You could say our trip to Puyallup, Washington started off with a bang, literally. Barely four hours into our trip a large piece of steel (hydraulic wrench, I believe) fallen from a CN Rail service truck put an end to the life of my car.
We were travelling along Highway 16, west of Jasper, when this approximately 80 pound chunk of steel appeared in the middle of my lane. The driver ahead of me hit it with her front tire and nearly swerved into oncoming traffic.
It came out into the middle of our lane (on a two lane highway). At highway speeds (yes, I was doing the speed limit and following at a safe distance) you don’t have much time to react. I didn’t have time and could not swerve into the oncoming lane, and the ditch was likely to roll my car. In the split second I had, I felt the safest course of action was to hope I could drive over top of it.
The front frame member hit the handle of the wrench (barely) and that was enough to set off my airbag. Shock treatment! From there, the wrench rolled and punctured my oil pan, rolled under the centre of the vehicle, dislodging our centre console by about four inches and leaving a large dent in the rear passenger foot well. We’re glad it did not hit the gas tank.
It was like a bomb had gone off under the vehicle. My wife’s seat had been raised several inches and the car was full of smoke from the airbag. I think I was actually in shock, and it’s a good think I was driving with my hands at 10 and 2. I kept going straight and we quickly pulled over, shutting the car off. The oil pan quietly emptied itself on the side of the road.
We opened the windows and wondered just what the hell had happened. I thought we had been in a collision, but quickly recalled what happened. I got out and noticed a CN truck pulling out of a siding we had just passed. I immediately realized that whatever we had hit likely had fallen from their truck.
In a slight daze I sprinted down the road and waved them down as they began driving in the opposite direction. It must have been 100 metres, and I thought they were looking for something.
I came up to the driver’s window and asked them (shouted?) if they’d dropped something off their vehicle. They said no, but had turned around to check if they had lost something because a side door on their service truck was open while they were driving away from the siding. I told them they must have dropped something and I hit it.
I had noticed a couple of hydraulic hoses in the roadway running up to the vehicle, as well as some broken pieces of metal. They got out and began searching for what I had hit and we found it off to the right of where I had hit it. They confirmed it was a hydraulic wrench of sorts from their vehicle.
I told them I was taking it. I gathered up all the broken pieces I could find, grabbed the wrench and carried it to my vehicle. I would be damned if anyone was going to leave with it. I placed the greasy, heavy and disfigured wrench into the back of my car.
The three men in the CN vehicle admitted responsibility, which I was glad they had.
The RCMP showed up after a while and investigated. We were towed to Jasper, along with the other vehicle.
CN said they’d cover all our expenses and the damage. I have yet to deal with them on this, and I hope they do.
We decided to stay in a hotel and in the morning we’d decide if we’d continue on our trip. We got checked out at the hospital. I had cuts and burns from the airbag going off and was still sore. My back was stiff and I had some bruising in my chest from the airbag. I seem to be fine now, but I still have cuts and burns from the airbag.
My wife is in worse shape. Her back and neck are still sore from the accident, and it seems her seat took the worst jolt.
We decided to stay in hotels for the rest of our trip, and made sure they had hot tubs so that the water could hopefully ease our aches and pains. We also ended up with a rental car, a Mitsubishi Lancer. It was nice, but expensive, at $900 for six days. We had little choice in Jasper, so I have no idea if I got taken for a ride or not. Either way, CN is going to cover it. My car may have been old, but it was reliable and I was still getting great gas mileage with it. The Lancer did too though.
My car did not have collision coverage, and my insurer, AMA (Alberta Motor Association) basically said I was on my own. I have a little coverage for expenses through our AMA/CAA membership, but that’s it. It was certainly an eye opener for me.
I thought even in an accident where I was not at fault I would have some help. Apparently not. Guess it’s time to learn more about the Alberta auto insurance racket (I miss ICBC in British Columbia). We are certainly going to be assessing our home and auto insurance to determine which insurers are going to best look out for us. I think it would be wise to consult a lawyer too.
In the end, we are glad we continued with the rest of the trip. We needed the break and we met some great people in Puyallup. We will be back. Hopefully the trip next time is less eventful.