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The Crash at Crush

The following is a transcript of Podcast #3

It all began with two 35-ton steam locomotives, a town that existed for just one day, and a railroad promoter with a grandiose idea.  The end result became a Texas legend: The Crash at Crush.

W.G. Crush, the general passenger agent of the Missouri/Kansas/Texas Railroad (generally referred to as the Katy Railroad) proposed a publicity stunt featuring a huge crash of two steam trains. The goal—to build visibility for the railroad and in the short term to sell more tickets.

January third of 1896 was set for the what the railroad dubbed “The Crash at Crush.” A shallow valley about fifteen miles north of Waco and about three miles south of the town of West was selected for the event. A grandstand was built for dignitaries. A platform for reporters and a bandstand were added. A special four mile train track was laid beside the existing rail lines. Two retired locomotives were chosen and painted—one red with green trim and the other green with red trim. Test runs were made which determined that a combined speed of 120 miles per hour would result in a safe, but spectacular crash. The experts consulted assured the railroad that the crash would be safe for spectators.

The publicity tour then hit the rails. The two locomotives—engines number 999 and 1001—toured the state, fliers were distributed, and posters posted. The railroad promised the event would be free, that food booths would offer affordable food, and there would be plenty of free drinking water since the company had drilled two water wells. The railroad offered train tickets to Crush from anywhere in the state for just two dollar round trip. Two hundred constables were hired for crowd control and a jail was built to house any lawbreakers.

The response of Texans was huge! On the day of the event, packed trains, many overflowing with people riding on the roofs, began to arrive at Crush.  More people flocked in from all directions—in wagons, buggies, on horse back, and walking.  All told, somewhere between thirty thousand and fifty thousand people swarmed in to the imaginary town of Crush to see the crash. (At the time there only about three million people in the entire state!) A carnival-like atmosphere with booths, concessions, and games occupied the crowd while it waited for the day’s exciting event.

Toward the end of the afternoon the two engines arrived, each pulling six box cars serving as advertising billboards. As the crowd cheered, each engine pulled back one mile. When W.G Crush (mounted on a white horse and wearing a blue ribbon across his chest) gave the signal, the engines started toward each other building up to full speed. Getting closer and closer. Moments before the collision the engineers and firemen jumped out and ran. No doubt the crowd held its collective breath as the two mighty trains collided and then—with a gigantic roar—the boilers exploded. Hot metal flew in all directions and box cars burst into flames. Two people were killed and several were wounded, including the photographer hired to record the event. As the smoke cleared and the crowd realized what had happened, the mad dash for souvenirs was on!  The crowd broke through the barbed wire fences and rushed to collect pieces of the wreck. Some were burned in the rush for relics.

When the wreckage cooled, the railroad began to clear the big pieces of wreckage while souvenir collectors quickly carried off the rest.

W.G. Crush was fired. However, the company rehired Crush the very next day when it became obvious that—despite the explosion—the event had been very successful in both ticket sales and publicity for the Katy Railroad. Crush continued to work for the railroad for a total of 57 years; however, the Crash at Crush was never repeated. But crowds love crashes. The California State Fair was just one event featuring train crashes in the early 1900s. Today, car crashes in the movies are a dime a dozen. 

All that remains of the Crash at Crush is a Texas legend and an historical marker posted a half mile east of the crash site. As for brave men . . . hats off to the engineers and the firemen feeding the furnaces on Old 999 and Old 1001.  They had to wait until  the last minute to jump and run to safety. 

All in all, I guess we can say that the Crash at Crush proves Texans like to do things with a BIG BANG! 

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