A Look Back: Crash of Engine 642 Marks First Rail Disaster for Arlington
By Office of Communication
Posted on August 15, 2018, August 15, 2018

 Fielder House Museum

Photo Credit: Fielder House Museum

That haste sometimes invites disaster might well be evidenced by the March 1885 derailment of Texas and Pacific Railroad Engine No. 642, which ended up in Village Creek during a torrential rain storm when the bridge collapsed.

Fireman J.C. Habeck was killed and several others injured. That would have been adversity enough but despite the best efforts of townspeople and teams of mules, the heavy engine slowly sank deeper into the sand and mud until it was apparent it couldn't be saved. It remains embedded there today. Indeed, some adventurous explorers occasionally find traces of it in the creek bottom. The loss included a strongbox that was never recovered, not by its owners anyway, despite an enthusiastic search by Arlington residents and gawkers from all over the region.

Worse yet, the loss proved to be very bad news for the financially troubled T&P, which ended up filing for bankruptcy and falling into receivership, taking years to recover.

In order to make a governmental deadline for connecting the new Texas and Pacific Railroad through Arlington to Fort Worth from Dallas, crews admittedly took a number of construction shortcuts. Call it minimalist construction done in frantic haste. Perhaps the Village Creek bridge was one of them.

In the autumn of 1872, the T&P had been built to Eagle Ford, six miles west of Dallas.

Then disaster struck. The Wall Street firm backing the railroad failed. Fort Worth residents in particular believed the railroad was crucial to the city's future, and boosters quickly organized a new construction company to finish the project through an as-yet-unnamed Arlington and into Fort Worth with one urgent need - to qualify for a critical land grant the railroad had to be in Fort Worth before the legislature adjourned.

To make that happen the construction crew took shortcuts that ranged from building bridges on railroad ties instead of beam to laying sections of track on the ground without other support. It was frantic but it worked. The T&P pulled into a newly-surveyed Arlington early in the morning of July 19, 1876, and then - cautiously - made its way into Fort Worth.

At that the Village Creek bridge held up for nine more years. As it turned out, until the bridge was repaired, Arlington briefly prospered by the dilemma since farmers, ranchers and passengers headed east had to make use of the Arlington station for shipping and transit.

This article was written by Arlington author and historian O.K. Carter, who serves on the Landmark Preservation Commission

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