Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Great Train Wreck, September 15, 1896. This is not a Scottish story, but interesting.

When I was young and living in Oklahoma, the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railways Company was known as “the Katy.” In 1896, the Katy was having trouble with decreasing passengers and needed greater publicity and sales. George Crush, the ticket agent for Texas had a brilliant idea, at least he thought so.

Why not have a head-on collision between two trains and invite people to come and watch? Mr. Crush found two 40-ton locomotives and some old surplus cars. The collision was set for September 15, 1896, 14 miles north of Waco and 3 miles south of West, Texas. It was a perfect location with a dry creek bed offering a perfect natural plateau.

A crew of 500 began to build a spur that ran for four miles. Water lines were laid for the people and a grandstand built for visiting dignitaries. There was a bandstand, a carnival midway and three separate speakers’ stands.

The old locomotives were painted green and red. The cars were decorated with banners from the Ringling Brothers Circus and the Oriental Hotel in Dallas. On the appointed day Mr. Crush was seen riding a tall black horse supervising the event. Trains brought 10,000 people, all paying a fee, from all over Texas. Soon 40,000 people had arrived. It was a carnival atmosphere with hot dogs, speeches and apparently a lot of drinking, even thought it was a dry county. Two hundred policmen were on duty with a temporary jail available.

At 5 p.m. the engines started on their final journey. The engineers pulled the throttles and then jumped from the train. Track torpedoes had been placed along the track for noise. The locomotives crashed with a thundering noise and then as the crowd surged forward there was a tremendous explosion. In a typical crash the locomotives would rise together in an inverted V, but something went wrong that day and they smashed head-on.

Thousands of pieces of metal flew through the air as the boilers exploded. Two were killed, several suffered concussions and one man lost his eye. There were many other injuries. The railroad quietly settled with the injured giving one man $10,000 and a free life-time pass.

In the end it was a great success. People couldn’t wait to ride the train that staged its own crash, but Mr. Crush was fired.

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