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The Mystery Of The Sixth Car

By Dr. G. A. Robinson, Standard Gauge Association

It is always a rainy night when I rush up the stairs at 221b Baker Street and stand in the presence of the great Sherlock Holmes. Even before I can introduce myself, he speaks:

“Good evening, doctor. Dr. Watson and I were expecting you. Before you speak I say by your stride up the stairs you are an American; your hands tell me you are a dentist, and that wild gleam in your eye tells me you are an ardent collector of model trains and a particular lover of IVES trains, save for the fact that you hold a slight grudge against that company for using the names ‘Yale’ and ‘Harvard’ on their college cars instead of that of your own alma mater, ‘McGill.’”

“Amazing, Holmes!” cries his companion.

“Elementary, my dear Watson. And now, doctor, what is your particular problem tonight?”

“Mr. Holmes, I am desperate. Help me solve the mystery of the ‘sixth car’ in the IVES Railway Circus Set!”

A shadow crosses the face of the great detective. “I am sorry, doctor. If it were a little matter like squaring the circle I’d be your man, but I fear there are some things that may prove to be beyond the powers even of Sherlock Holmes!”

* * *

This is the dream that haunts my sleeping hours; the great un-resolved, unsolved MYSTERY OF THE SIXTH CAR in the famous IVES standard gauge circus train of 1928-1930. It is, to me, one of the most intriguing, yet baffling problems of collecting.

Probably every collector is familiar with the wonderful IVES circus train, through the listings and illustrations in the catalogs and the picture on page 139 of the book, “Messrs. IVES of Bridgeport.” It is one of the most attractive, interesting, and desirable of all items, and, also, one of the scarcest. As cataloged and pictured by IVES, the outfit consisted of an 1134 steam type locomotive and tender, three flat cars, each bearing two cage or ticket wagons, a box car, a cattle car, and THE SIXTH CAR, shown in barest outline as a passenger coach and described as a “performers’” car. In addition there was a cloth tent, animals, scenic circus backgrounds, and other minor units.

I know of three substantially complete circus trains, as well as several odd cars. All of these units are painted a special circus yellow and rubber stamped “the IVES Railway Circus.” The flat cars are not, as a matter of fact, ordinary No. 196 flats, but have special transverse ridges to keep the wagons from rolling off when the train is in motion, and carry the number 196C. All three of the above mentioned sets consist of the three flat cars, boxcar, and cattle car. None have the SIXTH CAR, the Pullman, and I have never seen a Pullman, presumably an IVES No. 185, in circus yellow, or rubber stamped as part of the circus set! (I say No. 185 because the roof outline in the catalog illustrations shows a roof with five vent embossings.)

A fourth circus set I know of has been repainted, in a sort of barber-pole stripe pattern totally unlike the original. This set does include a No. 185, similarly repainted, but there is nothing to indicate that this SIXTH CAR originally came with a circus set. There is still a fifth set, not actually an IVES circus set as such, which consists of eight or nine cars, mostly 1930 models, including four regular 1930 No. 196 flat cars painted orange and without ridges but with cage wagons, and two of the ordinary 1930 orange and black No. 185’s. This set was possibly just put together from odds and ends left at the IVES factory in 1930, more probably from broken stock by the store that sold it.

Now the mystery deepens. The circus is shown in black and white in the 1928 and 1929 IVES catalogs and in the 1930 folder.

However, it is shown in full color in the 8-page 1929 color folder (both types) and in the 1930 catalog (both types.) Yet in both color illustrations (a new drawing was used in 1930) everything is shown in color except the “performers’” car, which is rendered simply as a while outline. Was this an accidental omission in the 1929 illustration, repeated in error in the 1930 drawing? Or is it possible that the SIXTH CAR actually was omitted from the set? This is contradicted by the fact that the “performers’” car is specifically mentioned in every catalog description of the circus set.

Some have suggested that the passenger car included was probably a regularly colored Pullman drawn from regular stock, and that in the course of operation and sets changing hands, the Pullman became “divorced” from the sets, not being specifically identified as circus cars, and were used in regular passenger service. On the other hand, because of the lack of color on the Pullman in the 1929 and 1930 colored illustrations, some have made the far-fetched suggestion that the circus Pullman actually was painted white.

I can’t accept the latter theory at all, which no doubt stems from the fact that IVES did make some all-white passenger trains earlier in the 1920’s. Neither do I agree with those who think an ordinary Pullman was used, or that the Pullman actually was never included in a 1070 or 1070R circus set. As a matter of interest, the circus was the only IVES standard gauge set which did not change number between 1928 and 1930. I do believe it is possible that since a single odd yellow-colored Pullman looked out of place when used as a part of a full passenger train, some may have unfortunately been repainted by owners in the 1930’s thereby destroying the value of an extremely rare car.

There were, it seems, changes in the composition of the circus train, or variations made that were not cataloged. The first set to turn up in a collection, about twenty years ago, and the only one complete with the tent, was hauled by a 1928 model 3245R electric type instead of the 1134. Almost all of the big IVES standard gauge trains were cataloged in 1928 optionally with 3243, 3245, or 1134 locomotives. Some circus sets might have been boxed by the factory with the 3245 or 3245R locomotives, or this might have been a substitution by the store where it was sold. This particular set, incidentally, came from the west coast, where the St. Paul type electric locomotives seem always to have been especially popular.

It is pure supposition but I, personally, believe there was a special No. 185 circus “performers’” car. I believe it was painted IVES circus yellow, possibly with a red roof to match the usual roof color of the circus box and cattle car. I believe the circus No. 185 may have had brass nameplates, or it may have used an older, flat-sided body. In either case, however, I fell certain it was specially rubber-stamped as a part of “The IVES Railway Circus.” I still believe in this car, and I am still looking for it, as contrasted to some of those will o’the wisps which were cataloged but which we know were never made, for example: the 4-4-0 No. 1129, and the No. 167 9-1/2” 0 gauge caboose. Does any reader have, or has any reader ever seen to his positive recollection, a yellow IVES circus “performers’” Pullman – the elusive SIXTH CAR?

COPYRIGHT 1958 by the STANDARD GAUGE ASSOCIATION. All rights reserved.

Publisher’s note: this article was transcribed in its entirety from a copy of the Spring 1958 Standard Gauge Association Journal. We acknowledge the 1958 copyright on this material and reproduce it here based upon the assumption that, since the SGA Journal ceased publication approximately 45 years ago, the original copyright was not renewed and therefore this material has passed into the public domain. We also believe that the use of this material here is a “fair use” of an original printed article, since this web site is a not-for profit, educational, and archival endeavor. In this connection we have reprinted the original copyright information at the end of the article.

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