old steam engines head-on crash

When I was a kid in the 60’s, some comedy show I used to watch (Laugh-In?) used three second clips as links between sketches which depicted two steam engines running head-on at each other and resulted in a spectacular crash with the added effects of bursting boilers and geysering steam.
My question: As this was before special effects as we know them today, I am assuming that this was real. Why would they destroy two (apperently) functioning engines, which would result in ripped-up track and one heck of a mess to clean up. The answer has got to be better than “because it will make a great film and a great big bang”.

This also conjures up memories of elementary arithmetic problems: Train A leaves the station at x o’clock at 20 mph, Train B leaves the station…
They must have known where to put the cameras. I am assuming the engines were unmanned.

Any takers?
Any ideas where one could see such a clip today?


Actually, I’m pretty sure it was real, and done just for the hell of it. that was in the early '20s, when those things were popular. (like flying a plane thru a barn or driving the little car up the ramp and crashing into a house).

They still show it on the History and Discovery channels occasionally.

Here’s a WAG for you: As the rail network entered its decline in the twentieth century, lengths of track and old engines probably became affordable to smash up on film. No evidence, however.

If you dig train stunts, you can’t go wrong with Buster Keaton’s The General. As a film, it approaches a zen-like perfection that has rarely been equaled and probably never surpassed.

As a stunt film, you have Buster (who, IMHO, so far exceeded Chaplin in daring and ability that the two are only comparable by other standards) doing some of the most dangerous and hilarious train stunts you’ll ever see.

I saw recently that the catastrophic final scene from Bridge on the River Quai was done in 1/4 scale (I think). I was convinced that was the real thing for twenty years, so it might be easier to fool the viewing audience than you (or especially I) might think.

“Perfessor Bill” has a web site with great MIDIs. One of them by Scott Joplin is the The Great Crush Collision March

It wouldn’t suprise me if people would have crashed two old steam engines back in the early part century as the technological revolution was taking off. There was a bit of an attitude that everything was going to be made so much better that they could throw away the old technolgies, so it wouldn’t suprise me if they had fun with steam engines, as they could be replaced.

Thanks for reminding me of the Joplin song, Sailor. My dad used to listen to that all the time on trips, but I havn’t heard it in years. Off to napster for me.

I understood that it was common practice to stage such wrecks. You had to do something with those old engines so why not.I believe I’ve heard Dad talk about seeing a staged trainwreck at the Iowa State fair when he was a kid.I guess it depends how fast they were traveling as to the amount of damage.
I believe the question should have read "old steam trains " though.There are many types of steam engines. The tractors were very slow.It would not have been very spectacular to see two tractors go at it.

Actually, “old steam locomotives” is the correct terminology. The locomotive provides the power, while the train is the collection of rolling stock pulled (or sometimes pushed) by the locomotive.


Dr. Pedant

I stand corrected.
With a name like Rocket I guess you’d know locomotives.

Ahem, fourth (and probably last) generation railroader.

Why the last generation?
I think that they will be around for a long time. Maybe not in the form we know them but your great grandfather probably wouldn’t recognize todays equipment.Thats part of progress.

Oh, I think that US railroads will be around in some form for a long time yet. It’s just that for a long time the general trend was to reduced employment; plus in my extended family, I am the last to have worked in the industry. None of the other kids was interested in following this career path, and I’ve moved on myself.

I worked for a switching and terminal line in Western PA that in the mid-70’s operated 12-15 crews per 8-hour shift and employed over 500 people. The same line now operates one crew on a single shift 3 times a week and employs maybe 20 total. This happened on numerous other lines as basic steelmaking died out in the Northeast.

OTOH, some of the big line-haul roads, such as CSX and BNSF, recently have been hiring again after many years without augmenting their work forces to any significant degree. Although the money can be pretty good, I am happy with my current career and have no plans to go back.

Looking back over my last couple of messages: whoa, talk about thread drift.

Desperate attempt to get back on track, so to speak:

I believe that several years ago Trains Magazine ran an detailed article on the intentional crashing of steam locomotives for entertainment purposes. This was, indeed, quite common in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. You might be able to find the article through your local library.

In recent years,as part of the “Operation Lifesaver” campaign to reduce car/train accidents at grade crossings, some of the major railroads have staged collisions between trains and (unoccupied) automobiles in various locations. The train wins every time, BTW.

Dang, just remembered some additional stuff related to this thread.

Re: the OP about film of actual collisions bwetween trains; nearly all the train wrecks shown in theatrical films are model work and/or SFX, except, as previously noted Buster Keaton’s “The General”. There are two other notable exceptions, however:

  1. La Bataille du Rail (Dir. Rene Clement, 1946): this French film about the WWII resistance ends with the spectacular pileup of a German munitions train, loaded with actual tanks and artillery left surplus by the end of the war. The wreck occurs at a sufficiently high speed that some of the wagons can be seen to actually fly throught the air as they leave the rails and hurtle down an embankment.

  2. The Train (Dir. John Frankenheimer, 1964): again taking the subject of the resistance, Burt Lancaster plays a French railway inspector who tries to stop the Nazis from taking looted works of art back to Germany as the allies advance toward Paris. The movie features three major wrecks and the destruction of a railway yard by aerial bombardment, all staged full scale. The equipment and locations, including several steam locomotives and a derelict engine servicing facility, were supplied by the French National railways, which were changing over to primarily diesel and electric motive power at the time.

Ok, I think I’m done now.

Note to Rocket88
I’m from B
as in BNSF
They have a RR shop there.
When a kid I used to sneak over there and climb on the locomotives that I assumed were being stripped to be sold for scrap. Big old coal burners.

Cool. Steam was gone by the time I was aware of trains. Must do with tourist lines and the occasional main line special.

Thanks for your input everybody. mystery solved!

“You screw up just this much, and you’ll find yourself flying a cargo plane full of rubber dogshit out of Hong Kong!”