The Crash at Crush


| 1/30/2020 9:59:00 AM


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.



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