Texas Brazos Trail Region

Participant in the Texas Historical Commission's
Texas Heritage Trails Program

The Great Train Mashup

Before spectacles like monster truck rallies, NASCAR, and pumpkin chunking, Texans had to be content with the occasional fireworks display gone wrong, human cannonballs, and swimming pigs for their dose of entertainment thrills. Then, in 1895, along came George William Crush, a sedate and mild-mannered passenger agent for the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad (known as the Katy line) who harbored an underutilized P.T. Barnum-like skill for creating and promoting spectacles. Crush, wanting to devise a way to increase ridership for railroad passenger service in Texas, pitched an outlandish idea to railroad executives. Calling it the “Monster Crash”, Crush proposed colliding two steam-driven locomotives into each other at a site just north of Waco. Rather than sell admission tickets, Crush suggested selling seats on passenger trains from anywhere in Texas to a “station” especially built on the site for less than five dollars each. The site, cleverly christened “Crush, Texas”, would feature a four mile stretch of track laid especially for the collision and include, for one day only, a grandstand, telegraph offices, bandstand, restaurant (set up inside a circus tent), and carnival midway with all its attendant money-making attractions.

The event was promoted over the summer of 1896, including a statewide tour of the two contenders – Engine Number 999 and Engine Number 1001, retirees conscripted for the explosive finale. On September 15, 1896, the two locomotives, one painted bright red and the other green, rolled from opposite ends of the special track and met “face to face” before a crowd of approximately 40,000 spectators. The engines then reversed to opposite ends of the track (built alongside the Katy line to avoid a real collision) and waited while the engineers and crew built up steam. Then George Crush appeared on the scene riding a white horse and, with a wave of his white hat, signaled for the engines to roll. Within minutes, both engineers and crews jumped from the trains as the locomotives reached forty five miles per hour. Upon impact, metal pieces exploded in a massive cloud of flying debris as engine boilers blew, an unintended consequence of the collision, sending projectiles shooting into the crowd, killing three spectators and injuring others, including the event photographer Jarvis Deane who lost an eyeball. Today, the spectacular photographs, along with oral accounts by spectators and actual pieces of the collision, are on view at the restored West Depot in the town of West. Although the spectacle never saw a repeat, it lives on in a classic composition by ragtime maestro and native Texan Scott Joplin, called “Great Crush Collision.”

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