News & Reviews News Wire Coming attraction: James E. Strates Shows carnival train set to roll again

Coming attraction: James E. Strates Shows carnival train set to roll again

By Bill Stephens | June 20, 2024

| Last updated on June 21, 2024

Thanks to a deal with CSX, the train will deliver midway equipment to the Erie County Fair in western New York with a special move over short line Buffalo Southern

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On May 3, 2016, The James E. Strates Shows train P-922 rolls eastbound on CSX’s Philadelphia Subdivision in Elk Mills, Md. Michael S. Murray

ORLANDO, Fla. — The James E. Strates Shows carnival train will return to the rails this summer for the first time since 2019.

The train — the last of its kind — was sidelined by the pandemic. Strates shifted its traveling midway show entirely to trucks as fairs gradually reopened. This year Strates officials had been unable to reach a deal with CSX to resume operation of a dedicated train on its traditional route up and down the East Coast, which dates to 1934.

But now CSX will haul the Strates equipment from its winter base in Taft, Fla., to Buffalo, N.Y., in regular merchandise service. And then it will make a special move over short line Buffalo Southern to the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, N.Y.

“We have worked extremely hard with all of our railroad partners to make this summer’s run possible,” Jimmy Strates, director of operations, said in a statement released on Wednesday. “Our carnival train is a beloved aspect of Americana that deserves to be celebrated. We are immensely proud of our railroad heritage as part of our overall outdoor amusement business operations.”

The fair train’s revival is timed to coincide with a Strates milestone: It’s the centennial of its partnership with the Erie County Fair, which Strates says is considered to be the longest continuous run of any carnival midway in the U.S. The partnership with the Erie County Agricultural Society began in 1924, and over the years crowds have gathered to cheer the arrival of the James E. Strates train and its midway attractions that include rides, games, tents, and other equipment.

Strates says the fair will announce the date and other details on the carnival train move in the coming weeks. The fair opens on Aug. 7 and runs through Aug. 18.

On July 31, 2019, the last James E. Strates Erie County Fair train is southbound from the Buffalo Southern Railroad Tifft Street Yard in Buffalo, N.Y. The train is en route to Hamburg, N.Y. Jackson Glozer

“The train is invaluable to Strates Shows heritage and brand,” spokesman Marty Biniasz says. “It means so much to our fair partners and to the generations of fairgoers who have waited by the train tracks to see the carnival come to town.”

CSX says it’s pleased to reach an agreement to handle the James E. Strates Shows equipment.

“We recognize the carnival train’s unique history and our operations team worked hard to provide a cost-effective solution to meet their transportation needs. We look forward to ensuring that the Strates carnival train equipment reaches its final destination safely and reliably,” railroad spokeswoman Sheriee Bowman says.

The James E. Strates flatcars, shown at the company’s headquarters in Taft, Fla., have been painted orange, a color used on the fair train in the 1960s and 1970s. James E. Strates Shows

To prepare for the trip, Strates is currently giving its flatcars a mechanical overhaul — and painting them orange in a salute to liveries the company used in the 1960s and 1970s. Retired show painter Jack McKissock, who has painted murals and ride panels for Strates for nearly 40 years, is hand-lettering each car and adding artistic touches to the equipment. One of Strates’ oldest cars, a circus-style Warren Car Co. flat car used as a ramp car, now wears a fresh coat of blue paint with bright yellow ramps.

Strates had put its entire rail fleet up for sale. But now it intends to keep a portion of the equipment for future use.

To commemorate the return of the fair train, Strates has partnered with Atlas Model Railroad Co. on O-scale models depicting trains from two different eras. For more information, see the Atlas website and sign up for its email list.

Greek immigrant James E. Strates founded the company in 1923 as Southern Tier Shows in Elmira, N.Y. The company is now led by the third generation of the Strates family.

The James E. Strates ramp car has been painted blue with yellow ramps. James E. Strates Shows

5 thoughts on “Coming attraction: James E. Strates Shows carnival train set to roll again

  1. When I moved to n.e. PA for my E-L Rwy telecom job, (by then Conrail), my new next door neighbor was a track supervisor for the D&H. When Barnum & Bailey visited nearby Binghamton, NY, he and his crew were assigned to clean up all the elephant poop upon B&B’s departure from the D&H yard facility.

    1. Were you in NEPA in1972 when Agnes flooded Wilkes-Barre? The old Strates train was there. EL people took the Strates people to Susquehanna PA passenger car shop where EL’s through line passenger cars were stored.

      Strates needed cars and EL had them.

    2. Hello Philip, no I wasn’t. I hired on with E-L Rwy in 10-68 at Hoboken, NJ as a RR cop for 20 months until an opening came up in the telecom dept., for which I was schooled for. I finally bidded the Susquehanna, PA telecom job in 8/77 until I took a Conrail Title 5 buyout in late 1981, and then worked for Walter Rich’s D-O, NYSW for the 1982 calendar year as a signal supv. After that, I was hired by SPRR (UPRR after 11-96) telecom as a MW/VHF/UHF tech in 1984 headquartering in southern NM until 2010 retirement.

  2. Fantastic, yet one has to think how far up this went at CSX when they decided the Trains story was bad publicity and did a quick u-turn.

    1. It was a real “circus”! The lawyers had to assure the CSX execs that the movement via CSX consisted only of empty flats for interchange to the short line. No people or animals were involved so no uproar from third parties. And no trainmasters from Barnum & Bailey were needed to pilot the CSX movement.

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