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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Victorian Demolition Derby

     I think it is safe to say that in comparison to the modern world, the choices for entertainment in Victorian times were rather limited. No radio, no television, and only in the latter part were things like the first audio devices first offered thanks to Thomas Edison. But those were new and expensive and the quality was lackluster. So people had to find entertainment where they could find it. In some more rural areas a good old fashioned hanging seemed to draw a crowd. Indeed in some places it was a whole family affair. Bring out the kids and have a picnic and watch someone swing in the breeze at the end of a rope. Sounds like a bully time. We were a very morbid people. And this extended to a fad that lasted for several decades...train crashes.

     The rail road had transformed America and the industrialized world in the 19th century. And for some reason nothing sold papers and piqued peoples' interest like when those things crashed. Trains went off the rails, collided, and steam engines exploded. People loved to read about them. Around the same time, rail roads were hurting for business. There was such a huge push to build and expand the rail network in America after the Civil War we soon had a surplus of capacity and rail lines had to fight each other for every dollar. This is where one man came up with an idea to promote his rail line and put some butts in the seats.

     In 1896 William Crush decided that the best way to promote his company, The Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad(commonly called the KATY), is to stage a head on train collision. He chose a site that was relatively remote and only accessible via his rail line. The show was free, but he charged for transportation to and from the site. Naming the site Crush, Texas after himself he had workers construct temporary track to set up the spectacle. Due to great publicity, almost 40,000 people rode the KATY at 2 dollars a rider to come see the one day event.

        William Crush hoped that the two trains would hit and become a tangled mess. He ordered the crews to start each engine and jump free. The throngs of spectators saw the two engines hit each other in excess of 80mph. However, the trains did not become a tangled mess as Crush hoped, they exploded. The engines telescoped each other and the boilers of the steam engines blew sending train parts flying through the air. Two people were killed from shrapnel and a handful injured, but the crowd went wild and rushed to gather souvenirs. And this set off a new trend that lasted for almost 40 years in America where trains were purposely crashed when they reached the end of their service life. This happened all across America, even here in Iowa. In 1932, two trains were crashed at the Iowa State Fair. Being an election year the trains were named Hoover and Roosevelt.

The two trains a split second before they hit at Crush Texas in 1896

The resulting explosion which send large debris flying hundreds of feet at Crush Texas

The crash site today

The 1932 crash at the Iowa State Fair (Video of it below)



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