The Village Creek at Handley: July 12, 1999

The relatively innocuous-looking Village Creek that flows under the railway bridge in Handley. Supposedly, a huge steam engine was swallowed up in deep mud or quicksand right here back in 1884. The bridge we are standing under was built in 1927, but was constructed on the same site as the earlier disaster.

In 1998, while doing a search-engine look for the term 'quicksand' on the Internet, I came across a web page put up by The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. The web page really wasn't an online article so much as a series of 4 pictures with explanatory captions, put up 2 years earlier. Apparently, the entire article had appeared in the print edition of the paper, which I didn't have a copy of. However, the web page captions told enough of a story to get me quite interested in this place.

Apparently, in 1884 a Texas & Pacific engine, No. 642, derailed and plunged into Village Creek, where it was swallowed up in mud and/or quicksand! Of course, this really got my curiosity up. It must have been fantastically deep to swallow up someting that big! Was the mire still there? Would there be any trace of the engine remaining? And, just where the heck is Handley, anyway?

I had never heard of Handley, so I downloaded the page and pictures for future reference. From time to time, I would tell friends about the story, and inevitably people would say: "Well, why don't you hunt it down? Is it close by?" I figured it was somewhere within a 100-mile radius of the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex, but I was lax for several months about making an effort to find the spot.


Here's a picture of the actual engine, No. 642, which I lifted from The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram's Web site. The original photo is credited as being from the collection of a Tom Marlin.

Imagine my surprise when, finally locating the spot thanks to MapQuest on the Internet, I found that Handley was right smack-dab in the middle of the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, near suburban Arlington, and that I had lived no more than 4 miles from the site for my first five years in Texas! I had even worked for the local paper back then, and had never caught a whiff of the story from the staff writers.

A friend and I had some business to conduct with a computer store in nearby Arlington on the Monday following our first Brazos River expedition, so on the way over we hunted down Village Creek. After one false stop at another stream about a quarter mile away, we finally found it. The railroad bridge was no more than 100 feet south of Division Street (Hwy. 80). The remnants of an older highway paralleled Division, and took us down closer to the bridge, nearer to stream level. We left the car and cautiously trod through brush and briar down to the west end of the bridge, then underneath and down to the stream bed. It looked perfectly innocent. I don't really know what I was expecting...maybe a 115-year-old smokestack sticking up out of the mud! Nothing doing. Absolutely no sign of the accident that happened so many years ago. The creek bed didn't look particularly muddy or treacherous. At my friend's urging, I removed my shoes and cautiously waded out into the middle. Ouch! Far from being very muddy, the bottom was kind of 'crusty,' and covered with small, rather sharp stones and the shells of deceased freshwater shellfish. It was not pleasant going for my rather tender feet...

"Pardon me, sir, but can I catch the 4:55 to El Paso here?" I am standing, apparently, directly over the spot where the engine lies buried. I am not sinking a bit, much to my major disappointment! In fact, the bottom is just the opposite of soft—it is crusty and covered with small sharp stones and the remains of freshwater shellfish. All in all, a major disappointment...

Just to be sure I hadn't missed the spot, I wandered upstream about 50 feet, testing the bottom with each step. Same stuff. I also wandered downstream from the bridge, but only about 15 feet or so, because Village Creek basically becomes a channel which deepens as it empties out into a rather sizeable pond of about 10–15 acres, about 40 feet past the bridge. The channel that direction appeared to get 3 or 4 feet deep (or deeper) fairly quickly, and I wasn't really interested in finding quicksand under that much water. This would end our visit.

I take a stroll about 50 feet upstream of the railway bridge to test the bottom. Running across the very top of this photo you can see the Division Street bridge, which carries quite a bit of traffic between Arlington and Ft. Worth. Still, I was just about invisible to auto traffic some 30 feet above me.

Although disappointing in one respect, I felt our visit was quite interesting from a historical perspective. I couldn't help but feel a creepy sense of awe at the thought of that old engine, lying there all those years. The Star-Telegram's Web page had used the word 'tragedy' to describe the incident back in 1884, which made me think that possibly a loss of human life was involved. In a way, I wanted to pay my respects to the old engine and her crew, but could not think of an appropriate way to do so, other than to keep the memory alive on this page. Here's to the 642...may she rest in peace!


(On to the next expedition!)