus travel, Iverson and his wife, Priscilla, are back in the show. In fact, the Iverson kids — 4-year-old Matthew and Lila, 10 months — are traveling with Mom and Dad on the train this year. "Can you believe she just had a baby 10 months ago?" asks Johnathan Iverson, who has resumed his role as ringmaster, referring to his wife. "She looks fantastic. But I do love her body when she's pregnant." Awww, true love.
Benjamin Bolin admits it — he was the class clown. "I was a very good kid," he says about his school years in Oregon. But Bolin adds that he liked to entertain the class. "You just have fun (because) you want to entertain," he said. "Now, I get to do it in a real-life setting." Bolin has been with the circus for three years and is one of 12 clowns on the tour. Just 12? "I know it seems like more," he said, "because we are everywhere."
Bedroom on wheels
The train is sort of a hotel on wheels, with rooms equipped with beds, an AC/heating system, microwave and a sink. The larger rooms have their own bathrooms, while folks in smaller rooms must share those facilities.
That's a lot of pie
Michael Vaughn, food and facility services manager for the Blue Unit, has a big job to feed the performers and their families as they ramble about the country on the train. He is able to do so in his brand-new Pie Car, a sleek diner on wheels that is the first new car built for the train in 25 to 30 years, he said. The Pie Car is equipped to feed up to 350 people at least three meals a day.
The world is their school
Many of the performers bring their kids along, so there is a teacher who travels with the Greatest Show on Earth. Last year, there were more than 20 students in the school, ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade. And they have some awesome field trips. For instance, students might go see a Broadway play in New York, visit the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, or go to the Capitol in Washington.
By the numbers
The circus train is more than a mile long, at 5,490 feet. Despite a common myth, it's actually the largest traveling city without a ZIP code. Wherever the circus tours, the postal service finds it to deliver mail. More numbers:
61: the number of train cars (32 coaches for performers, 19 flatbed cars, four animal stock cars, two generator cars, two concession storage cars, one shop car and one pie car)
90 feet: the length of each car
14: crew members, including mechanics, electricians and porters
16,000: the average number of miles the Blue Unit travels in one year
3: miles the train master walks each day on the train.
And in the center ring . . .
Circusgoers will see nearly 50 animals performing: 12 tigers, 11 Asian elephants, five each of miniature horses, ponies and snakes, four llamas, two each of miniature donkeys and goats, one horse and one dog.