Exploring Texas History: The Crash at Crush
While researching for my "Chasing the Past" serial story here on HubPages, I accidentally stumbled upon some other lesser-known historical events that took place in Texas. I became intrigued and realized how little I know about this state in which I have lived for exactly half of my life now. So this is the start of a new series. I hope you will explore Texas history along with me, starting with the spectacularly disastrous 1869 Crash at Crush.
Now, if you're so inclined please enjoy the musical score commemorating the event as you read more about the publicity stunt gone wrong. The music was written by famous ragtime composer Scott Joplin, who is said to have possibly been a witness to the collision. He published it mere months after it happened and dedicated the piece to the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway when he did so. He even included specific written instructions with the score for how to create the sounds of the crash.
The Great Crush Collision March
What Was the Crash at Crush?
On September 15, 1869 the town of Crush existed for a single day. On this day, people came from all over the state and just to witness the spectacular head-on collision of two locomotive steam engines going full speed at the time of impact. These people witnessed a lot more than they bargained for, though, when the boilers on both trains exploded, causing injuries among the crowd and a few deaths from shrapnel.
Why Plan a Train Wreck?
There is no official reason on record, but many speculate that William Crush, passenger agent for the railway commonly known as Katy, proposed the idea of a staged trainwreck to draw attention to the railroad and simultaneously generate profit. His idea was to send two obsolete locomotives speeding toward one another until they collided while an audience witnessed the spectacle from a safe distance.
Promotion of the event began months in advance, and as anticipation began to build, round-trip train tickets were sold for $2 specifically to bring people to the event. With an estimated crowd of between 30,000 to 40,000 people, the town of Crush became the second most populated city in Texas.
No one lived in Crush, yet it had a very active midway. The town boasted its own jail, employing at least a couple hundred constables holding the crowd accountable for their behavior. The town also contained a train depot, two water wells, grandstands, a reporter platform, two telegraph offices, and a tent from the Ringling Brother Circus. In addition, various vendors and sideshow attractions set up shop. It was to be an unforgettable day of fun and excitement.
Originally scheduled for 4 PM, the crash took place about an hour later due to the crowd’s initial refusal to remain at a 200-foot distance from the tracks. Only news photographers and reporters were allowed to be as close as 100 feet. Once the crowd settled down enough, the two trains rolled slowly down the track until they met in the middle with their cowcatchers (the mounted pieces of metal at the front of an engine used to deflect any debris that may be on the track) were touching. Next, they backed up until they were at opposite ends of the track.
Those on board the locomotives followed a simple set of instructions: wait for the signal, open the throttle to full speed, tie off the whistle cord, and jump off the doomed engines, allowing the trains to gather speed until the point of impact.
According to reports, there was a hushed silence after the impact, which was immediately followed by shrieks of fear as the two boilers simultaneously exploded. Even those who remained at what was thought to be a safe distance were caught up in the deadly shower of debris. Two people died, a photographer lost an eye, and several more crowd members were injured. Hundreds more rushed forward after the debris settled to collect souvenirs.
What Happened Next?
Katy engineers predicted the boilers were unlikely to explode because they were specially designed to resist rupturing in the event of a derailment. For extra precautions, the boxcars were all tied together with a chain so that their couplers could not separate and lose cars. The constables kept the crowd pushed back to what was deemed to be a safe distance. But it was not enough. The boilers unexpectedly exploded, sending debris several hundred feet into the air and out toward the crowd.
William Crush was immediately fired. Those who were injured and the families of the deceased were financially compensated. The event photographer who lost his eye received monetary compensation and a lifetime pass on the Katy railway.
Surprisingly, the disaster did exactly as it was supposed to do. Reports of the incident generated talk about the railroad across the nation. Instead of a decline in business, ticket sales increased. Therefore Crush was rehired and able to work with the company until he retired several decades later. All that remains of Crush, Texas is a historical marker and some pictures in museums.
Quick Recap Video of the Crash at Crush
- Crash at Crush | Waco History
One of the most infamous publicity stunts of all time, "The Crash at Crush," took place about 3 miles south of West, Texas, featuring two locomotives of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad Company (known as M-K-T or "Katy") intentionally set on a head
- The Deadly Crash at Crush - Texas Co-op Power
Texas Co-op Power delivers the best of Texas culture—people, food, travel, and energy news—to 1.5 million electric cooperative members each month.
- Crash at Crush | City of West
City of West
- Crush, Texas - Wikipedia
© 2018 Shannon Henry