The Circus Comes to Plasticville

by PCA Member Gary Thomson

Like many other baby-boomers, I can remember sitting on my dad's lap and watching the trains going around his Lionel layout in the early fifties. There was the wonderful Santa Fe Warbonnet with all the streamline cars and the old steamer, belching smoke that hauled the fast freight around the tracks. I can also remember the layout at night when the room lights were off and every building on the layout was in its full nighttime display. The village was, of course, Plasticville.

I had not thought of this again until I picked up a copy of the October 1992 issue of Classic Toy Trains at a local train show a few years back. The night shot on pages 54 and 55 triggered memories of my dad's layout, which although much smaller, looked the very same to me.

During that same period I can remember going to the circus with my parents, the only time that I can remember going with them, which left a lasting impression on me as a small child. The color and the constant movement in the three rings and the ringmaster's voice announcing the next acts left me in wonder. This circus, as far as I can determine, was the Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus, which came to Hamilton, Ontario for the last time under tent in 1955. The following year Ringling took its tent off the road for the last time on July 16 after a run in Pittsburgh, PA. When it came out the next year it had become the arena show that we know today.

About twelve years ago, I rediscovered the circus and, in particular, circus modeling. I happened upon a large regional circus model display in St. Thomas, Ontario. There were exhibitors there from all over the Great Lakes area and many of these people shared ideas and experiences with me. I joined the local chapter of the club at once and have been very active ever since. Circus modeling and Plasticville can go hand in hand. This is because the two major circus model makers, Circus Craft and Wardie-Jay, started producing kits in the 1940's just after the war and made O Gauge circus model kits available to the Lionel enthusiast. They also started to produce HO circus model kits. Today circus modelers are split about evenly between O Gauge and HO with other scales coming in a distant third. The original O Gauge kits were meant to go with Lionel just like Plasticville. Seeing both on a layout is my idea of paradise come true.

If anyone would like additional information you can email me or use any of the sources that I have listed below.

Gary Thomson, Secretary-Treasurer, the Martin J. Downs CMB Ring #18

Sources of information:

  • The Circus Model Builders International: This organization has 1450 members and publishes a bi-monthly magazine called the 'Little Circus Wagon'. They have many shows all over North America each year.
  • The Circus Fans Association of America: This organization has over 2000 members and publishes a bi-monthly magazine called the 'White Tops'. Although this is primarily a fan magazine there are historical articles included in most issues and over the last 50 years has become a major resource for historians and modelers alike.
  • The Circus Historical Society: This organization has about 1400 members and publishes a bi-monthly magazine called the 'Bandwagon', which is an excellent source of information for most circuses that have been on the continent since the 1800s. For information contact Mr. David Price, CHS Treasurer, 1954 Old Hickory Blvd., Brentwood, TN 37027-4014.
  • There have been three articles written for O Gauge Railroading magazine that cover circus modeling. One such article was in the June 1992 issue and showed "Diamond Jim" Parker's 32' x 6' layout which included a circus lot, a railroad yard unloading scene and a city section with a circus parade. This would be a nice home for Plasticville. There are also articles in the October [No. 131] and June 1997 [No. 153] issues and these are still available as back issues from the publisher.
  • There are also many sources of circus information on the Internet with more added every day. This includes circus memorabilia and circus model building supplies.

Sources of supplies:

  • Circus Creations Unlimited, 1141 Wylde Green Road, Iowa City, IA 52246 is a full line supplier of everything for the circus modeler in all scales. A hard copy of the catalog is available for $5.00 and you must specify the scale.
  • Star Circus Supplies is a full line dealer located at 3980 Bell Road, Auburn CA 95603. He has a large all-scale catalog available for $4.00.
  • Hall's Hobbies makes all types circus tents in HO and O scales. He also has two dozen wagon kits available in HO. His catalog currently sells for $2.00 and his address is: 312 South Main St., Brewer, ME 04412.
  • Classic Kits have a full line of circus kits in HO and O gauge. Their address is PO Box 262, Kittrell, NC 27544.