During the summer of 1896, a promising young passenger agent by the name of William George Crush came up with a wild plan to save the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad, which came through Texas. This was the heyday of the rail throughout the United States, and the M-K-T (or "Katy") Railroad was part of an effort to expand the U.S. railroad system into what was then called the Indian Territories of the Gulf and far West. For the most part, the Katy had been a big success, but ultimately Katy ticket sales started to slump. Searching for a solution, the Railroad looked to Crush, who had hatched an idea to sell more tickets: a highly-publicized train wreck in a secluded valley along the Dallas-Waco track. The Katy agreed and the town of Crush was born.
Advertisements went up in store windows and on fences all around Texas promoting the "Monster Crash." Two 35-ton engines would be used for the collision, one red with green trim (Number 1001) and the other green with red trim (Number 999). Crush took both engines, which towed six cars apiece, on a tour across Texas a week before the crash was to take place. Not only could would-be spectators inspect the trains but they could also see the advertisements for the Oriental Hotel in Dallas and the Ringling Brothers Circus that Crush had posted on the cars. In September, five hundred men laid a track in a valley fifteen miles north of Waco that came to be known as Crush. They erected bandstands and grandstands (one specifically for reporters), three separate speakers’ stands, two telegraph offices, several medicine show stages, game booths, refreshment stands, a "super restaurant," and a carnival midway (Crush was, after all, a friend of entrepreneur Phineas T. Barnum). Eight tanker trucks were brought in equipped with water for spectators and two hundred constables were on hand to keep the crowds in line (a fully operative wooden jail was also erected).
The Katy Railroad sold round-trip tickets from almost anywhere in the state at reduced prices, and by ten in the morning, 10,000 people had already gathered at Crush. By the scheduled crash time, there were between 40,000 and 50,000 people packed onto the hillside (no tickets were sold, so the exact attendence record is unknown). The valley was full of people, a crowd stretching at least two hundred yards, with some folks even taking to the trees for a better seat. The Number 1001 and the number 999 touched cowcatchers at five in the evening and then backed up onto opposite hillsides two miles apart. Crush rode onto the center of the track atop a white horse and waited. Once the conductors were in place, Crush dropped his white hat and the trains were off. As the massive engines barreled down the tracks, spectators on the platform broke away from the crowd to get a better view. The conductors jumped from their engines, and some individuals moved even closer to the train tracks. A few daring souls moved as close as ten yards from the point of impending impact.
In a cloud of steam and screeching metal, the trains crashed with more force than was expected. The boilers from each engine shot up into the air and exploded, sending bits of flying debris into the crowd. Pandemonium ensued as the throng tried to escape the shrapnel. A photographer lost his right eye to an airborne bolt, another man’s chin was sheared by shrapnel, and still another man was killed while walking with two women. In the end, two young men and one woman were killed, and six people were seriously injured. By nightfall, Crush was completely depopulated.
George Crush was fired that evening only to be rehired the next day; he worked for the Katy Railroad for 57 years. The railroad itself gained only infamy from the spectacle at Crush. With the turn of the century close at hand and automobile technology just around the corner, the Katy never reached the level of popularity it once held, and the crash at Crush soon faded into Texas legend. Ragtime musician Scott Joplin wrote a song about the staged event entitled, "The Great Crush Collision." Otherwise, there remains but a small plaque near Waco in McLennan County commemorating the Texas "city for a day" known as Crush.