Looking Back

Waxing poetic down on the farm

Cartoon of cow and calf. [From an old issue of the Michigan Gargoyle, the University of Michigan student magazine]

There have been some great farmer poets over the years. Oh, not always famous, such as Scotland’s Robbie Burns, who was often called the “Ploughman Poet” and who once plowed up a mouse nest and wrote of the woes of the “Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,” that scurried, panic stricken, down the furrow ahead of the plow—anyone who has done much plowing has seen the same thing.

No, I mean a working farmer who might see or experiences something and feels moved to versify about that particular event. Some of these farmer rhymes are not particularly good or well written, but most are heartfelt and often funny.

To give some examples, here is one that I think I may have published in the past. In the July 27, 1893, issue of The Farm Implement News was the following unaccredited plaint that gives a glimpse of what the "Good Old Days" were like for some farm boys.




I'd like to be a boy again, without a woe or care,

with freckles scattered on my face, and hayseed in my hair.

I'd like to rise at 4 o'clock and do a hundred chores,

like saw the wood and feed the hogs and lock the stable doors.

And herd the hens and watch the bees and take the mules to drink,

and teach the turkeys how to swim so that they would not sink.

And milk about a hundred cows and bring in wood to burn,

and stand out in the sun all day and churn and churn and churn.

And wear my brother's cast-off clothes and walk four miles to school,

and get a licking every day for breaking some old rule,

and then go home again at night and do the chores once more,

and milk the cows and slop the hogs and feed the mules galore.

And then crawl wearily up the stairs to seek my little bed,

and hear Dad say, "That worthless boy! He doesn't earn his bread!"

I'd like to be a boy again; a boy has so much fun,

his life is just one round of mirth, from rise to set of sun.

I guess there's nothing pleasanter than closing stable doors,

and herding hens and chasing bees and doing evening chores.


There’s much controversy today about Daylight Savings Time, which was instituted during World War One. Farmers have never liked it because the cows, chickens, and other critters aren’t exactly clock watchers.

When, for the first time, the clock was set ahead one hour on April 1, 1918, the following poem was written by Alan L. Strang who was just ten years old. Alan was born in Spokane, Washington, August 18, 1908. The family moved to California in 1913 and settled in Redwood City. A description of the boy reads, “He had a gentle, loving disposition, was always frail and delicate and possessed a mental development far in advance of his years. He was taken to the Great Beyond January 29, 1919. The poems contained in this book were written prior to his tenth birthday. Considering the age of the author we feel that the work contains real merit, while the sentiment expressed betokens that patriotic spirit which never fails or hesitates when our country calls for men.”


How can we Fool the Rooster?


Our Rooster wakes at half-past five and crows with all his might,

He tries to wake the people up before the day is light.

When Daddy hears the rooster crow he knows he should awake

And light the kitchen fire, so Ma Can cook the Johnny cake.


Now, maybe we can fool my Dad that it's half-past five when it's half-past four,

And maybe the system's the best we have had to fool some thousands of people or more;


But, how can we fool that rooster?


I have always thought our rooster had a clock inside of his head,

And I don't know how we can fix it so we can set the clock ahead.

I asked my Dad, and he said to me, "Why, son, you surely know

A rooster's instinct wakens him and tells him when to crow."


Now the hands of the clock we can turn ahead, we can fool the people and feel content;

But the thing that worries me night and day, and on which my entire thought is bent


Is, how can we fool that rooster?


And finally this anonymous and slightly risque look at the life of a cow. It came from an old magazine called Die Veteraan Boer in the Afrikaans language, or The Veteran Farmer in English, which is dedicated to “Keeping alive memories of bygone farming days in South Africa.”  It just goes to show that cows are cows anywhere in the world.




I have just given birth to a heifer,                                If what I have heard is the truth sir,

Of pride and of milk I am full,                         Unnatural though it may seem;

But it’s sad to relate that my lacteal state                    A cow’s female passion is right out of fashion,

Was not brought about by a bull.                                And a bull is just a wonderful dream.


I have never been naughty I swear it,                          I know that the farm is a business,

In spite of the calf that I’ve borne,                               In which we must all pull our weight,

Like Farmer Brown’s tractor.                                     Well, I’d pull and I’d pull

I’m “Virgo Intacta.”                                                   For a strongly-built bull,

My regard for the bull is forlorn.                                 For this phony business I hate.


How drab is the cowyard and meadow,                     It mustn’t be thought that I’m jealous,

The cowshed seems empty and gray.                          There are things that a cow shouldn’t say,

The small bit of fun in the year’s dreary run,              But I’ll bet if I could, I most certainly would,

Science has taken away.                                              Return to the old-fashioned way! 

No. 179

The Bryan steam tractor owned by Justin Click of Lake Station, Indiana. (Photo by Sam Moore)

Talk about rare tractors – at the Wauseon, Ohio show some years ago, I saw a Bryan tractor, a large, conventional looking (at least from a short distance away) tractor of that era, although the engine block appeared to be huge. The tractor was owned by Justin Click of Lake Station, Indiana, and there's something very unusual about the Bryan, besides its rarity. 

George Alfred Bryan of Albuquerque, New Mexico, worked for the Santa Fe railroad during the early part of the twentieth century. His career with the SF encompassed every job one could perform on a locomotive, from wiping to firing and then operating the big steamers and finally, chief inspector. Based upon this experience, he became an expert on steam locomotives and seems to have become consumed with the idea of building lightweight steam vehicles using a liquid fuel, such as kerosene.

Bryan has a string of inventions relating to steam vehicles to his credit. He designed a burner that atomized and efficiently burned the fuel. He also developed a firebox that kept the flame separate from the boiler tubes, aiding in complete combustion and eliminating carbon buildup on the tubes, while allowing for quick steam buildup.

The flexible tubes themselves were bent into a zig-zag configuration and were connected at each end by a tapered plug and clamp arrangement that not only made the individual tubes easy to replace, but made the connection unlikely to develop leaks. Other patents related to how the engine should be mounted and the layout of a tractor chassis were issued to Bryan during the early 1920s.

According to The Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805 – 1942, Bryan built a steam car as early as 1913, which he tested in the mountains and heat of New Mexico. Apparently, it worked well and Bryan founded the Bryan Harvester Company in 1916 along with his father. However, New Mexico was a long way from supplies of steel and other raw materials and a pool of skilled labor, not to mention the large agricultural market they would need in order to sell their tractors, so, in 1918 the Bryan Harvester Company was moved to Peru, Indiana. 

It's unknown how many Bryan steam cars were actually built – most sources claim that only six were produced between 1918 and 1923, and several of these were built for Bryan Company officials. A photo of a 1922 model in the above mentioned catalog shows a typical four-door touring car of the 1920s, with wooden-spoke artillery wheels, a light colored body and black fenders, and big, nickel-plated headlights.

As far as the Bryan steam truck, it seems that a prototype was probably built during this period, but it never went into production; the early 1920s were a period of post-war recession, particularly on American farms.

The Bryan steam tractor apparently was slightly more successful than the car and truck. Again, it's a mystery as to how many were actually built (one account claims "hundreds were manufactured and shipped throughout the United States), but only a few have survived.           

As mentioned earlier, the Bryan steam tractor looks a lot like the average gas tractor of the day, and nothing at all like the big Case or Reeves steam traction engines. Out front is a large radiator which serves as a condenser for the steam boiler. In the engine compartment is a large, rectangular steel box, inside of which are the boiler tubes and beneath which is the kerosene burner. Unlike the steam traction engines we're used to seeing that operate at less than 200 pounds per square inch boiler pressure, the Bryan vehicles were designed to run at around 600 psi.

Just behind the boiler is a two-cylinder steam engine, mounted horizontally. A spur gear at the center of the engine crankshaft meshes directly with the first gear in the transmission gear train. The engine pistons are four inch bore and five inch stroke and operate at speeds of 20 to 800 RPM. Tractor ground speed can be varied between one-eighth MPH to seven and a half MPH. The Bryan tractor was never tested at Nebraska and was initially rated at 26HP on the drawbar and 70 on the belt, although the drawbar HP was later lowered to twenty. 

 A shaft driven from the transmission case runs along the left side of the engine and boiler and drives a fan behind the condenser. A large belt pulley on the right side, just inside the rear wheel, is driven from the transmission case.

Mr. Bryan also developed a home heating system that used his boiler. Apparently, he realized that steam powered vehicles were past they're "use by" date and opted to concentrate on the home heating business and other applications for his steam equipment.

Around 1925, Bryan changed the name of his firm to the Bryan Steam Corporation and gave up vehicles. The company still exists in Peru, today called Bryan Steam LLC, and still specializes in Bryan "Flexible Water Tube" boilers. 

It appears that there are only some half-dozen Bryan tractors in existence today and several of these are exhibited in museums, with only a couple in running condition; one appeared at the Rollag, Minnesota show several years ago, and belonged to Peter Mandt of Wahpeton ND, and the one owned by Justin Click that was exhibited at Wauseon.

I got some photos of the Bryan steam tractor while it was being filled with water and was standing there when they took off. As the driver advanced the throttle, the tractor moved off smoothly with just a faint chuff and a little steam from the exhaust.

The Vermifuge Bottle

Sam MooreDuring these days of doom, gloom and uncertainty, this little tale of a long ago cure for what ails you may bring a smile to your face. It was published in 1912 by C.A. Stephens, a prolific short story author, many of whose tales were published in The Youth’s Companion. One series concerned four or five cousins, all who had lost their parents in the Civil War, and who then came to live with Gram and Gramp on their New England farm. This was one of their stories which I’ve compressed to fit it into a blog format. — S.M.


Gram was a dear old soul, but she had fixed ideas as to the ailments of youngsters. Whenever any one of us had a cold or upset stomach she was always sure we were suffering from an attack of worms. She seemed to believe that the average kid was nothing but a thin shell of flesh and skin, enclosing hundreds, if not thousands, of worms! And drastic measures were necessary to keep this raging internal population down to the point where a child could survive.

For this, Gram had one remedy in which she had implicit faith and that was a huge spoonful of Van Tassel's Vermifuge, followed four hours later by two great spoonfuls of the castor oil of that period, an oily, rank abomination. As for Van Tassel's Vermifuge, it resembled raw petroleum, an evil, greenish-black, syrup almost too nauseous to swallow. It was my fervent hope in those days that, if in the next world there was a deep, dark, super-heated cell, it was reserved expressly for Van Tassel and his potion.

Any time one of us came to the breakfast table, looking a little rusty and peaked and without appetite, Gram would exclaim, "Poor child, you are all eaten up by worms! You need a dose of Vermifuge." With fascination, the worm-suspect would watch her pour out the hideous, sticky liquid, till the tablespoon was full and running over. “Now shut your eyes and open your mouth," Gram would say, and when the awful dose was in, "Swallow! Swallow hard!" Then she’d cup her hand under the victim’s chin and tilt his head back until there was nothing to do but swallow, gagging and coughing. Gramp would always offer a swig of coffee to hopefully kill the taste, although it never quite did.

Gram kept the noxious stuff in an old demijohn in the cupboard. Now there was another jug on the top shelf in the same cupboard, about half full of old, thick elderberry wine which Gram had made years before. It was used only "for sickness," and was always kept on the upper shelf. The Vermifuge and the old elderberry wine looked a lot alike, and once, mysteriously, someone, somehow had shifted the thick, dark liquids from one bottle to the other and put the jugs back in their usual places.

In due time Ellen had to take a dose from the Bottle and it was noticed that she appeared surprised, but neither cried nor gagged. Nor did she seem in a hurry to swallow the conciliatory sip of coffee from Gramp's sympathetic hand. "Why, Ellie girl, you are getting to be quite the brave girl,” was his comment. From then on, after we got over the initial shock of not tasting the horrible Vermifuge, we actually looked forward to the formerly hated treatment and the warm, tingly feeling it made in our stomachs.

There was to be a "quarterly meeting" at the church one Saturday afternoon and Sunday, and the preacher came to Gramp's to stay till Monday morning. Elder Witham was getting on in years and he had taken a cold which affected his appetite. Gram had prepared a good supper on the Elder's account, but after we all sat down and he had asked the blessing, he said, "Sister Sophie, you've got a nice supper but I don't believe I can eat a mouthful to-night. I'm all out of fix and I'm afraid I shan't be able to preach to-morrow. I think I’ll just go lie down a bit on your lounge, to see if I can't feel better."

Well Gram was much disturbed and said, "Elder Witham, isn't there something I can give you to take? Some Jamaica ginger, or something like that?" [a popular tonic at the time, Jamaica ginger was mostly alcohol.]

"Oh, that is rather too fiery for me," the Elder replied.

"Then how would a few swallows of my elderberry wine do?" queried Gram.

"But you know, Sister Sophie, that I don't hold with such things," said the Elder.

"Still, I think really that it would do you good," urged Gram.

"Perhaps," said the old fraud, for truth to say, this was not his first experience with the elderberry bottle; so Gram went to the cupboard.

About this time, we kids decided we’d had enough to eat and quietly disappeared outside, where we listened at the open window. Gram poured out a small glass of elderberry wine and handed it to Elder Witham. He took one good swallow, jumped to his feet and ran to the wood-box. "Jehosophat! What! What? What in thunder is this?" he spluttered, spitting as energetically as possible. "You've given me bug-pizen! — and I've swallered a lot of it!"

Shocked and frightened, Gram could only sit, bug-eyed and helpless at first, and then she snatched up the bottle, smelled of it, then tasted it.

"My sakes, Elder Witham!" she cried, "Don't be scared, it's only Vermifuge, such as I give the children for worms!"

"Aaugh!" coughed the good man. "But it's nasty stuff, ain't it?"

As we milked that night, I’m sure I saw Gramp shaking with something like laughter, but his back was to me and I’m not sure. Not much was said at breakfast next morning and the Reverend didn’t preach that day. Gram didn’t attend meeting — she was nearly ill from shame, and it was several days before she felt up to investigating. Along about Thursday she cross-examined us all rather sharply but no one seemed to know much and all she could do was give us an earnest lecture about the importance of telling the truth.

The episode put a damper on the Vermifuge Bottle, however; it was never quite so prominent after that.

— Sam Moore

Vermifuge Bottle
Taking a dose from the Vermifuge Bottle. [Illustration from the book]

The Hamilton Walking Tractor

Sam MooreDuring the second decade of the 20th century, tractor design was still fluid, to say the least, and there were many strange contraptions masquerading as farm tractors. Some of these worked better than others, and some didn’t work at all. The Hamilton Walking Tractor is one that seems to have had little success.

Rush E. Hamilton was farmer and orchardist in Sonoma County, California, at that time and apparently was a pretty good mechanic. He thought he could use one of the new-fangled gas tractors then appearing on the scene and looked around for one to buy. Not finding anything suitable for his needs, Hamilton undertook to build his own and, after three years of experimentation, during which “he used it successfully for all work formerly done by horses,” Hamilton’s tractor “walked” onto the scene.

The two 46-inch diameter drive wheels were at the front of the tractor and each had 16 10-inch U-shaped grousers around its periphery. The Oakland Tribune described these unusual spiked wheels thusly, “Hamilton provided his machine with two front wheels which have a series of steel projections about a foot long which, as the tractor advances, dig their way into the soil, thereby getting traction for the pulling of plows or whatever other machinery being used, and by agitating the ground as it moves along loosens up the soil for the plow.” The Motor West article tells us that “ingenious bands are furnished to go over the lugs on the drive wheels so the tractor can be put in shape for road driving within a few minutes.”

Hamilton walking tractor
Photos of the Hamilton Walking Tractor that appeared in a May 1918 issue of Popular Science magazine. (Courtesy of the Internet Archive.)

Based on his early patents, which were assigned to the Hamilton Tractor Co., Rush Hamilton started out to build the tractor on his own, and may have done so briefly, but then he apparently had an offer he couldn’t refuse. The Fageol Brothers were building a new factory in Oakland, California, and announced their intention to build not only their very expensive passenger cars ($9,500 in 1917 dollars for the chassis only, with a custom body extra), but trucks of from 2- to 5-ton capacity, as well as farm tractors. To that end they bought the rights to the walking tractor by giving Hamilton some Fageol Motor Co. stock and putting him on the firm’s board of directors.

After some re-design by Hamilton and the Fageol engineers, the new tractor was announced in the Sept. 1, 1917 Motor West, as “Small, Light and Powerful, It is Well Adapted to Pacific Coast Soil Conditions — Listed at $1,085.”

The machine was advertised as ideal for orchardists because “the narrow width permits a center hitch for the plow, enabling it to get right up to the tree trunk without any side draft at all. In manipulation about the tree base, this tractor is as flexible as a single horse.”

In those days when many tractor drive gears were out in the open and exposed to mud and dust, the transmission and final drive gears were enclosed and ran in oil, although there was just one forward speed along with reverse. The 2-1/2mph forward speed was said to make it possible to plow about four acres per day with a fuel consumption of 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 gallons of fuel per acre.

Fageol/Hamilton tractor
The Fageol/Hamilton tractor plowing. (Photos from Sept. 1, 1917 issue of Motor West magazine.)

The tractor was powered by a 4-cylinder engine (probably Waukesha) with a 3-3/8-inch bore and a 5-inch stroke that put out a little over 18hp and would burn gasoline, kerosene or distillate for fuel. It had a thermo-syphon cooling system and a large radiator for effective cooling, as well as a “patent dust arrester” to keep dirt out of the carburetor.

In an interview, Frank Fageol, head of the company, said, “The beauty of these new tractors is that they are adapted to so many farming needs, that they are economical in running expense, they use either kerosene or distillate or gasoline for fuel, and that they provide a world of power where the farmer needs it.”

Well, that may have all have been true, but the Fageol tractor didn’t sell, so in 1918 the firm introduced the 9-12, a four-wheeled tractor of more or less standard layout. Each large rear wheel consisted of two thick, cast steel plates, into which were cut sharp, pointed teeth. The two wheel plates were mounted on each end of the drive axle so the teeth were staggered. The radiator and hood, except for the row of louvers down the top center, were conventional, as were the steel front wheels. A Lycoming 4-cylinder, 3-1/2-inch x 5-inch engine drove a transmission with one forward and one reverse gear. There was no clutch and no differential, just a foot operated internal expanding clutch in each rear wheel hub. Steering was accomplished by a tiller and, because of the lack of a differential, the clutch on the inside wheel had to be depressed when turning, or both wheels would drive straight ahead.

Fageol 9-12 tractor
The Fageol 9-12 tractor that replaced the Hamilton version. (Photo by Sam Moore.)

The tractor cost a whopping $1,525 and weighed 3,600 pounds, a lot of weight to be teetering on those sharp points. Fageol claimed that due to the wedging action on the soil between adjacent tapered wheel teeth, the drive wheels would walk over and wouldn’t sink into even deep sandy soil. One can only imagine what they did in mud. Fageol built the 9-12 tractor until 1923, when the firm decided to concentrate on trucks and busses. Horatio Smith, a Fageol Motor Co. director, started the Great Western Motor Co. in San Jose, and built the Fageol tractor for another year or two.

There was a report in 1990 that the extremely sorry remains of a Fageol-Hamilton walking tractor had been found near Geyserville, but I don’t know what became of it. If anyone knows, please contact Farm Collector or me.

— Sam Moore

Across the Country in a Chalmers Touring Car

Sam MooreReading old farm and automobile publications can turn up some strange tales – like this one that appeared in the July 1918 issue of Auto and Tractor Shop magazine.

In 1916, a man named Abraham Toube lived in Portland, Maine, and had eight children, a sick wife, a well-worn 1909 Chalmers touring car and $300 in cash. In order to improve his wife’s health, Toube was determined to pack up the family in the old Chalmers and move to the West Coast.

Before leaving Maine, Toube had converted the touring car’s body into a large truck-like box that served as “sleeping compartment, dining room, play room, reception hall and general living quarters,” for the family, which included eight kids ranging in age from a 15-year-old son to a 5-month-old daughter. We are told that “except where impossible on account of the weather, the father and eldest son slept on the ground on cots, while the interior of the machine, which was generally enclosed at night by the side curtains, was used by Mrs. Toube and the younger children for sleeping.” All the boxes, cans, and bundles required for their necessary supplies and their household effects were tied onto the car’s running boards and anywhere else feasible.

The Toube’s long journey began around Christmas of 1916, as the first accounts of it appeared in the spring of 1917, and although the three different newspaper stories I turned up varied as to the family’s final destination, they agreed on most of the story.

The family took time to see the country on their way west as we are told they traveled some 6,000 miles and journeyed by way of Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Omaha, St. Louis, Kansas City, etc. They camped along the road or, when in town, on a likely looking vacant lot, while Mr. Toube and his oldest boy worked at various odd jobs to eke out the $300. The old Chalmers was adorned with signs declaring the Toube’s mission: “Maine to California” and the tourists were “the object of interest in every state and town they visited.”

Chalmers touring car
The 1909 Chalmers touring car and the Toube family. Photos from the July 1918 issue of Auto and Tractor Shop magazine.

In those World War I days, the newspaper reporters made sure to point out that Mr. Toube was a native of Russia, and that his missus had been born in Germany. The couple’s ethnic origins would seem to have no bearing on their story, unless to subtly point out that no “real American” would have been crazy enough to do what they did.

This was shortly after Czar Nicholas had abdicated the Romanov throne during the Russian Revolution, so naturally a reporter had to ask Mr. Toube for his thoughts on that event. According to the account, Toube replied, “I don’t care what they do with the Czar. I am an American today, at least at heart. And I, with my five boys when old enough, will rally around Old Glory any time we are needed.”

Two of the newspaper stories pointed out that the Chalmers was run the whole way on “ordinary coal oil or distillate,” which was cheaper than gasoline, and Mr. Toube claimed to get nearly the same mileage on distillate as when burning the more expensive fuel.

As would be expected, all sorts of weather was encountered during the journey, including at one point hail stones “large enough to smash the thick glass of the headlight,” according to one account, while another quoted Mr. Toube as saying that the weather “included rainstorms, snow-storms, blizzards, sleet, mud, etc., but notwithstanding all these we were making it fine until the big mishap occurred.”

The “big mishap” was just east of Needles, California, on the National Old Trails Route when the Toube party lost track of the poorly marked trail and took the Parker Cutoff. While attempting to return to the National Trail, Toube got the Chalmers stuck while fording a creek, and in trying to get out he lost all three forward transmission gears!

Well, reverse still worked so Toube managed to back out of the stream and probably sat there for a few minutes muttering a few choice Russian oaths. But, the pilgrims were too close to their goal to give up, so a better fording spot was found and the Chalmers was backed across the creek and then the 10 or so miles into Needles. Here he found that transmission repairs were far beyond his limited means, so “get back into the car, kids, by the beard of the Czar; we’ll back our way into LA!”

And, that’s just what they did, all 315 miles in reverse gear!

Chalmers touring car

At this point the Toube saga becomes somewhat muddied. One account seems to indicate that the wanderers settled in Los Angeles. Another tells us they pulled into San Francisco, “and after reconnoitering for the best-looking vacant lot, settled down for the night. While here in San Francisco the father and the oldest boy accepted employment of a general character.”

Then, in their June 10, 1917, issue, The Sunday Oregonian of Portland, Oregon tells us, “A 1909 Chalmers automobile which has been in continual use since it was purchased years ago in Portland, Maine, is now in Portland, Oregon, ready to be converted into a farm tractor that it may do its bit in cultivating Oregon fields, thereby boosting the world’s food supply.”

So apparently the peripatetic Toube clan ended up in Oregon and became involved with farming. The old Chalmers car had quite a history, and it would be so interesting to know how the Toube children and their descendants fared. I wonder too, if Abraham Toube ever got the krick out of his neck from looking back all those 315 miles.

– Sam Moore

The Crash at Crush

Two trains colliding
A poor photo showing the two engines just as the cow catchers crumpled. Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sam MooreIt’s difficult to believe that American railroads deliberately set up “Cornfield Meets,” or head-on collisions, between two of their trains but they did!  It’s very doubtful that anyone today, except perhaps a few Texans, are familiar with just such an event, known as the “Crush Crash,” or are aware that for one day, September 15, 1896, between 40,000 and 50,000 people gathered in the fictitious town of Crush, Texas, making it, for that day only, the second-most populous town in the state.

During the late 1800s the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (M-K-T, nicknamed the Katy) railroad operated a line between Dallas and Waco. During a modernization program in 1895, a batch of 30-ton locomotives of the 4-4-0 American configuration was replaced with modern 60-tonners. William George Crush was the general passenger agent for the Katy and saw an opportunity to both advertise the line, and to eliminate surplus locos.

Crush proposed to his bosses, who actually approved the idea, to stage a head-on collision between two of the old locomotives and to invite the public to watch, free of charge! The road even proposed to cut fares on the excursion trains it would run to haul folks to the event.

Crush chose a spot along the Dallas-Waco main line and had a 4-mile segment of track built that ran from one hill down through a valley and ended on another hill, ensuring that the expected 20,000 spectators would have a good view of the crash. Wells were drilled, telegraph lines and offices built, a huge circus tent erected, and grandstands for the spectators built. There was also a railroad depot put up with a signboard that read, “Crush, Texas.” There were concession stands to provide side-shows, food, drinks and games of chance, and there were platforms for the inevitable dignitaries and speech-makers.

Two of the old Baldwin locomotives were chosen. Frank Barnes, a retired Katy engineer who had been fireman on one of the engines recalled in a 1950 Katy Employees’ Magazine, “I’ll tell you, those were two flashy engines. Old 999 was painted green with red trim and was headed south, No. 1001 was red, trimmed in green and was headed north.” Advertising fliers flooded the state, and most newspapers reported regularly on proceedings, while during the months leading up to the big day, which was set for September 15, 1896, to advertise the event the two “flashy engines” travelled all over the state and were seen by thousands of people.

More than 40,000 folks showed up it took 33 over-crowded excursion trains to get them all there and they spent the day listening to orators, picnicking, visiting the concession booths, and waiting for the 4:00 p.m. start time.

Crush had ruled that spectators must stay 200 yards back from the track for safety, but the rule was hard to enforce as every one of those 40,000 people was determined to get as close as he or she could to be sure to not to miss anything. The officials finally got most of the crowd behind the line and at 5:00 p.m. Mr. Crush rode out astride a white horse [flesh and blood, not iron] raised his big white hat and “after a pause whipped it sharply down.” At this signal the two engines, behind each of which was a consist of six box cars, covered with advertising posters and all chained together as the link and pin couplers would likely break apart on impact, were off! Of course the crowd surged forward, cheering and ignoring the safety lines, and the engine whistles, which had been tied down, began to scream as the two lumbering giants picked up speed toward each other.

Texas historical marker
A Texas State historical marker near the site of event.

Frank Barnes described the actions of the two train crews  “We cut the reverse lever back to the second notch, stayed with the engine for 16 exhausts that’s four turns of the drivers  and jumped. Those were good engines. They really got up speed. From a standing start they made the mile in just two minutes. I figure they were going 50 miles an hour when they crashed.”

The Dallas Morning News later reported: “As the two trains roared toward each other, the smoke was pouring from their funnels in a great black streak. The rumble of the two trains, faint and far off at first, but growing nearer and more distinct each second, was like the gathering force of a cyclone. Nearer and nearer they came, the whistles blowing repeatedly.”

After “a thunderous, grinding crash” when the colorful engines met, “there was just a swift instance of silence, and then as if controlled by a single impulse both boilers exploded and the air was filled with flying missiles of iron and steel varying in size from a postage stamp to half of a driving wheel.” Some spectators were killed and several others seriously injured as everyone fled in panic.

MKT wreck-trains arrived to pick up the big pieces most of the smaller chunks had been grabbed up by the crowd as souvenirs the injured were tended to, trains carried away the excited homeward-bound spectators, and the tents and concessions disappeared. The town of Crush, Texas, quickly disappeared.

The MKT railroad paid the damage claims, and in anticipation of bad publicity from the stunt, even though Crush had been given the go-ahead from his bosses and had been reassured by company engineers that the boilers wouldn’t explode, he was fired on the spot. There was publicity, lots and lots of it, so apparently in the belief that all publicity, even bad, is good, Crush was quickly rehired and worked for the Katy until retirement many years later.

Nowadays surplus engines are disposed of in a much tamer way through the use of cutting torches.

– Sam Moore

New Opportunity for Blacksmiths a Century Ago

Sam MooreIn 1920, the horse and mule population in the United States peaked at about 25 million animals, but fell rapidly after that. Also in 1920 there were more than 9 million motor vehicles, up from just 8,000 20 years earlier. At the same time more and more folks were retiring their buggies and horses in favor of a motor car, resulting in the number of these mechanical wonders more than doubling in the next five years.

At the time of World War I there were an unknown number of blacksmiths in the country – every country hamlet had at least one – and these worthies realized a big chunk of their business from shoeing horses and repairing wagons and buggies. A large number of blacksmiths were content to continue the way they always had, but some far-seeing smiths realized that “times, they were ‘a changin’.” The American Blacksmith magazine ran the following poem in the August 1918 issue to try to point out to the old-time smiths that there was money to be made from the “horseless carriages” then seen more and more on the roads.

The Opportunity Grabber

Old Timon T. Tinker, a blacksmith I neighbored, for thirty-eight years at the anvil had labored.
He knew all the ins and the outs of the trade and a comfortable living and money had made.
He knew all the wagons and horses around and could tell who was coming up the road by the sound.
His wagons and carts were built of best stock; they stood up to wear like an ocean swept rock.
He knew all there was to know of his craft, from the fittings, to Dobbin, or repairs for a shaft.

But Timon T. Tinker was set in his ways and figgered old methods would do in these days.
When asked if he’d fix up a spark plug or tire, he’d rip, roar and snort and rise up in his ire,
to condemn the guy proper with nerve so colossal as to ask him to touch a mere auto the fossil!
He damned all the motor pulled wagons on earth, and at autos and tractors he poked fun and mirth
said gasoline buggies and tractors and such “are traps of the devil and ain’t worth very much.
There ain’t no machine in heaven or hell that’ll take up the place that the horse fills so well!”

So Timon T. Tinker kept pounding out junk, and his business went down till his credit was punk.
His former contentment skipped out of the coop, his knees got all shaky and shoulders to stoop.
His once fat wallet is thin as a slat and folks seldom come now with work or to chat.
Folks don’t want to trade with a back numbered skate, but seek out the chaps who are right up to date.

Now young Cyrus Getdough, a motor-bike had twas not very good nor yet very bad.
He tinkered and tampered from morning to night, a tryin’ to get that old bike to run right.
Then one day while tinkering, a thought hit Cy’s thinker—twas surely ambitious for just a mere tinker.
He said as he turned up a nut on a spoke “As a clever mechanic I may be a joke,
but brains are the thing if you put them to use. In fact it’s a shame to let good brains run loose.
I’m wiser than most of the chaps in this town; I’ll open a shop and pull some kale down.”

And so our hero, young Cy, took out a lease on Gordon’s old livery down the road just a piece.
He cleaned up the place with whitewash and paint and made that old barn look like what it ain’t.
The signs big and yellow he put on the place were glaringly lettered and spoke face to face.
And all who saw them could read at a glance that Cy was an expert on motoring plants.
That motors and autos and tractors and such were to most folks a mystery, but to Cy not so much.

The equipment Cy had you could count on your thumb, and what there was of it was all rather bum.
His mechanical knowledge you know was so lean that oiling a bicycle would trouble his bean.
But bluffing was just where young Cy was t’home, and believe me he bluffed from his toes to his dome.
His auto repair shop the first one in town just prospered and prospered and grew in renown,
‘til sections and acres were added and built, for work just crowded his shop to the hilt.
Today Cy is rich as Croesus B.C., a sterling example of a successful O.G. (Opportunity Grabber).

– Sam Moore

Automobile being pushed to a repair shop
Cartoon from the August 1916 issue of American Blacksmith magazine.


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