Joe Colossa is a fourth generation circus professional who has been involved within the industry throughout various times of his life. A few times Joe worked other occupations such as rodeos, carnivals and even had his own small circus at one point. But, something about the magic of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey drew Colossa to the biggest of big tops like a moth to a flame. “I’ve been with Ringling for 12 years and two and-a-half years ago was promoted to be Ringling’s Assistant Trainmaster due to my management skills. I am also a circus train fan and I love it (living on the train),” Colossa said.
To say the position of Assistant Trainmaster is quite a broad one in terms of duties would be an understatement. A few of Colossa’s many important responsibilities are, “Working with railroad crews who provide our leased engines, overseeing the trains four mechanics, the 350 workers and performers on the train and the transportation of 49 wagons, trucks and trailers. 19 of the Ringling coaches hold flat cars which are used to haul equipment from the train to the circus site and back again,” Colossa said. “The way we load and unload is by hauling everything off the train via our ramp, that is the way circuses have moved their equipment on and off the train since 1872. In the beginning horses were used to pull wagons on and off the train, later elephants took their place.” Today, everything is motorized and, “All you have to do is drive up and down the ramps.”
To haul such massive amounts of equipment, animals, food and everything needed for a proper circus requires 61 coaches, (cars) which is just over a mile long and weighs 4,500 tons when it’s fully loaded. Colossa and his crew ensure the train is always fully inspected before departures and after arrivals. There are so many mechanisims which need to be checked on a daily basis such as the safety of each 87’ x 10’ car. Each coach is equipped with their own individual braking systems, and the trains 36” wheels, “Require a 120 ton crane to help lift the coaches and change the wheels,” Colossa explained.
To be able to care for the locomotive and all on-board requires that everyone, besides the four onboard mechanics pitch in whenever and wherever needed. “We are a big family and are all from different cultures,” Joe said. “When we are on tour we head to 90 cities and travel 50,000 miles in two years,” he added.
Living on the train is like living within a traveling city surrounded by extended family. Colossa loves the ‘village’ environment so much that he is even raising his own children on board the Ringling train. “My kids not only live on the train with me, they attend our onboard fully accredited schools and nurseries.” Another exciting aspect of train living is, “Instead of my kids reading about monuments around the country, they actually get to visit them because we travel everywhere.” Colossa exclaimed. The children also get plenty of exercise and the opportunity to learn different skills such as juggling, ballet and acrobatics.
One of Colossa’s extended circus family members is the train’s Head Porter, “Mamma T” Graham. “Mamma T” has been with Ringling for 27 years and she enjoys taking care of the people and families on the train. She especially enjoys the opportunities to assist her circus family including Colossa. “Joe is awesome and he definitely gets his hands dirty to get the job done,” “Mamma T” said. When it comes to taking care of a mile long train, there is no such thing as a one-person job and that is why Colossa says he loves being a part of his circus family.
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus will be performing at Dallas’ American Airlines Center until August 7th and will then run at Ft. Worth’s Convention Center August 10-14.