On January 22, 1927, the Associated Press headline read “Basketball Team of Baylor Victim of Grade Crossing Tragedy Near Round Rock.” The first reports indicated that of the twenty-one passengers comprised of players, coaches and guests, that there were as many as fourteen fatalities. The exact number was ten: James Clyde “Abe” Kelly, William Winchester, W. E. Murray, Merle Dudley, Sam Dillow, Jack Castellaw, L. R. “Ivey” Foster, Bob Hailey, R. L. Hannah and James Walker.
The bus had been on the way to Austin to carry the Baylor basketball team to University of Texas for a conference game to be held that night. A rain storm was ongoing as the bus approached the railroad crossing on old State Highway 2 at around 11:45 in the morning. They had been driving for about three hours and a half and had twenty-two miles to go to reach the University of Texas campus. The bus had just exited old downtown Round Rock and made a left turn south to cross the railroad track just west of the train depot. However, possibly due to the weather conditions, the driver didn’t see or hear the oncoming train until the last seconds.
The International & Great Northern Railroad fast passenger train known as the Sunshine Special was nearing the “at grade” crossing at an estimated 65 miles per hour, traveling west to east on its way to Taylor. In seconds, the train struck the side of the bus, totally destroying it. The train stopped as soon as it could. The dead and injured were taken to hospitals in Taylor and elsewhere. A motorist immediately behind the bus said that the train was blowing its whistle but assumed that the driver of the bus neither saw nor heard the train until it was too late for the bus to clear the crossing.
At that time, there were no Texas railroad crossings that had been modified to separate the trains from the roadway by means of a bridge, underpass or overpass. Based on personal accounts and a contemporary drawing, other than possibly a railroad crossing sign, this particular intersection had no other warning devices such as arms, lights or bells, to warn drivers that trains were approaching.
There was at least one act of heroism in which victim Kelly is said to have shoved his best friend and roommate Weir Washam out the bus window seconds before the crash, saving Washam’s life. Other survivors included Joe Potter – the nineteen year old freshman who was the driver, R. R. Wolfe – the head coach, Wes Bradshaw, John Kane, Ed Gooch, Fred Acres, Lewis Slade, J. G. Berry, Cecil Dean and Dave Shavens.
It was not until 1935, some eight years after the accident, that the May Street bridge was built over the railroad tracks where the crash occurred. The construction was completed as Texas Highway 81 was being routed through Round Rock. It is said to be the first above ground railway crossing completed in Texas.
Each year at Baylor homecoming, the incident is remembered on campus with a ceremony. A statue created by Texas western artist Bruce Green was dedicated in 2007 depicting the players killed and also the survivors. The Waco sculpture was funded by donations.
(Image credit: baylor.edu)
We haven’t found the original clipping where the term “Immortal Ten” originated, but it has been quoted elsewhere, including the Houston Chronicle in 2007. The term appears to have begun when a Waco reporter named Jack Hawkins wrote these words, the day following the tragic crash, “Though Death’s icy fingers have written Finis across the life of each of the immortal ten who are today mourned, their memory will never perish.”
Further reading: The Waco sculpture.
City of Round Rock YouTube video on the accident, created by Brian Ligon.
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