Victorian Trains: Evidence Eradication Technique?

From 1895 until the 1930s, staged train wrecks were a popular - albeit destructive - event at fairs and festivals across the U.S., long before anyone ever thought of wrecking old automobiles at a demolition derby or monster truck rally.
  • For 40 Years, Crashing Trains Was One of America’s Favorite Pastimes

One of the first staged train wrecks was done in 1895 by a railroad equipment salesman named A.L. Streeter in Ohio. The wreck used the same formula that nearly all other staged train wrecks would follow for the next 40 years. Organizers would lay a stretch of track, usually anywhere from 1,800 feet to a mile-long, and then get two old steam locomotives and put them at either end of the track facing each other. They would then hire two brave locomotive engineers to wait for a signal from the organizer. When they got the go-ahead, the engineers would pull the throttles back as far as they could to get the locomotives up to speed. They would then jump from the locomotive before the two trains crashed in front of a crowd who had paid a few dollars to see the spectacle.


A crowd swarms over the wreckage to claim souvenirs in Buckeye Park in Ohio after a staged train wreck in 1896.


KD: You can read the entire article here, but what a crock of baloney. How much did it cost to produce one locomotive? How much did it cost to lay a mile-long stretch of a railroad track? Here is an interesting excerpt from the above-linked article:
  • According to the historian James J. Reisdorff’s book The Man Who Wrecked 146 Locomotives, Streeter’s wreck was so successful that there were at least six staged train collisions the following year, including the most infamous one north of Waco, Texas, known as the “Crash at Crush.”

Today locomotives cost between $4.6 millions and $6.7 millions. Apparently in 1896 those were approximately $10,000 a pop.
  • $20,000 in 1896 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $612,400 in 2019.
  • $10,000 in 1896 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $306,200 in 2019.
  • Those were some cheap locomotives with a train of cars, weren't they?
It's either those "entertainers" were making sufficient profits to cover associated locomotive costs, or we are facing a deliberate destruction of technological devices. Do we really know how many of those locomotives were destroyed altogether?
Interesting. I saw old video of one of the collisions, so looked it up here to see if anyone had documented it.
According to the article, this guy gets paid $3k plus a cut of the ticket prices for orchestrating this train wreck. 5k people paid 50 cents a piece to watch it. So total ticket sales is $2500, which is $500 less than what the man was paid to put on the show without factoring in his cut of the ticket sales. That's not even calculating the cost of the trains themselves, the gargantuan task of cleaning it up, nor the loss of life and injuries that resulted from these spectacles. So how did the fair make such a great profit? Did the train company PAY them to take the trains, deliver them to the site, and then lay the track for them?

Total and complete BS. The wanton destruction of this realm was in full swing during this era.
What happens to old rolling stock and locomotives?
Answer they are nearly always scrapped. Odd ones get preserved most don't.

Well if a showman buys a couple of locos and a rake of coaches/wagons at a premium over scrap value to smash into each other he will still recover the full scrap value of the locomotives coaches and wagons not to mention the track and he will benefit from every dollar profit he makes from the punters.

Simple really.
From the Atlas Obscura article;
Connolly went to the state fair board in Des Moines and offered to put on a crash for $5,000. That initial price was a bit too steep for the board but he came back with a more acceptable offer: $3,000 plus a cut of the ticket sales. The board agreed and on September 9, 1896—a week before the infamous Crash at Crush—Connolly held his first staged wreck. About 5,000 people paid 50 cents each to sit in the grandstand to watch the show and thousands more stood along the fence outside.

Connolly was paid 3000 dollars for staging the crash plus a cut of the profits.
5000 people paying 50 cents per seat is indeed 2500 dollars income...which of course does not cover the fee paid to Connolly.
So as a standalone event assuming those standing didn't pay anything to watch, the crash lost money. However as a headline event for state fair its purpose was to get people interested and used to the idea of paying to see events.

In the late 1800s, the Fair was in terrible financial distress. Organizers were having a heck of a time getting people to pay for admission. Think farmer’s market. Show up, walk around. Maybe you will buy something; maybe you won’t. They couldn’t figure out how to get people to pay for anything.

Along came Joe Connolly and his idea to stage an spectacular event that everyone would gladly pay to see it.

Connolly’s idea? Lay a section of railroad track in front of the grandstand and create a head-on collision of two locomotives, causing an earth-shaking fireball explosion the likes of which no one had ever seen. No kidding.

The Fair got on board. Connolly bought a couple of old trains that were headed for the scrap heap, laid down some tracks, and set the trains on a crash course.
The prospect of witnessing of a huge train wreck was too much for anyone to pass up. The first explosion in 1896 was so successful that they did it again in 1922 and 1932

Seems he was very good at running these events using scrappers, note.
Wanting to repeat his newfound success and parlay it into wealth, Joe bought all the throwaway trains he could get his hands on and took his show on the road, staging 146 train crashes across the country over the next 35 years. Later on, he figured out how to doctor up the explosions by putting flammable materials in the back of the trains and torpedoes on the track.

Even today gigantic metal machines of every kind reduce down to whatever their scrap value is. Their build cost is hopefully recovered from the profits made from their use. Hopefully being the key word!