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Crush, Texas (wikipedia.org)
179 points by Tomte on Nov 27, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 40 comments

I just spent a few months parked in West, TX, very near the site of this happening. I didn't know about it, or I would have gone to visit the site! But, there's a more recent somewhat famous explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, as well, that killed 15 people and injured 200 others. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West%2C_Texas#2013_explosion)

That specific part of Texas might have more than its fair share of crazy explosions, but I've noticed in my travels that even small obscure towns often have some kind of surprising history. Cults, infamous battles between indigenous peoples and settlers, racist enclaves, all sorts of bizarre events, crazy publicity stunts, etc. are so common in the US and most people are rarely aware of the history of the land they're on. Sometimes it feels like the United States is one long story of hucksters and crazies bamboozling and recklessly endangering their neighbors' lives.

A very good long-form piece on the fertilizer explosion:


> I didn't know about it, or I would have gone to visit the site!

Just an exit south of where you grab your Kolaches. There's a historical marker [0] (actually, I think it moved to [1] ...so same exit).

0 - https://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=35909

1 - https://www.hmdb.org/Marker.asp?Marker=59674

If you were in West, you were near Dinosaur Valley State Park. It's not quite the same as stories go, but it has obvious attraction.

Right outside Dino Valley (at least in the late 1990s) was the Creation Evidence Museum. It was housed in a double-wide trailer.

Much closer to Mammoth National Monument. I didn't make it to Dinosaur Valley State Park, but might next time I pass through. I have servers in colocation in Dallas, so I pass through there at least once a year, or so, just for upgrades and disk replacements and such.

I have no doubt that we as a species today would still happily line up for this kind of awesomely stupid spectacle, most of us with our smartphones out. The difference from 1896 is we have enough regulations to prevent such a thing.

Another fun detail from the event's aftermath that likely wouldn't happen today:

> Crush was immediately fired from the Katy railroad. In light of a lack of negative publicity, however, he was rehired the next day.

edit: the Wikipedia entry has some nice footnote/sources. I didn't read them all but the one from wacohistory.org has even more interesting details:


I think I'll bookmark this article for the times when people complain about how much dumber and shallower we are compared to folks from the olden days:

> Two people died and at least six other people were seriously injured by flying debris, including a Waco photojournalist, Jarvis Deane, who lost an eye. While the railway moved in quickly to remove the larger wreckage, souvenir hunters swarmed over the site, carrying off most of the remains despite burning their hands on the shrapnel.

Oh, this kind of thing definitely still happens today. Just not in the US. There's this:


I've been twice. The climax of the event involves pushing three-meter paper-mache bulls through crowds of tens of thousands of drunk people, all the while shooting out rockets and other not-even-remotely-safe-or-sane fireworks in what looks like a cluster bomb explosion. I saw dozens of people get seriously injured... and they come back every year.

Personally, I could do without some of the regulations. It's liberating to go someplace that doesn't feel toddler-proofed.

> It's liberating to go someplace that doesn't feel toddler-proofed.

Agree that America feels "toddler-proofed" relative to developing nations. However, I had a great experience at St. Louis's City Museum. Even if the experience may be relatively tame to what you can find overseas, it was still astonishing to me that such a place of interest existed in America with so few safeguards.

Here's a great WSJ article about the thrills and trials of the City Museum: http://web.archive.org/web/20150612052257/https://www.wsj.co...

People just really like fire.

A friend described how they accidentally created a fuel air explosion, at the Tag fall cave in when lighting the bonfire, strong enough to knock over the front row the the crowd.

Nobody was seriously hurt, and peoples general reactions was they thought this was intentional and where disappointed it was not repeated next year...

That festival's fun as hell, but yea there's a major culture difference there, not just governmental.

What shocked me was when they still did it the same year as the Formosa Fun Cost explosion [1], seems the Taiwanese bounce back pretty well.


> ...stupid spectacle...The difference from 1896 is we have enough regulations to prevent such a thing.

I dunno exploding buildings by carefully planning an inward safe collapse is both regulated and celebrated as entertainment

Sure, but I don’t think you give enough credit to the senseless spectacle that Crush, Texas seems to have been. Blowing up a building is entertaining but it is also (usually) useful and necessary.

A more accurate analogy would be building a respectable, expensive structure and then blowing it up for the hell of it. But that doesn’t capture the fundamental chaos of the Crush, TX. Even if the standard of physics education was much lower back then than it is today, I would have to think that people knew the result of slamming trains together would have an amount of pure chaos and risk. And of course they went out en masse to see it!

Its definitely a senseless tragedy for those injured and killed, as it would be today. I agree there's risk involved when there's a an audience for such an event.

But necessity or foolishness of an explosion doesn't really negate the ability to perform it both safely and for entertainment.

But the modern equivalent of say crashing two high speed trains in front of an audience? would probably not occur due to insurance reasons

What I find interesting is they didnt really know if 2 or 3 people died, so I do question if the people of that time thought it was a tragedy or just didn't care about the aftermath as much as we'd think.

>> A more accurate analogy would be building a respectable, expensive structure and then blowing it up for the hell of it.

Locomotives do reach end of life. Where do you get the idea that they were not old clunkers donated by the same railroad interests that profited by running excursion trains to the event from Dallas, Ft. Worth and Waco?

One of the footnoted articles says that the engines were due for retirement (there were also boxcars involved) though the engines were painted to look brand new and were in good enough condition to be used in a nationwide tour to advertise the event:


> Whatever Crush’s motivations were, he managed to sway the Katy managers. For weeks leading up to the event, Crush and a fleet of workers scurried around the state in preparation. Crush found two 35-ton steam engines that were being retired for new 60-ton engines and commissioned them for the spectacle, after consulting with company engineers about the safety of the undertaking (only one suggested the collision might cause an explosion, and he was overruled). Engine No. 1001 was painted red with green trim, while its opponent, No. 999, was painted green with red trim

In the building demolitions I've seen, it has always been completely obvious that the building has been condemned and not in any kind of usable condition, because it doesn't need to be "usable" in order to be blown up. A train that is set to run into another train at full speed doesn't have to be brand new, but it does have to be able to actually execute the actual act.

End of life is still a thing as maintenance cost grow over time.

Demolition derby cars for example need to be able to run, but that does not stop them from being nearly worthless otherwise. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demolition_derby

The aggie bonfire was only put to an end relatively recently, and we still have burning man.

In US and other developed countries it is. Other countries it is entertainment but not so safe. A few examples within the last five years or so around the world.




Some people creates this kind of spectacles themselves:


Not quite the same but I would really be interested in witnessing an atmospheric nuclear explosion. Why? Simply to get an idea of the actual scale because I think that is something that is impossible to grasp without actually experiencing it in person.

Apparently this was possible some 60 years ago. A recent PBS documentary[1] noted that "atomic tourism" to Las Vegas was great enough that Nevada Senators were repeatedly lobbying against a ban on atmospheric testing in the 50's.

[1] http://www.vegaspbs.org/the-test/

Las Vegas has The National Atomic Testing Museum and it's worth a visit:


Regulations are extremely useful in things like building integrity codes (quake tolerance/etc) but that's because in these cases they serve a useful purpose in preventing exploitative behavior. It's not easy for a regular person to tell the difference between a building that could stand for centuries and one who's foundation is ready to tumble if somebody sneezes too hard. And the latter is vastly cheaper to build - so there's a major incentive to exploit people in a way they could not be reasonable expected to appreciate.

But in this case, why are regulations actually necessary? It's quite self evident that going to go see two trains collide is not exactly the safest activity. But so long as the consumer understands this, I see little difference between this and something like the Running of the Bulls or even independent activities like wingsuiting.

One of the most bizarrely entertaining experiences I had was in the developing world. At a festival there was a large wooden tube that was several stories tall. Looking at it top down it'd look like a donut. The outer ring was a ramp that circled all the way to the top with intermittent standing room facing the inner ring. The inner circle was mostly solid excepting these openings. So what was it?

A small door opened at the bottom a motorcycle came out and started driving around the inner tube climbing all the way to the top of the building before zooming back down and zipping all around. And he'd drive with one hand grabbing tips people would hold with their hands on the various levels with his other hand. And the 2, 3, and 4 more motorcycles came out and all were driving around the building doing the same thing. And then finally a truck came out of the bottom and started driving up the building as well. About that time the building was violently rocking. Absolutely insane, but absolutely fun. Everybody in there had a ton of fun at a moderate amount of risk - and I cannot imagine how much money those drivers were making in tips alone. Certainly the equivalent of thousands of USD for a night's work.

The only thing I thought was "Never in a million years would this be allowed in the US" and it's an experience I'll fondly recall til the day I die. I remember seeing something remotely similar at a circus when I was young. Except it was done inside an isolated steel ring in the center of a stadium with everybody seated about 20 meters away at the minimum -- that was.. cute. And I think that's kind of a shame. Who in the world is the government to not allow people to engage in risk taking behavior so long as the risk is mutually appreciated? If anything, I'd be okay if there was a requirement of all participants and observers having sufficient commercial medical coverage such that in the case of an accident the victims would not be a burden on the rest of society.

> Who in the world is the government to not allow people to engage in risk taking behavior so long as the risk is mutually appreciated? If anything

Because the government and taxpayers are the ones who have to foot the bill for the ensuing aftermath. Yes, there is a limit to which the government can regulate personal risk. But the event described sounds big enough to go beyond issues of personal risk and into realms in which the government is expected to be liable and responsible.

I didn't find your anecdote to be particularly convincing. It sounds like you had a great night of entertainment when visiting a developing country. But it also sounds like it might have involved folks putting themselves in dangerous situations for others' entertainment? At some point, isn't it an unhealthy situation when a developing country's people (presumably poor people) are happy to throw themselves in dangerous situations because the reward of tourist money is so alluring? As entertaining as the show may have been, it doesn't sound like a great long-term arrangement for that country. And it doesn't seem worth having deregulation for in the U.S.

The event I'm discussing was pretty much all locals and has nothing to do with tourism, but that is completely beside the point. Googling for 'event where guys drive bikes around circular wooden structure' to even see if I could find it online gave me Burning Man, though the second hit - what wiki calls a 'Wall of Death' is correct. Though, then googling for 'Wall of Death' gives me metal concerts. Anyhow, that's a tangent - but one I found amusing!

It absolutely is the duty of the government to clamp down on fraudulent and deceptive behavior. However, I do not see at as the role of the government to clamp down on behavior that two individuals mutually consent to with a shared understanding of the risks involved, so long as that behavior stands a negligible chance of impacting non-consenting individuals. And as mentioned, this could include things like requiring private health insurance of the deal might involve one participant or the other injuring themselves since requiring public healthcare would enter into the realm of impacting non-consenting individuals. Be stupid if you want - society doesn't pay for it though.

Danger itself is not inherently exploitative. If anything, I suspect exploitation may be rarer in dangerous fields than other simply because adrenaline is something many people live for -- and if you don't then you're probably not going to get involved in whatever career path has you careening one handed around wooden structures. That's not something most people could do, even if they wanted to. For example wingsuiting is incredibly dangerous, incredibly fun, and can be incredibly lucrative for the top few through sponsorships and advertisements. But it's obviously not little guys just trying to feed their families; for the most part it's also primarily something only people who are pretty well off can even get started in.

> It's quite self evident that going to go see two trains collide is not exactly the safest activity

>> The event had to be delayed for an hour because the crowd resisted being pressed back by the police to what was supposedly a safe distance


Yes, it's possible to crash trains and demolish things safely; no shit, Sherlock. The difficulty is doing it in front of 40,000 people close enough to get a great view of it, in the middle of no where.

ever been to an airshow?


You know about the strict restrictions to air shows imposed after Ramstein?

Planes are not flying over masses anymore. Acrobatics are never performed towards the masses. Etc. etc.

I've seen a few from a distance so I'm not an expert. Which modern airshows feature plans that crash or explode intentionally near the audience?

It was not such a dumb idea. Between the mid-1890's and the mid 1920's, Joe Connolly (known as Head-On Joe) staged more than 50 similar events with more than 1 million paid admissions and not a single injury ever!

Video of a staged crash at the Iowa State Fair, 1932:


Interesting article about the marketing of the disaster and the accompanying music piece


You may have heard the classic blues song "She caught the Katy" which opens the Blues Brothers movie. It's about this railroad.

She caught the Katy / Left me a mule to ride

Burning Man is a week of crazy spectacles in the desert.

I went for the first time in 2007. On one of the first nights there, I went to see the Man itself and was in line waiting to climb up into it. The people waiting behind me were discussing the fact that someone had fallen off an art car and died. I couldn't help overhearing, and clueslessly was like "oh, no! does this risk the event not happening next year???"

The group laughed and informed me that people die almost every year, if only one person bit it during a particular burning man that would be a good year.

At least they didn't electrocute an elephant, as folks in New York did for public spectacle. Topsy was its name.

Thats cool and all, but now do it with a hyperloop

all fun and games until somebody loses an eye

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