Retired Katy Engineer Tells of Wreck at Crush

Taken from the September 1950 issue of KATY Employes' Magazine

"We cut the reverse lever back to the second notch, stayed with the engine for 16 exhausts--that's four turns of the drivers--and jumped. Those were good engines. They really got up speed.

"From a standing start they made the mile in just two minutes. I figure they were going 50 miles an hour when they crashed."

Thus Frank Barnes, retired Katy engineer, recently described the start of the now-famous Katy man-made wreck at Crush, Texas.

Frank leaned back in his favorite rocker in the living room of his comfortable San Antonio home and recalled the wreck.

"I was just a kid, then," he said. "You know, that was back in September, 1896. I should have had a bunch of pictures, but at that time I was young and didn't care about such things."

Frank, when he retired in May of this year, was the Katy's oldest engineer in point of service. He started working for Katy in December, 1892, as an engine watcher. That was just three days before his 21st birthday, and quite a while before the Katy had a station in San Antonio.

"I fell in love with steam engines then," he told the Magazine reporter. "I've been in love with 'em ever since. You know, I was running a freight out of here (San Antonio) when I retired. I could've had any train I wanted, but I don't like diesels. I like to hear the steam engines puff. The diesels don't make enough noise and they ride too easy. You don't even know your on an engine."

The retired engineer looked across the room at Mrs. Barnes, who nodded her head in agreement. "The diesels just stand there silently after they bring a train in the station," she affirmed. "The steam locomotives moan and groan and tell youi about the trips they've made."

Engineer Barnes harked back to the Crush Wreck. "I said those were good locomotives and I meant it. You see they were 30- ton engines which were surplus. The Katy was putting in new 60- ton jobs. The road foreman of engines, Mr. MacElvaney (Ed. Note: Father of C. T. MacElvaney, master mechanic at Dallas) told me that they had about 50 of them they wanted to get rid of. They were selling them to logging camps and gravel companies and such."

Fifty-seven years of active railroading bring forth a lot of adventures, but several take top priority in the 79-year-old Katy man's memories. For example, he recalls with pride the Shriner's Special he piloted out of Galveston back in 1913. The train was double-headed and Frank was the head engineer. They had a cleared board and orders which made the special superior to anything between Galveston and Dallas, their destination, and there were two firemen on each engine.

"We never made a stop," Barnes related, his eyes sparkling, "except for coal and water."

Another highlight in the Katy Engineer's life was the time Lodge 421, AF & AM, held a special meeting in March of last year to honor Frank Barnes' 50 years of membership.

"You know I'm mighty proud of my Katy 50-year service pin, too."

Asked about the current stories of the Crush accident, Engineer Barnes shook his head. "They come pretty close to being right," he said "but there's been some things left out. For instance, Mr. Crush took every precaution to make the whole affair a safe event. You know, that was back in the link and pin coupler days. In order to keep the trains from breaking apart they were fastened together with extra chains. As an extra safety precaution the rails were pulled up behind each train--that was in case one of them got away--it couldn't run wild down the main line.

"Mr. Crush made sure that there would be a wreck, too. The locomotives were in perfect mechanical condition, but to insure that the event would come off Mr. Crush had an extra locomotive as a standby, just in case something happened to one of the painted up engines."

He grinned in remembering. "I'll tell you, those were two flashy engines. Old 999 was painted green with red trim, and was headed south. Number 1001 was red, trimmed in green, and was headed north."

He rubbed his hands together as if polishing brass. "I'll tell you we really worked on those engines. Fireman in those days had to keep their engines in condition. We had to enamel our engines, fill the lights with oil, polish the brass, and all of those chores.

"We had a good time for a week before the wreck, though. You see, in order to advertise the event we toured all of North Texas with one of the trains. We went to Waco, Denison, and all those towns along the Katy.

"I still don't know what made those boilers explode. Everything was planned just right, and the crowd really got its money's worth. All of those safety precautions were taken and nobody would have been hurt if the boilers hadn't gone off. Even then, they wouldn't have been hurt then if they'd stayed behind the safety lines after the collison."

He named the crew of the two trains. "Stanton and Cain were the engineers," he said. "Dickerson and myself were firemen. The conductors were Webb and Thurman, and the brakemen, Parsons and Heacock. I don't remember their initials, and I don't know where they are now. Maybe they've passed on."

The Katy's oldest engineer described his decision to retire in simple language.

"I've always lived a clean life," he informed the Magazine representative. "I've followed the pattern set by my father and grandfather. They didn't drink hard liquor or use tobacco. I don't know what made me decide to retire. I got up for breakfast on the fourth of last March and told Mrs. Barnes I had a notion to retire. She said, "Why don't you?"

"So I did."