The late-winter rains of 1885 had been heavy, and on March 15 Village Creek between Fort Worth and Arlington was in a mood: out of its banks, running high, wide, and ruthless. As the rain fell and the creek rose, Texas & Pacific passenger train 304 headed east from Fort Worth. It was pulled by T&P engine 642. Clip is from the Dallas Daily Herald.
If you’re keeping score, engine 642 was an “American” class locomotive, meaning it had a 4-4-0 wheel configuration: four leading wheels on two axles, four powered and coupled driving wheels on two axles, and no trailing wheels. Length: about forty feet. Weight: seventy thousand pounds, give or take. (Photo from Fielder House Museum.)
The engineer of train 304, Lyman Roach, slowed those seventy thousand pounds to twelve miles per hour as the train headed down Arlington Hill toward a 130-foot-long bridge over Village Creek. Note the surveys of Middleton Tate Johnson, Matthew Jackson Brinson, Robert R. Ramey, and Sarah Gray Jennings, who donated the land for Fort Worth’s Carnegie Library. (1885 General Land Office map detail from Pete Charlton’s “The Lost Antique Maps of Texas: Fort Worth & Tarrant County, Volume 2” CD.)
That bridge was located near this modern-day railroad trestle over the creek near West Division Street at Green Oaks Boulevard.
Water in the creek on that ides of March in 1885 was twelve feet above normal, sweeping all before it, weakening the timbers of the bridge. As the leading wheels of engine 642 tiptoed onto the bridge (if seventy thousand pounds of iron can tiptoe), the timbers gave way. The engine, mail car, and baggage car plunged through the bridge and out of sight into the rising water.
The locomotive’s fireman, J. G. Habeck, disappeared into the creek with the locomotive. Four other members of the crew were injured. Two passenger cars remained on the track. Clip is from the March 16 Dallas Daily Herald.
On March 17 the Dallas Daily Herald reported that the body of the fireman had been found downstream. T&P workers, some of whom had been on strike at the time of the wreck, cleared the track and recovered the mail and baggage cars. But efforts to pull engine 642 out of the creek failed. The engine eventually sank out of sight into the mud, although some people say part of the engine remained above water into the twentieth century.
Today, after the passage of more than 125 years and possible shifting of the creek channel, no one has been able to pinpoint the location of engine 642. Still, now and then someone tries to find it. But one scholar at UTA said searchers would need sophisticated equipment, such as a proton magnetometer, which, he said, is a souped-up metal detector.
But how does a seventy-thousand-pound locomotive just disappear in the first place? After all, a locomotive that size does not lend itself to concealment. Or has the old engine evaded discovery simply because it’s not there anymore, perhaps long ago dug up and sold for scrap? When ninety-five-year-old Bill Bardin was asked about that possibility a few years ago, he was sure the engine is still there. He said his grandfather was one of the workers who tried to recover the engine from the creek. He said any effort to remove the engine later would have been impossible to conceal.
“The old interurban was running along there [after 1902],” Bardin said. “If there had been any recovery, people riding that interurban would have seen it.”
Indeed, the tracks of the interurban and T&P crossed Village Creek close to each other near interurban stop 14. (Map from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)
“Some fellows came messing around here during the Second World War with the idea of raising No. 642 for the scrap in her,” Pruitt Meredith told the Dallas Morning News in 1959. Meredith operated a business near the bridge. “They gave up pretty quick.”
“I’ve been looking into that creek for eighteen years, and I’ve never seen her,” Meredith said.
And what kind of condition might engine 642 be in now? A hundred-year mud pack couldn’t do its complexion much good. Nonetheless, a few years ago a developer had big plans to spend $1 million to find engine 642, exhume it, restore it, and put it on display at the renovated T&P passenger terminal downtown.
Nothing came of those plans.
Meanwhile, somewhere down there in the mud of Village Creek, Texas & Pacific engine 642 is lying low, waiting, like an iron Lazarus, to be raised from the dead.