The Crash at Crush

If you are traveling north on I-35 about fourteen miles beyond Waco, start watching on your right for a historical marker tucked against the barbed wire fence. Don’t bother to stop, because there is nothing to see unless you want to read the marker. Had you been there on

Texas Historical Marker tells the story of the Crash at Crush.

Texas Historical Marker tells the story of the Crash at Crush.

September 15, 1896, you would have seen plenty.

William Crush

William Crush

William George Crush, the general passenger agent for the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad, conjured up a rip-roaring publicity stunt to generate revenue. Katy officials agreed that promoting a train wreck between two old locomotives would stir a lot of interest and bring in revenue through the sale of $2 round-trip tickets to the event.

Crush sent out circulars and bulletins throughout the summer advertising the “Monster Crash.” Newspapers all over Texas and the surrounding states ran daily crash progress reports. Katy workers laid four miles of special track, built a grandstand for “honored guests,” converted a borrowed Ringling Brothers circus tent into a restaurant, and laid out a broad carnival midway lined with medicine shows, refreshment stands, and game booths. They even built a depot with a 2,100 foot-long passenger platform and a sign on the end of building modestly announcing to visitors that they had arrived at Crush, Texas.

At daybreak, the first of thirty-three fully loaded excursions trains arrived, some so crowded that passengers rode on the roofs of the cars. Many others came by wagon and on horseback. They picnicked; listened to political speeches at the three speakers’ platforms; and surged around the bandstand and special platform for reporters.

By 5:00 P.M., before an estimated crowd of more than 40,000, old engine No. 999, painted bright green and No. 1001 painted a brilliant red, faced each other and then backed for 3.5 miles in opposite directions. William George Crush, mounted on a handsome white horse and wearing a white suit, removed his white hat, held it high above his head, and then whipped it down as the signal to start engines. The crowd screamed as trains––whistles blaring––began barreling down the steep inclines toward the valley below, picking up speed as they churned forward. Both engineers tied the throttles wide open and jumped to safety. The cars trailing each engine bore brilliantly colored advertisements and waving streamers.

When the locomotives met in a shuddering, grinding clash both boilers exploded sending lethal missiles of metal and wood flying in all directions. Two men and a woman were killed and at least six received injuries including Waco’s most prominent photographer who was blinded.

Photographer J.C. Deane shot this photo just before he was blinded by flying debris.

Photographer J.C. Deane shot this photo just before he was blinded by flying debris.

William George Crush lost his job that night. And Katy rehired him the following day because the publicity wasn’t as  bad as expected. The railroad paid damage claims with cash and lifetime rail passes. Souvenir hunters cleaned the site by carrying off pieces of the tragedy.

Ragtime composer Scott Joplin, who had performed in the area, probably witnessed the crash because he memorialized it in his march “Great Crush Collision.”

Now, you won’t need to stop to read the historical marker. Just slow down and imagine what it must have looked like in that field so many years ago.

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16 thoughts on “The Crash at Crush

  1. I regret to inform you but the Texas Historical Association has some very wrong information and all of the stories I have read on line just keep perpetuating the same errors over and over it seams as if no one wants to do any real research they just take someone’s poorly researched story and put their on spin on it.
    Here are my resources:

    From: The Dallas Public Library.

    The Dallas Morning News, Aug.- Sept. 1896.
    The Dallas Times Herald, Aug. – Sept. 1896.
    Austin Daily Statesman, Sept. 16, & 17, 1896.
    Denison Gazetteer, Sept. 20, 1896.
    Galveston Daily News, Sept. 16, 1896.
    Houston Daily Post, Sept. 16, 1896.
    The Dallas Morning News April 13, 1943 (Crush’s Obituary)

    From: The Degolyer Library of Southern Methodist University.

    The Grant Locomotive Works ledger 1848 (A84.439).
    The Crash at Crush, by E.L. Connelly 1960 (83.1-2307).
    Humor Along the Katy lines, by Lloyd W. Jones 1970 (86.2-166).

    From the Katy Railroad Historical Society

    September 1950 issue of KATY Employees’ Magazine
    MKT Steam Roster Connely

    I would really like to know the source from which you got the photo of Crush I have the only known single photo of Crush as a young man it was taken from a much lager photo of Katy employees. (well that was until I posted it on findagrave.com with his obituary) there was one other photo published with his obituary and it was of his later years.

    Sincerely,
    Larry Paul

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    • Thanks for sharing your excellent sources.
      In regard to the photo, as I said if you go to Google and enter Crush, you can open the images drop down menu listed at the top of the site. You will find three or four there.
      Myra

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  2. I loved the way you photo shopped my photo of William George Crush that you got from Findagrave.com or from someone else who did the same and failed to at least give me credit. No passengers rode on the roofs of the cars. The estimated crowd only reached 30,000. He never built a depot only a 2,100 foot platform. The Crash was held on the main line not on a special track, a section of rail was removed from behind each locomotive to prevent the possibility that one train might jump the tracks and the other run wild, only a short siding was built. Contrary to popular belief George Crush was never fired and rehired. Only two men were killed: Two people were killed, Ernest Darnell, 19 year old son of Colonel Darnell of Bremond who was hit in the head by a flying brake chain, and Dewitt Barnes of Hewitt who was standing between his wife and another woman, was struck and killed by a flying fragment. A third man was killed: As one of the special trains was returning home after pulling out of Abbott, a man named John Morrison, of Ferris, stepped on the platform of a passenger coach, intending to go into the caboose. In attempting to cross from one platform to another, he missed his footing and was thrown underneath the wheels of the caboose and was fatally injured.
    Larry R. Paul

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    • Larry, allow me to apologize for using your photo of William George Crush without giving you credit. I know from personal experience how maddening it is for my work to be used without crediting me. I can’t remember my source. I do not use Findagrave. Google holds many images in the public domain, and that is where I go for photos. If the photographer is listed, I give credit as I did in this post for the image of the crash.
      I am interested in your information. My source was the Texas Historical Association, which is usually accurate.
      Best wishes to you. Myra

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