If you’re Hispanic, then you can empathize with the childhood trauma I faced of being scared into submission with threats hurled by my grandmother of how El Cucuy would come and whisk me away if I didn’t listen to her. Then, when I was a little older, stories of La Llorona made me stop picking on my brother and clean my room so spotless you’d think monks lived there. In my teenage years, I graduated to inciting a little fear into my own life by cajoling my friends in inappropriate slumber party games like Light as a Feather, Bloody Mary, or asking the Ouija board for the names of our future husbands.
Now that I am a mother, I don’t employ the same fear tactics, but I am sure to brag to my sons about San Antonio’s own spooky stories during our marathon viewings of Ghost Hunters. If you’re from San Antonio, chances are that you grew up hearing the story about the haunted railroad tracks on 2012 Shane Road, just south of San Antonio. If you Google “Haunted Train Track” or “Ghost Tracks,” you will find that it even has its own website along with legitimate Google reviews.
The tragic event is said to have happened in the late 1940s, when a school bus traveling down Shane Road on a dark and rainy day stalled over a railroad track. A train was heading toward the school bus at full speed, and according to legend, its engineer made an attempt to stop by slamming on its breaks and blowing its whistle to get the attention of the school bus. But it was too late. The bus driver, unable to restart the bus, desperately tried at the last minute to debus the children right when the train hit at full speed, killing him and all ten children.
According to legend, if you settle your car over the tracks and put it in neutral, the ghosts of the children who perished in the accident will push your car off the tracks to safety. Visitors to the site report that, in fact, their cars do roll off the track and back to safety. Some people go as far as dusting talcum powder on the trunks of their cars and report seeing the children’s tiny hand prints. The reviews are filled with people who report that the ghosts are real and that spooky things happen when they’re on or near the tracks.
Being curious about this story, I tried it out for myself a few years back…in the evening, because I’m a sucker for a good scare. With the car stereo blaring scary stories from a podcast, I made the 30-minute trek to the other side of town until I reached the tracks on Shane Road. It was dusk, a bit windy, and there was no one else around. Did I dust my back bumper and trunk with talcum powder? Of course not! I didn’t have any. Instead—don’t laugh—I used pancake mix. I can safely say that I’ve never felt so scared and foolish at the same time.
I rolled my car over the railroad tracks at a snail’s pace. I stopped right when my car was in the middle of the tracks and did as the story says to do: I placed my car in neutral and then I waited. And waited. It was a bit ominous how there was nobody else around. I had read that this place gets pretty busy, especially in the month of October. But there I sat, and nothing was happening. Suddenly, from nowhere, I began to hear tiny taps all over the sides of my car. I lowered the volume on the car stereo and listened again.
Light sounds tap-danced along the sides of my car. My heart began to race as I checked to make sure my doors were locked. I peered into my rear view mirror and saw nothing. Gripping my steering wheel, I then looked out in front of me through the vast glass and noticed that the wind had been blowing light dust and debris around. With a sigh of relief and another bout of feeling absurd, I decided to wait another five minutes.
And what happened?
Nothing. Nothing happened.
And so what?! I was held captive, if only for 15 minutes, by the active imagination of a 40-something-year-old who has loved horror movies and Steven King books since she was a kid. It was exciting—thrilling, even! I would do it again if I could. Sadly, the infamous train tracks have since lost some of their luster, as construction on Shane Road changed the landscape of the tracks in 2018.
On the long drive home, I got to thinking about how this story came to pass. After all, there is no record of a school bus ever getting into an accident on those railroad tracks on Shane, nor on any other tracks or roads here in San Antonio. Local residents and officials have debunked this story time and time again, and yet visitors from all over the world come to the tracks to be “rescued” by the little ghosts. So where did this story come from?
On December 2, 1938, a picture appeared on the front page of the now defunct San Antonio Light, along with the headline, “26 Children Killed When Fast Freight Train Crushes School Bus.” The picture depicted a mangled freight train with the remnants of a school bus scattered about. The caption read, “The vehicle carrying 40 occupants was struck by the speeding locomotive 10 miles south of Salt Lake City, Utah, crumpling it like tin foil.” Could this story that was featured on our local newspaper 81 years ago have been the catalyst for the wildly popular spooky story we continue to hear to this day? Maybe.
Maybe it’s not about whether the story of the railroad tracks is true or not. Maybe it’s that as humans, on some level, we want to connect with the fight or flight instinct that we are born with. Maybe the sensations of a racing heart coupled with not knowing what happens next, the fear and excitement, the thrill and adrenaline rush, help us feel more alive.
Whatever your reasons are for liking a good, old-fashioned spooky story, the Ghost Tracks of Shane Road do not disappoint.