This 19th century publicity stunt by the Katy Railway ended up killing three and injuring many other spectators.
The Texas train crash at Crush was a spectacular event that set a carnival mood, but it was also a rather dangerous one. It makes one wonder what its creator was thinking. The event ended with explosions, flying metal, severe injuries and even three deaths.
The life of William Crush.
William Crush worked for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (often referred to as the “Katy” line) as a passenger agent. During the 1890s the railroad started replacing their 30-ton steam engines with larger and more-modern 60-ton units which left nearly 50 trains that were of no use to Katy. Even though the railroad sold some to logging camps and gravel companies, there were still many more remaining. There is some speculation that Mr. Crush may have been inspired by a similar event conducted near Cleveland, Ohio several months prior, and perhaps he thought it would be a good way to help his company get rid of some of those obsolete locomotives while also publicizing their railway company.
Crush’s idea: setting it in motion.
What Crush proposed was to place two of the obsolete locomotives on a track approximately two miles apart facing one another. After the crews started the engines and got the trains moving they would jump off allowing the trains to race toward one another until they eventually crashed into each other creating a spectacular crash. There would be no charge for spectators to view the event, but the railroad would make money from the sale of train tickets to those traveling to the event.
As the event unfolded, the railroad conducted speed tests in order to help predict the point at which the trains would collide. They also removed the rails that connected the collision spur track with mainline in order to avoid any engines running wild onto the mainline. They also chained the trains together in order to prevent them from detaching at the time of impact. There were concerns about the durability of the engine’s boilers and whether they would hold up under the stress caused by the crash. Because of the design of the steam engine, if a boiler ruptured, it would cause an explosion very similar to that of a bomb. Of course it seems obvious that if one or both of the engines were likely to explode, the event might be too dangerous for spectators. However, Katy’s engineers assured Crush the boilers could withstand the pressure.
The explosion was deadly.
While the trains hit very close to the projected spot, both boilers exploded like two bombs; something the railway said was an “unexpected event.” When the boilers simultaneously exploded, the air became filled with flying iron and steel. This shrapnel killed two men and a woman while six other people suffered serious injuries. The official photographer (who took the above photo) lost an eye after being struck by a flying bolt. The railroad moved quickly to pay off all personal injury and wrongful death claims as a result of the crash, and memories quickly faded.
Unfortunately, the fatalities and severe injuries resulting from this train crash did not stop the railroads from later staging more of these crashes – although there were no more boiler explosions. Between the lawsuits, the serious injuries, and the deaths, it was quite obvious the event was more dangerous than the creators ever anticipated.