I haven’t been in very many vehicle accidents in my life. The school bus crash, which I described in a previous blog post was one. And the only other one I can think of is when I got rear-ended on the country road where I was stopped to make a left turn down my gravel lane. The impact shoved us forward, but there wasn’t much to see on the rear bumper of my old Suburban, as opposed to the little Honda which impaled itself onto my ball hitch.
Periodically, while on the highway, I’ve come across accidents, as we all have, but none stuck in my memory more than the cement truck, single vehicle accident I saw a few years ago in Oroville, Calif.
Perhaps you remember when the Oroville Dam spillway was self-destructing under the torrent of water flowing over it? Sections of the concrete had eroded away, allowing the water to eat away ever more, down to bedrock. Residents, all the way to Yuba City were evacuated over worry that a failure would send dangerous amounts of water down-river.
The next spring, after the rainy season was over, they started throwing cement at the problem, building back up the spillway and other structures. Trucks drove up from the cement plants to to the dam 7 days a week.
One Sunday morning I was headed south on Highway 70, from the Oroville area, and I saw a strange sight that I couldn’t make sense of. The two-lane country highway was mostly deserted; it was still too early for much traffic. About a quarter of a mile ahead of me, just to the left of the road, something was moving. Because of the dust being thrown up in the air, at first I thought it was a tractor in the field. But even from the distance I could see that the moving thing was out of control, erratic and very fast. It was big, smooth, and it disturbingly lacked features, like a vehicle should have.
By the time I got closer, I could finally satisfy my curiosity. It was a cement tank, lying just off the road ditch in a field. A short way down the road lay an upside-down truck, oddly bare, with just the cab and a long frame. A couple of cars coming from the other direction had already stopped, so I went on.
I checked on the CalTrans traffic website, Quickmap to see what had happened. From the CHP conversation, it looked as if a tire had blown out on the truck, causing the roll-over. The tank had been fully loaded with cement.
I had never thought about the possibility of the tank coming off the truck in an accident, although it seems obvious that it could. I played back in my mind the sight of the tank rolling in the dirt, having been flung off the truck at 55mph, throwing up a whirlwind of dust, its ovoid shape rolling like a football and inexorably smashing anything in front of it. To see something like that coming your way would be a horrifying sight. I was sad whenever I thought of the poor driver, just doing his job on a nice sunny morning, supporting his family, killed in the accident. I thought again about how strange and unexpectedly long the undercarriage of the truck looked.
When Valeria’s school bus was involved in an accident, I wanted something unusual to happen, something unexpected. I remembered the cement truck wreck, and imagined how badly that scenario could have turned out if there had been a bus full of people in the way.
And that, Dear Readers, is why the bus accident in my book, Valeria and The Enemy of Time, uses the destruction of a cement truck to cause the first chapter wreck, and to propel Valeria into her adventures.