Footprints of Fayette

The Crowbar Kid

By Rox Ann Johnson

The Fayette Heritage Museum & Archives has thousands of interesting old photographs. The photo shown here is labeled, “Edwin Reiss, The Crowbar Kid,” and is accompanied by an amazing story that was first published in The Temple Telegram and reprinted in the June 26, 1912 issue of The Fayette County Record: 

“If a crowbar a full inch in diameter were to pierce your abdomen about two inches to the left of and just below the navel, pass through your body, emerging an inch to the left at the backbone, and remain in that position for twenty minutes, what would you give your chances of recovery?

“You would doubtless cash in for any offer made, and instruct your friends to send in a hurry call for the undertaker.

“That was what Edwin Reiss, aged 18, thought when this experience befell him at La Grange a hundred miles south of Temple, on Tuesday, May 21, but instead of furnishing a subject for a funeral, young Reiss will live to tell the story to his grandchildren, unless he should slip on a banana peel, swallow a carpet tack, or meet some similar end. He is now ready to leave a Temple sanitarium, and his case is a marvel in the experience of local surgeons, who all declared that its parallel has never occurred within their knowledge.

“When this remarkable accident befell young Reiss, he was assisting in unloading a car of marble. It was necessary to move the car a short distance, and Reiss got under it with a crowbar, which he was using to ‘pinch’ the car along. When the car was well started the lower end of the bar slipped from the rail and struck a tie. The upper end was against Reiss’ body, and just at that instant the brake beam caught him in the back. The bar was not only forced through his body but several inches through the floor of the car.

“Reiss cried out and the car was stopped as quickly as possible, and those with him were then confronted with the task of removing the bar from his body. This was accomplished by digging a hole under the lower end of the bar and driving it downward from inside the car, which operation required at least fifteen minutes’ time, and the bar was so badly bent it required more than five minutes longer to remove it from Reiss’ body.

“Those who witnessed the accident did not think for a moment that Reiss could live longer than a few minutes, but O.E. Stolz, the man for whom he was working, thinking there might be a remote chance to save the young man’s life, hurriedly arranged for a special train to bring him to Temple. Four hours later the wounded man was placed on the operating table in a Temple sanitarium. Surgeons who made an examination of the wound and heard the story of how it was received thought at first that the young man could not possibly survive the shock. He fooled them all, however, and within twenty-four hours after he was hurt the statement was given out at the sanitarium that he had a fairly good chance to recover. As the hours passed the chance improved, and it is now certain that Reiss will be able to leave the sanitarium within ten days, none the worse for this terrible experience.

“‘I don’t think I lost consciousness at any time,’ said Reiss, in speaking of the accident. ‘Of course, I suffered terribly, but as I think of it now it seems that I can remember distinctly everything that happened. I remember telling the boys it was all over with me, but they told me to keep my courage up: I might pull through. However, as I remember it now, their assurance did not seem to carry much force, for they of course thought I would be dead within a few minutes. The most terrible part of [the] experience was when the men were driving the bar down through the floor of the car in order to release me. I may have lost consciousness for a few moments then; but it seems now that I can remember and feel every blow that was struck, as well as the agony that followed. And then the pulling of that bar from my body, bent as the bar was, seemed even as terrible as the driving process had been. I don’t know how I ever came out of it alive, but I do know that I am very thankful that I surprised everybody by pulling through.’ 

“. . . The surgeons say that since the bar was blunt at the point and passed through Reiss’ body slowly, none of the intestines or other organs were torn or otherwise injured in its passage through the body, and that to this fact may be attributed his remarkable recovery.”

Reiss’ injury did not prevent him from serving overseas in World War I with Ambulance Company 2 of the U. S. Army Medical Department, during which he was slightly wounded in October 1918. In 1939, he re-enlisted for a three-year stint that meant he also served during the early part of World War II. He spent much of his life working as a salesman and died in Houston in 1967 at age 73.


The Fayette County Record, June 26, 1912

Military records at Ancestry.com

Census records and death certificate