On the rails, Mr. Vaughn revisits his roots from time to time to prepare “smothered chicken, dirty rice and fried catfish,” he said.
The Pie Car — toward the center of the gleaming silver train with its red and white Ringling logos — has but 32 seats (many performers take their meals back to their train cabins to prevent circuslock).
Space is at a premium in the narrow 9-foot, 3-inch-wide car. All supply bins must be latched to keep them from springing open on the rails; the maroon-and-gray walls and furnishings are flame-proofed.
The new show, the Blue Unit — one of Ringling’s two railroad shows that crisscross the country — will visit 78 cities in its two-year run; of its 61 cars, 36 are coaches housing performers and crew. The rest are flatcars for the show’s props, costumes and rigging, and stock cars for the circus animals.
If the kitchen serves the 350 human members of the circus contingent, it’s up to the animal trainers to supply food to the show’s 10 Asian elephants, 12 tigers, five ponies, four llamas, two goats and five snakes (crosses between pythons and diamondbacks).
But when supplies have depleted on the road, “we’ve baked bread for the elephants,” Mr. Vaughn said, and — when a visitor expressed surprise about this dietary staple, he added: “Yes, bread. They eat a whole lot.” And once, when a meat purveyor failed to make a delivery, the Pie Car larder provided meat for the tigers.
As the lunch wound down, Mr. Vaughn sought out a visitor to clarify the whole decaf thing. “We’ll do it on order,” he said. “But there would be a riot on the train if we served that all the time.”
FROM THE MARCH 4th NEW YORK TIMES