This Circus Magnate Had Big Plans for a Montana Tourism Railway
As discussions, meetings, and feasibility studies continue to circulate regarding the proposal to create a new passenger rail service across the southern portion of Montana, I thought I would share with you a different story about trains in the Treasure State. This true tale involves a circus tycoon, a tiny town, and grand plans to build a passenger train that would run from Glacier National Park to Yellowstone National Park.
John N. Ringling.
You've probably heard of the Ringling Brothers Circus (later known as the Ringling Brothers & Barnum Bailey Circus after the two merged). Founded by John N. Ringling with five of his seven brothers, the poor farm kid from Iowa eventually amassed a fortune in show business thanks in part to his idea to use trains to transport their traveling circus around the country instead of wagons. No doubt, his familiarity with the railroad industry inspired his grand plan for a North/South train route between two of the nation's greatest national parks.
The quiet town of Ringling still exists, barely.
John Ringling had properties all over the country, including land in what is now known as the little town of Ringling, MT that he and his wife purchased sometime around 1910. It was here that Ringling had big plans to build his railroad from GNP to Yellowstone. He was the primary financier behind the project. Unfortunately, construction on the railroad line fizzled out, for reasons not completely clear. Only twenty-three miles of track were completed.
Next time you're driving by on US Hwy 89, take a break in Ringling.
When I was a teenager growing up in the Belgrade area, we would take our Jeeps and other trial rigs over the Bridgers and pop out in Ringling. The Ringling Bar and a post office are pretty much the only businesses that continue to operate in the small unincorporated community. The old church on the hill by the highway is a popular spot for photographers. The burgers at the Ringling Bar are pretty awesome too.