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The Crash at Crush-The Staged Train Wreck of 1896

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.


KRC (author) from Central Texas on February 07, 2011:

Hippichik, that museum in West used to sell a collection of postcards from the Crash at Crush. A bought a set and framed them for a friend of mine that loved this story as well. Not sure if they still sell them though. It's the next best thing to a poster.

I once found a book about the Crash at Crush on eBay, but I was outbid by a lot. The book is no longer in print. I'm still hopeful that I will run across it someday.

Hippichik on February 07, 2011:

I love this texas history. My son is a huge train fanatic and we went to West Texas to the museum and historical marker where it happened. We travel alot which its not far from us anyways, but we try to see all the train history we can. This is a favorite, i wish i could get a poster of the train for my sons room! Being me i wish i could walk to the area it happened but its someones land, who knows u could find some artifacts. I know im babbling but just wanted to say its very interesting!!

KRC (author) from Central Texas on August 13, 2010:

I'm glad you enjoyed it Mquee! I agree that there's just something about the locals telling the story of some bit of history you just don't see everyday that is like finding a bit of treasure. I have about a dozen similar stories brewing. Hope to get them completed soon!

mquee from Columbia, SC on August 13, 2010:

Great story that was interesting as well as entertaining. This is the type of local history that we often miss out on until writers like you tell us about it. I imagine that there are countless stories of interest out there that would be great to hear. Thanks for sharing.

KRC (author) from Central Texas on September 07, 2009:

Wow, glad to meet you Robert! I am honored you stopped by. I hope your nieces and nephews enjoy it. It's pretty cool to be related to someone who played a big part in locomotive history. Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment.

Robert Crush (url is for my brothers vineyard) on September 07, 2009:

My name is Robert Crush. My great-great grandfather was Bill Crush. Thanks for this site. I'm going to show it to my young niece and nephews later today. Cheerio!

p.s. scott joplin wrote a song about it:


KRC (author) from Central Texas on April 03, 2009:

You're everywhere, Christoph!

Christoph Reilly from St. Louis on April 03, 2009:

Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah....

Laughing Mom on April 03, 2009:

Sure why not? The kids are on dinner duty. Sleepover tonight, so it's this or a book in the tub.

KRC (author) from Central Texas on April 03, 2009:

Was it really, CC? That would explain why I had a surge in hits this week. I wondered why. Wish I had seen it. It's an event very near and dear to my heart. Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you LM....You seriously don't intend to visit 93 times tonight, do you? LOL

Laughing Mom on April 03, 2009:

Hi CC. Hi KCC. 93 to go.

C. C. Riter on April 03, 2009:

How's I miss this? I just saw this on TV the other day on history channel I think. what a shame. well written too, enjoyed it

LondonGirl from London on February 16, 2009:

It's a bit like that everywhere, I think!

KRC (author) from Central Texas on February 15, 2009:

Oh wow.....that's good to know LG! The system needs some improvements on our end. We had an easier time than most, but it was still stressful, time-consuming, and costly. We joked that we now know why so many do it illegally.

LondonGirl from London on February 15, 2009:

Fair enough, the immigration aspects rather spring to my mind as that's my area of law (-:

Unlike, as I understand it, the USA, adult children of British citizens have no easy path to entry clearance under the Immigration Rules. Under 18, it's much easier.

KRC (author) from Central Texas on February 15, 2009:

Great info LG. She go to school here and I'll just come visit her. LOL

Yeah, I haven't looked at all of the in's and out's of us doing the 6 mon here/6 mon there thing simply because it's 2 years away and a lot could change between now and then.

LondonGirl from London on February 15, 2009:

In order to get local fees, she would need to reside here for 3 years before attending, otherwise she'd have to pay international student fees, which is more expensive.

In immigration terms, it's very difficult to get entry to the UK as a relative once she is 18 or over. Then, she'd have to get a student visa instead, rather than live here on a family-related visa to study and stay here afterwards.

KRC (author) from Central Texas on February 15, 2009:

It's on the list. We've really talked about trying to live in England for 6 months out of the year and live here 6 months out of the year. My daughter graduates from high school here in 2011. She wants to become an interior designer. We thought it would be cool if she could move to England with us and actually attend college/university there. But, if she doesn't, then that's another reason I'd want to spend at least some of the time here. I think I would have an incredible time adjusting to the weather there. I've lived in Texas all my life and I hate the cold and damp.

LondonGirl from London on February 15, 2009:

You definintely should, Kent is beautiful and stuffed full of wonderful things, such as Canterbury Cathedral, Leeds, Deal and Dover castles, Sissinghurst Gardens, Romeny Marsh, towns like Rye, Tenterden, and Winchelsea, and medieval villages such as Appledore, Smarden, and Biddenden

KRC (author) from Central Texas on February 15, 2009:

No, I'd like to go there as well. My husband was born there. We have talked about going there.

LondonGirl from London on February 15, 2009:

Isaac adores the Eye, he calls it "the big lift" (as opposed to the "little lift" in our block of flats).

The Isle of Wight brings back good memories for me. I went there on a school trip in my last year of primary school, aged 10, and went on sailing holidays there with my school several times as a teenager.

Have you been to Kent?

KRC (author) from Central Texas on February 15, 2009:

Oh yeah, I want to ride the London Eye, I want to ride the underground, I want to ride a regular train, I want to take the underground tunnel thingy to France, I want to see the Isle of Wight, I want to see the Devil's Pulpit overlooking Tintern Abbey in Wales. I've seen the Abbey, but haven't been up to the spot looking down on it. Yeah, I need to come live there for awhile, LG.

LondonGirl from London on February 15, 2009:

Blimey, hope you are going to be here for a good long time!

St. Michael's Mount is great - it's near Penzance. We have, several times, taken the train (often the sleeper) from London to Penzance on our way to the Isles of Scilly, and we've stopped off to look at the Mount. As it's a long journey, and Isaac gets restless, we've stayed in Penzance overnight recently.

To get from our flat to Tresco, on the Isles of Scilly, the journey is impressive. It's either taxi-train-bus-helicopter-tractor, or taxi-train-bus-plane-boat-tractor.

KRC (author) from Central Texas on February 15, 2009:

You really don't want the whole list, do you? LOL One of the things high on my list is St. Michael's Mount. However, it's not the castle on an island that I originally found in the pictures on that site. I'd have to go look it up. But, my husband thought it was St. Michael's Mount. So, there are really two I want to see. I would like to do more around Bath. There's a place along the east coast that has a stone theater where the audience looks towards the water. I can't remember the name of it...it's something like Merramack or something...LOL I also want to explore more of Hadrian's wall. I would like to go to Blackpool at night. We were there during the daytime. I still want to see a few of the icons of London. I would like to go to Brighton in the daytime. I was there at night. I would like to hunt for ammonites again in Lyme Regis. We found a few, but nothing spectacular. I want to find another Stone Circle that another Hubber told me about up in the Lake District. The list goes on, LG.

LondonGirl from London on February 15, 2009:

it does, a good site.

So what is on your itinerary?

KRC (author) from Central Texas on February 15, 2009:

I hear you! My husband pointed out some discrepancies as well. People take vacation pictures and can't recall exactly where they were. It just has some really nice photos.

LondonGirl from London on February 15, 2009:

Looks like a great site, but don't take it as gospel. I had a look at some Kent villages I know, and this photo:


it might be Biddenden, nearby, but wherever it is, it isn't Smarden!

KRC (author) from Central Texas on February 15, 2009:

Dang it....I'm so sorry. Yes, it's dot.com. I got it backwards ONE TIME and ever since then I tend to confuse the real one.

LondonGirl from London on February 15, 2009:

I've tried it, nothing comes up. Is it the same as www.picturesofengland.com?

KRC (author) from Central Texas on February 15, 2009:

No, but it's on my 'to do' list now! I've been creating a list of things I want to do when we go back to England. We've talked about trying to go this year. I'm not sure when or how, but at least we've started the dialogue.

Have you ever looked at the pictures on www.picturesofengland.co.uk? That site has been responsible for much of my list. I see places that people have taken photos of and want so badly to go there. I have a picture I took posted there. It's of the stone circle in Avebury.

LondonGirl from London on February 15, 2009:

Have you cycled along the path? It's an amazing view, right next to the estuary.

KRC (author) from Central Texas on February 15, 2009:

You know my love of Padstow, LG. Thanks for stopping by!

LondonGirl from London on February 15, 2009:

that's happened to old branch lines in the UK which are no longer in use - they make great cycling paths. OH and I have greatly enjoyed the Camel Train in Cornwall, which starts (or ends! depends how you look at it) in Padstow.

Proud Mom from USA on February 15, 2009:

Uh oh!!!!!

KRC (author) from Central Texas on February 15, 2009:

Thanks for stopping by Christoph! Glad you enjoyed the story! You're right about today's events being similar. I have a train going through even as we speak! The Katy Railroad station in Waco (actually Bellmead) is fascinating. I haven't been there in years. I really should take my hubby by there.

Thanks for the hubber activity tip. I don't know why I didn't think about that!

Christoph Reilly from St. Louis on February 15, 2009:

KCC: I love stories like this. Actually, with respect to the commenters above, stuff like this does still happen today. The monster truck show where one truck speeds up and lurches into the crowd, Nascar, and many more.

The Katy line used to come through these parts not to far from me, right along the side of the Missouri river. A very long section has been beautified and is now a bike trail that goes along the river and the bluffs and through small, quaint town after town. It's quite nice. Thanks for a fun trip into our wacky history.

P.S. When you want to find out if a hubber has been active, go to their profile and scroll down to their hubtivity. It shows hubtivity as it only relates to them. You don't have to look through everybody elses. This is a useful feature for us stalkers.

goldentoad from Free and running.... on February 15, 2009:

Texas is the only place big enough to handle this type of event.

KRC (author) from Central Texas on February 15, 2009:

Texas....the only place to be. Yee-haw, y'all!

goldentoad from Free and running.... on February 15, 2009:

this story had to come from Texas.

KRC (author) from Central Texas on February 15, 2009:

Thanks for stopping by London Girl and PM. Back then, it seems as though getting hurt was just another 'souvenir' to prove you'd been there. So very different from today. Today, there would have been a class action suit on behalf of everyone there.

Proud Mom from USA on February 15, 2009:

Whoa!! Texas has some bizarre history, doesn't it? You wrote the hub and pulled me in like I was there, so when no one really reacted to the graphic deaths and injuries, I was........confused.

Now that I'm back in the present and reading the comments above, I see I'm not the only one who was thinking the reaction is not at all what it would be today.

More on my vacation list. If you ever get to go to the actual site, would you pick up a piece for me? I thought it would be a great canvas for your autograph, which I've already cleared a space for in the main hallway! :-)

LondonGirl from London on February 15, 2009:

what an absolutely bizarre thing to do! Imagine the fun the health and safety mob would have today (-:

KRC (author) from Central Texas on February 14, 2009:

I actually read that there were some complaints filed, but they offered them lifetime train passes which were like winning the lottery to them. Glad you enjoyed it Elena. I actually live within the area that one of the trains would have back up on. I've often thought about talking to the owner of the property to see if I could walk around and see if I found a chunk of red or green metal.

Elena. from Madrid on February 14, 2009:

Karen, this is just incredible! What was I telling you yesterday about life being weirder than fiction?! I mean, today crushesare stages every day in the movies, but this was real life, people were killedor hurt -- and I bet nobody sued! Laugh! What a story to wake up to! Thanks!

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