Crush, Texas… Population: 0… Town Duration: ONE Day

Fact is often WAY more entertaining than fiction, and the Crazy Train LOVES a great story. This is one of our favorites!

IMG_1075.JPGBesides kolaches and the tragic events of April 2013, West is–or was–famous for a much different reason. In 1896, a tract of land just south of the town was transformed into a temporary town called Crush, and for one day only, it would be the site of one of the most spectacular publicity stunts in American history.

IMG_1124.JPGWilliam George Crush was a passenger agent for the Katy Railroad. Two 20-year old Baldwin locomotive engines with diamond stacks, the No 999 and No 1001, were being decommissioned. Rather than send them off to scrap, Crush proposed that the company stage a train wreck as a publicity event. Train wrecks were big news, and people often flocked to see the aftermath. The “Monster Crash,” as it was called, would be unlike anything anyone had ever seen. The locomotives, each pulling seven boxcars (covered in advertising), would race towards each other, and then collide magnificently in front of an audience. There would be no admission charge to the event, but round-trip train fare would be $2 (approximately $55 today) from anywhere in Texas.

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Throughout the year preceding the event, flyers and bulletins were distributed all over Texas promoting the Crash at Crush. The Old 999 was painted bright green, the Old 1001 was painted a brilliant red, and the two engines were sent around the state on a publicity tour. Thousands of curious Texans turned out to see them. Newspapers ran reports on the preparations, piquing the interest of tens of thousands more.

IMG_1116.JPGCrush and the Katy execs expected a crowd of around 20,000. But they had no idea how grossly they had underestimated interest in the Monster Crash. The first of 33 fully loaded excursion trains arrived at the temporary station at Crush at daybreak on September 15. Demand for transportation to Crush was so great that some passengers rode on top of the train cars because there was no room inside the train. By 3:00pm, there were already more than 40,000 people on the grounds. Some estimated that the crowd was closer to 50,000.

The town of Crush was pretty impressive. A special grandstand had been erected for VIP seating. There were also three stages for speakers, two telegraph offices, a special viewing area for the media, and a bandstand. A large tent on loan from Ringling Brothers housed a massive restaurant, a carnival midway was set up with dozens of game booths, lemonade stands, medicine shows, and more. This was an event so epic that the promoters were confident it would make history.

At 5:00pm, Crush, Texas was the second largest city in Texas. Old No 999 and Old No 1001 squared off. George Crush, mastermind of the Monster Crash trotted to the center of the track on a white horse, raised his white hat, and after a brief pause, whipped it to the ground, signaling the engines to start. The engines lurched forward as the began their path towards each other, their engineers prepared to jump at a pre-determined point.

The crowd cheered as they pressed forward in anticipation, jockeying to get a better view of the track. The engines’ whistles shrieked, the track rumbled, and the engines roared. As the crowd of 40,000+ spectators, media, showmen, VIPs, Railroad executives, laborers, and more cheered, the Old 999 and the Old 1001 lifted off the track as the red and green engines thunderously and grindingly collided in a blast of steam of smoke. Railroad mechanics and experts expected the engines to rise in a “V” at impact, and for the cars to fall to the sides of the track. Unfortunately, their predictions were grossly incorrect. Instead, the engines telescoped, and their boilers simultaneously exploded, sending scalding hot steam, shrapnel, bolts, twisted metal, and burning fragments of train and track flying hundreds of yards into the panicking crowd.

IMG_1117.JPGAs the dust began to settle, three people had been killed and six others were seriously injured by flying debris. The Missouri Kansas Texas Railroad came in to remove the wreckage, and dismantle the grandstand and other temporary structures. Souvenir hunters carried off the rest. Spectators went home, the tents were struck, the carnival midway packed up, and by nightfall, the town of Crush was wiped from the map after it’s single, legendary day.

The Katy settled all damage claims brought against it with lifetime rail passes and big fat settlement checks. George Crush was immediately fired with a wink, but was rehired as soon as the press had moved on to other topics. Crush was even rumored to have received a bonus, and worked for the Katy until his retirement many years later. And the town of Crush has gone down in history as one of the most amazing stories in Texas history.

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The JNJ Line– Girls Day Out! (or, Girls Day PigOut!)

Vitáme Vás!
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Yesterday, I got to do one of my favorite things in the whole world– I got to introduce awesome people to awesome people! Since Jess and Nicole and I had so much fun on Tuesday, we decided that a trip to West was exactly what we needed. We loaded up the Littles and hit the open road for Kolacheville so the JNJ Line could feast on some delicious Czech baked goodness.

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Before April of 2013, most non-Texans had never heard of West, the little Czech town off of I35 between Dallas and Austin. The 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer Company put West on the national radar, but those of us Texans who’ve been up or down the I35 corridor more than once know all about it. (I’d even stopped in West in the early 90s on drives between San Antonio and Denton for kolache and to look for vintage cameras at the local antique shops.) Unfortunately, most don’t venture very far off the highway, but if you’re willing to drive less than a mile out of your way, you’ll have a foodie experience like no other. Mark and I knew there were three kolache bakeries in West, and we were determined to try all three so we could give one of them the Crazy Train seal of approval. We have tried them all, and YES–there IS a clear winner.

The town can trace its history back to the 1840s, but it wasn’t until the 1880s when the Missouri Kansas Texas Railroad (also known as “the Katy”) came through that West started to flourish. It was in this boom that the first Czech immigrants arrived in Central Texas. By the turn of the century, Czech businesses were everywhere in West, and the town became the center of commerce in the area.

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But it wasn’t until 1952 when the brilliant pharmacist from the Old Corner Drugstore and his equally brilliant Czech wife caught lightening in a bottle. Before the Montgomerys opened the Village Bakery, you had to have Czech friends to get your hands on a kolache. Other than home kitchens, the only places you could find them were at church bazaars or Czech family gatherings. They just weren’t commercially available. Knowing they had a great idea, the couple opened a bakery and used family recipes to share their amazing pastries with the public. But (Mark loves it when the pharmacist is the hero of the story!) it was the PHARMACIST who first thought of putting sausage into that delicious sweet dough. Kolache (koh-la-chee) has fruit, klobasniki has sausage–and thanks to a PHARMACIST, this deliciousness is available in nearly every donut joint in Texas. But make no mistake– nothing, and I mean NOTHING– compares to the original.

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It was on a regular Crazy Train roadtrip that we met Mimi Montgomery Irwin, the brilliant pharmacist’s daughter and current owner of the Village Bakery. After five minutes with Mimi, I felt like I’d met my long lost sister. She is so amazing. We spent hours in the Village Bakery, and we could’ve spent several more if the kids hadn’t been feasting on sugar and bursting at the seams to burn off some of that energy. For months I’d told Jess and Nicole about Mimi, and I couldn’t wait to take them to the Bakery. The Littles were ready for cookies and kolaches, and, well, so were we. The Village Bakery is 90 minutes from my house– a short drive for something, and someone, so awesome. (And for anyone who knows about my obsession with poppy seeds, it’s Mimi’s poppy seed buchta that will allow me to check “test positive for opium on a drug test without ever actually taking opium” off my bucket list! Her poppy seed buchta is simply the yummiest pastry on the planet.)

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One bite of the Village Bakery’s kolache, and Jess and Nicole knew that from that point on, donut shop kolache would be forever ruined. The Littles had a blast playing “ring around the rosie” eating cookies and kolache, drinking milk, and giggling and laughing. (And we even put them to work for a few minutes too!) The JNJ Line roared in like a freight train and had the BEST time with Mimi and her staff. We ate kolache and klobasniki and buchta and drank coffee and chatted. After several hours, we had to return to reality and say our goodbyes. It’s never fun to end a visit, and, once again, I felt a twinge of sadness leaving my long lost sister. BUT, I know, without a doubt, that the Crazy Train, and the JNJ Line will be back again…. sooner rather than later! It took us more than one trip to shuttle our delicious Czech haul out to the SSPhelps. Kolache, cinnamon rolls, pecan rolls, buchta, cookies, twists, pastries, and more made the trek back down I35. I have a feeling it won’t last very long! I brought home a sausage, cheese and jalepeño buchta that is simply indescribable it was so good. (Post Script: Said buchta is already history. The P5 devoured it in 2 sittings. It’s great for dinner AND for breakfast!)

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…and my little ladies man got to sneak in a few kisses before we left. Before he went to bed last night, he said, “Mamma, I kissed Mimi! And hugged her too! I wanna go back!”