The Wisconsin Rail Car Conservation
Built in 1905, the Wisconsin was John Ringling’s private rail car, which carried he and Mable around the country and back and forth between their homes in New York and Sarasota, Florida. At 79 feet long, the car contains full sleeping compartments, kitchen, bathrooms and servant’s quarters. Much of the rail car’s interiors including inlaid mahogany, ornate moldings and stained glass are original. The railroads played a large role in shaping the United States as well as the history of Florida. At that time, the private rail car was equivalent to today’s private jet – more than a means of transportation; it symbolized the wealth and stature of its owner.
Courtesy Pullman Company Archives, The Newberry Library, Chicago
This rail car was chosen for its historical relevance, condition, restoration value and availability. The restored Wisconsin
rail car is the result of a four-year, $400,000 federal grant awarded in November 2002 by Florida Department of Transportation. Much of the exterior restoration work has been completed by the Edwards Rail Company in Montgomery, Alabama. The car will be trucked to Sarasota, where it will be placed on rails outside the Circus Museum and brought into the Circus Museum. Willis Smith Construction, Sarasota, Fla., will oversee the lift and placement of the car.
Additional work, including the stenciling and gilding of the interior ceilings and restoration of the decorative art glass, will be completed at the Museum during the next several months. Howard Tibbals, a philanthropist and circus enthusiast, has generously provided additional funds to continue and complete the restoration. In early September, the Wisconsin’s exterior will be on display to Museum visitors while interior restoration work is being performed. The official opening of the Wisconsin is targeted for January 2009.
The restored railcar and its associated exhibitions will enable the museum to illustrate aspects of the railroad’s enormous impact on American history and culture.
The Wisconsin railcar project is funded in part by the Federal Transportation Authority and the Transportation Enhancement Program administered by the Florida Department of Transportation. The rail car sits on original railroad track donated by Sarasota County Parks and Recreation, which they were able to provide due to the Rails to Trails project. The rails were laid by volunteers from the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish, Fla.