The Strange Tale of the Crush Crash

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The town of Crush, Texas, should be called Crash instead. This town has one of the most interesting origin tales, as it was created for a one-day stunt, sometimes called the Crush crash. Though the town no longer exists, it’s legacy does in the memories and stories passed down from participants and witnesses.

A Publicity Stunt

Missouri Kansas and Texas Railway advertisement from 15 years before the Crush Crash

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In the late 1800s, trains were the best means of cross-country travel, and various train companies competed for commercial and passenger fares. The Missouri-Kansas-Texas line, also known as the Katy, connected various cities from central Texas north to Missouri. To promote the rail line, William Crush devised a stunt that would give people the chance to see a pair of trains collide head-on. This would take place in the town of Crush, which became a town of 40,000 for one day on September 15, 1896.

Origins of the Name Crush

Trains about to strike at Crush Texas

Photo: Facebook/Buttermilk Junction

Crush, Texas was named after the idea man, William Crush, who also worked for the line as a general passenger agent. Since many considered the stunt his brainchild, the town took up his name, but Crush, Texas, no longer exists. For the event, a pair of wells and a new train track were constructed. Ringling Brothers donated tents for the viewers, and booths and sideshows appeared almost overnight to cater to the event spectators. For the day of the Crush crash, the town ranked as the second largest in Texas.

The Crush Crash

Crush Crash in Crush Texas

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Crush crash itself marked a banner day for the Katy railway. Though the event was set for 4 p.m., the pressing crowd delayed it when they refused to stand away from the rail lines. This safety measure would prove needed when the trains started their run at 5 p.m. The engineers in each train at the end of the four-mile-long track started up the locomotives and moved forward. After reaching close to 45 miles per hour, the engineers jumped from the trains, letting the vehicles ram into each other. Though one of the engineers, Frank Barnes, recalled in 1950 that every safety precaution was taken, the boilers of the engines exploded, resulting in three deaths and multiple injuries. Barnes posits that people who were injured were not standing behind the safety line as instructed.

Overall, the stunt was a success, though the Katy fired Crush as soon as the injuries were known, but the company rehired him the next day when everyone realized that the railroad did not get negative reviews from the event. Famed composer Scott Joplin wrote a piece called the “Great Crush Collision March,” in honor of the Crush crash. Though it’s not known if he witnessed the event or not. Likely the crash did not harm the railroad’s business as it would remain in operation until it was bought out by Union Pacific in 1988.


Wikipedia: Crush, Texas

Crash at Crush Recalled

Wikipedia: Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad