The runaway train came down the track and she blew – up! Incredible footage captures trains strapped with explosives crashing at up to 90mph to entertain huge crowds 100 years ago

So sayeth the Daily Mail. I got this link from LeeAnn Dickson – she is the wife of our VEEP Lonnie.

Watching two trains hurtle into each other at full throttle causing complete destruction and chaos might not sound like ideal weekend entertainment. But more than 100 years ago, thousands of people would flock from miles around to do just that. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, showmen in America would intentionally crash two trains, strapped with explosives, into each other to attract hordes of people to a fair. 

Ticket to collide! Trains crash head-on in archive footage taken at the California State Fair. Click here to see. 
 
This one is a staged crash at the Minnesota State Fair in the 1930s. Click here to see.
 
A purpose-built track would be laid with two trains that were no longer fit for purpose placed at opposite ends facing each other. Brave engineers would then fire them up to full speed and jump off at the last second, just before the machines smashed into each other at a combined speed of 90mph and caused huge explosions.  By the late 1800s train crashes were common and often fatal and large crowds would gather to watch the damage caused.  A man known only as A L Streeter was the first to put on an intentional train crash in Buckeye Park, Ohio, in 1896 Pictured is the aftermath of a staged crash at the Crush site:
Train crash

Train crash

 Pictured below are thousands of people looking at a real train crash that happened near Nashville, Tennessee in 1918.

Real crash at Nashville

Real crash at Nashville

But not all of the dangerous crashes ran smoothly. 

Later that year (1896), a man called William Crush started a similar event in the middle of nowhere in rural Texas. Crush’s events didn’t always run smoothly. One crash ended in the death of three people when the trains’ boilers exploded and sent iron debris flying into the crowd. He even created a purpose-built city for his customers by drilling two water wells and inviting the Ringling Brothers to put on a circus. Erecting a grandstand, telegraph office and train depot, the ‘city’ became so big that they named it Crush – after its creator. Before the first Crush crash, he asked the engineers. whether there was any chance the boilers on the steam engines could explode. All of them except one said they wouldn’t. A staggering 40,000 people had turned up to the event – double the number that had been expected. The crowd was kept 200 yards away from the crash zone while the trains both rattled toward each other at 45 mph. 

Joe Connolly, another event promoter, earned the nickname ‘Head-On Joe’ for successfully putting on more than 100 deliberate train crashes from 1900 to 1932. Pictured is the moment just before another crash at Crush:.

Moments before the crash

Moments before the crash

Moments after impact

Moments after impact

Head-On Joe would also decorate his trains to encourage more visitors and make the crash more exciting. Pictured is the crash from the Iowa State Fair in 1932 when he painted Hoover on one train and Roosevelt on the other, depicting the political rivalry that was going on during the presidential election. At the moment of their collision there was an enormous explosion that sent debris flying hundreds of feet into the air. Terrified onlookers sprinted away from the scene but lumps of steel and iron reigned down – killing three people and seriously injuring others. Despite this catastrophe, staged crashes continued to be popular. “