Saturday, July 4, 2009


“And just how fast was he going when he backed into you, Father?” asked the Irish policeman.  That punch line from the old joke about the automobile accident caused by the Catholic priest running into the back end of the car in front of him came to mind as I answered the Colorado Highway Patrolman’s questions.

 Colorado state highway 82 from US 24 over Independence Pass to Aspen is one of the most beautiful drives in this country.  The photos below are of the very mild portions of the road.

I was on my way to a meeting of a Society of Automotive Engineers committee.  Not too far from Twin Lakes the road begins the long climb to the 12,000 foot pass.  For the first few miles it closely resembles driving through the Ouachita Mountains south of Heavener.  Later on it becomes rather more exciting with several sheer drops of nearly a thousand feet along the side (with no rail protectors) along with a few one-lane portions.  

 As I began a rather sharp curve to the left I saw a Toyota begin to cross the centerline and come toward me.  Reflexively, I jumped on the accelerator and steered as close to the small (about 15 feet) drop off on my side of the road as I could go.  The oncoming car hit me just in front of my front door and proceeded to push farther and farther into the car as it progressed.  In the end it tore my left rear wheel completely off the car.  I remember quite clearly thinking, “ You hit me, you s-- of a b-----!” as I spun around in the road, missing the drop off by only a few inches.  When I came to a stop I was pointing back the way I had come on the other side of the road.   The Toyota ended up about fifty yards down the road in a shallow ditch.  Fortunately, neither I nor the Toyota driver was hurt.

 When the patrolmen arrived they interviewed me first.  As I showed them my Tennessee driver’s license I noticed a sudden change in the demeanor of the policeman.  Suddenly I was guilty—of what he didn’t know but it was clear by the look on his face that he thought a Tennessee driver couldn’t handle Colorado mountain roads and that I had committed some act that precipitated the accident.  Little did he know that just ten miles from my home is one of the stretches of I-24 that has grades every bit as steep as those in Colorado and that claims several trucks each year from people who don’t believe it could be there.

 After I responded to his rather demeaning approach to questioning me, we both walked to the Toyota to allow him to complete his assessment of the cause of the accident—or rather, to allow him to justify his bias about Tennessee drivers.  Before he could ask the Toyota driver a question, the young man blurted out, “I just went to sleep—I didn’t mean to hit him.”

 Have you ever seen a man’s face almost break as he tries to change expressions?  That patrolman made one of the quickest about faces I have ever seen as he wrote the young man multiple tickets for offenses ranging from reckless driving to failure to maintain control of his automobile.

 Later that night, after the rental car company delivered a new car to me in nearby Leadville, I drove over Independence Pass by moonlight.  It was even more hauntingly beautiful at night and, not nearly as nerve-wracking, since I couldn’t see the sheer drop offs any more.

 Is there a moral in this story?  Maybe it is to practice what my engineering career has taught me.  Never make a judgment until you have all the facts you can acquire.


At July 4, 2009 at 12:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The good thing is that neither driver was injured, except maybe his bruised ego. I've driven through there and it is beautiful country, but scary, too. I bet is is beautiful by moonlight, because you can't see all the sharp drops offs, like you said. Colorado's Rocky mountains are a something to see. My dad used to be in the CC camp around Leadville and he used to tell me stories about being there.

At July 6, 2009 at 7:55 PM , Blogger colin said...

Glen, Didn't know that you were an automotive engineer; but now that I do, how about blogging us on the value of synthetic oils vs the regular oils and while your at it; does a car engine really know the diference between say 20W and 30W and how can an oil be multi weight. I'm probably not smart enough to understand any explanation but have wondered about it.


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