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The Crash at Crush-The Staged Train Wreck of 1896

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The Two Locomotives Greet One Another

The Two Locomotives Greet One Another

Just recently, I was telling a few fellow hubbers about how much pride I take in showing people places they were unaware of even though they may have lived near them all their lives. One such place is in central Texas just north of Waco. A Texas Historical marker stands proudly at this location telling a brief tale of a great train wreck in 1896.

A long-time friend of mine, Brian Burns, has written a song about the event. Brian is an incredibly talented singer/songwriter and teaches junior high students about Texas history through his music.

I want to share the story of The Crash at Crush with you.

A Man Named Crush

William "Bill" George Crush was a passenger agent for the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway Company in the late 1800s. Around central Texas, the MKT railway is simply known as "Katy" Railroad. Having been associated with P.T. Barnum, Crush was very much a promotional kind of guy.

One day, Mr. Crush had witnessed a train wreck and was fascinated with how people reacted to it. It was a great lesson in human behavior. He noticed that people came from all around to see it. He wondered if he could somehow use this information to promote MKT.

He convinced his superiors that staging an actual train wreck would be a grand event attracting thousands of people. Two identical 4-4-0 American locomotives weighing 35 tons each were painted and polished. Old No. 999 was painted bright green with red trim, while Old No. 1001 was painted bright red with green trim. (Makes me wonder about Old No. 1000.) There were seven boxcars accompanying each locomotive. Two were promoting the Oriental Hotel in Dallas and two were promoting Ringling Brothers Circus. He spent months promoting the event handing out flyers all along the MKT route. The MKT was offering roundtrip transportation for no more than $2 from anywhere they traveled.

About the Two Locomotives

Old No. 999 was painted bright green with red trim and engineered by C.E. Stanton with firing by Frank Barnes

Old No. 1001 was painted bright red with green trim and engineered by Charles Cain with firing by S.M. Dickerson

The Town Called Crush

A location along the MKT railroad was chosen just north of Waco, Texas. It was chosen because the tracks ran through an area where both sides sloped to the middle making it a natural amphitheater suitable for positioning spectators to watch.

A fake set of tracks were contructed on the site that allowed enough room for both locomotives to back up and allow enough space for them to reach a good speed. They practiced these runs for several weeks in advance.

On the day of the event, lots of tents had been erected at the site, including some Ringling Brothers circus tents. One tent would serve as a restaurant. Another wooden structure was built to serve as a make-shift jail. A 2100 ft platform was set up to try to position the crowd for better viewing. Since it can still be quite hot in central Texas in mid September, 8 tank cars filled with water were on site.

This site purely constructed by the Katy railroad for this one-time event was christened Crush, Texas-"City for a Day". Two hundred constables and/or sheriff's deputies were employed to manage the crowds. Those who witnessed the event estimate that that between 40-50,000 attended the free event.

Now, The Crash at Crush

It took almost an hour for the excited crowd to be ushered into position. Mr. Crush, riding on a borrowed white horse, raised his arms with a white hat in his hands dropping it to the ground to signal the start. The crowd roared.

The two locomotives, spewing thick blake smoke, raced towards each other with the crowds watching in anticipation. With the throttles tied open as rehearsed, both engineers and firemen jumped to safety and bowed to the crowd. Explosives were placed along the track to liven up the event.

The two locomotives are now racing towards each other at a combined speed of around 100 miles an hour. With both locomotives on a single piece of track, their crash is undeniably about to happen right before their eyes. There is no turning back now.

Suddenly, it happens. The two monsters claw at each other and the box cars begin to climb each other to the sky. A split second after the crash there is another deafening roar as the boilers burst sending thousands of hot chunks of metal flying into the crowd.

In the front row, photographer J.C. Deane whirls around, his face bloody, one eye gouged out, a bolt and washer buried in his head. Louis Bergstrom, another member of the photography team is knocked unconscious by a plank.

A boy, identified as Ernest Darnall, son of Col. Darnall of Bremond, was sitting in a tree is killed instantly by a heavy hook on the end of wrecking chain that caught him between the eyes and split his skull. DeWitt Barnes of Hewitt standing between his wife and another woman is struck and killed by a flying fragment while neither of the women is injured.

Many others are burned by steam and flying hot metal. A Confederate soldier at the event said it was like a Civil War battle with people falling all around him.

The concussion caused by the explosion caused even 1 ton trucks to be turned end over end for three hundred yards. It was a chaotic scene.

After the initial shock wore off the crowd, thousands began pouring over the ruins for souvenirs of the day's events. Of course, some forgot that the fragments were still hot and more than a few fingers were burned.

Crash at Crush


The Firing and Rehiring of Crush

Ironically, the event actually accomplished its purpose. The news of the "Crash at Crush" made headlines around the world within hours. The Katy Railroad flourished. Mr. Crush was hired back almost immediately and the word "Katy" was well known.

Those who missed the big event regretted their failure to attend.

Can you imagine something like that today?

Lyrics to "The Crash at Crush" by Brian Burns

The Crash At Crush

Brian Burns - © 2001 - Brian Burns Music (BMI)

In the year of 1896, when the Katy railroad was king,

and the fruits of farm and industry were carried by steel and steam,

the town of Crush was christened for a day, and folks came from far and wide

to gather there in the sweltering heat and watch two trains collide.

Two locomotives, breathing steam, sat face-to-face on the track,

then slowly their wheels began to turn as the engineers throttled them back.

Both climbed a grade leaving two miles between, on the hills they drew to a hush,

and forty-thousand people waited down below to witness the crash at Crush.

Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, wheels a-rumblin' on the railroad track,

once they go they can't turn back, once they go they can't turn back.

He locked the lever back to the second notch just after the signal came,

he stayed on board for sixteen exhausts, and then he jumped off of the train.

The young engineer watched her roar down the hill and a chill ran through his soul,

for he knew that neither man nor God above could stop what would now unfold.

The engines met in a thunderous crash and climbed each other toward the sky,

the impact rattled the earth for miles around, and the twisted wreckage did fly.

In a moment more the boilers exploded, and the steam blocked out the sun,

some lost their lives while others lie bleeding, and the rest of them could only run

Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, wheels a-rumblin' on the railroad track,

once they go they can't turn back, once they go they can't turn back.

In a cotton field near Waco, Texas between two peaceful hills

a sign reminds us to hold respect for the power of the beasts we build,

and you and I in our lifetimes will never get to feel such a rush

as the people who saw and lived to tell of the awesome crash at Crush.

Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, wheels a-rumblin' on the railroad track,

once they go they can't turn back, once they go they can't turn back.

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