As mentioned briefly in the post about my fireworks video, family matters required an unexpected trip south to Vancouver over this past Fourth of July weekend. As we were returning home yesterday, fighting our way northward through last-day-of-a-holiday-weekend traffic, Prairie and I witnessed one of the most frightening near-accidents I’ve ever seen.
We’d left I-5 to take a brief lunch break in Longview, and after filling ourselves with pizza and the car with gas, were getting back on the highway. As we started to merge into traffic, which at this point was heavy but still keeping to the 70 MPH speed limit, a big dump truck towing a flatbed trailer with a huge tank on it passed by on our left, making an incredibly horrendous scraping noise that didn’t sound at all right. As I pulled onto the highway proper, directly behind the truck, I saw what was making the noise.
My best guess is that the tank on the flatbed was an underground septic tank, and the inflow pipe had been strapped to the bed of the trailer on the right side of the tank. At some point on the drive, however, the front of the pipe had jostled loose and bounced off the bed, letting the pipe drag along the road. Because it was the front of the pipe that had come loose, the rear of the pipe was still tied to the bed, so the pipe was being pushed forward against the asphalt, throwing up sparks, and it was immediately obvious that it could go swinging to the side at any moment, very likely snapping free of the remaining ties and flying loose into traffic.
“Wow, that doesn’t sound healthy,” said Prairie. As I quickly started changing lanes to get out from directly behind the truck and as far to the left as I could, I asked, “Didn’t you see the pipe?” “What pipe?” I briefly told her what I’d seen, and sure enough, just at that moment, we saw the front of the pipe swing out to the right, barely miss clipping the rear left tire of a small blue SUV as the pipe swung out until the straps that were still hanging on stopped it, leaving it sticking out to the right, still dragging along the road, and still frighteningly close to the tire of the SUV.
As soon as the pipe had started to swing wide, I’d started to brake as quickly as I could safely do so, as had a number of other cars who could see what was happening. A few of us had started to honk to warn both the dump truck driver and the driver of the SUV of the impending catastrophe. The dump truck driver didn’t seem to notice anything, but the SUV suddenly sped up and pulled away from the dragging pipe without getting hit. While many of us were slowing down, however, the people behind us couldn’t see what was happening, and just as the pipe started to swing further around to drag behind the trailer, making it even more likely that the straps would finally give and throw it loose, a little car full of teens whipped around our car and sped straight towards the truck.
More braking, more wild honking, and then we saw that car’s brake lights flare up as the driver finally saw what was happening and realized that there was a reason why we’d suddenly slowed down so much. He changed lanes to the left and pulled up beside the truck, and one of the passengers started waving at the truck, trying to get the driver’s attention; at the same time, a big pickup with a lightbar, either from WSDOT or from one of the construction crews scattered along I-5 sped up the right hand side of the road to pull along the other side of the truck, and also tried to get him to pull over.
Thankfully, one or both of those two people were successful, and the driver, still apparently clueless as to just why people were hollering at him, finally started to slow down and pull off to the side of the highway. Miracle of miracles, those last straps had managed to hang on, and the pipe had stayed attached to the flatbed trailer, though probably through more sheer luck than anything else. We passed by, and the last I saw of the incident was the truck pulling onto the shoulder right behind the official-looking pickup that had flown up the right side of the highway.
Really, really freaky — there were a few moments when I was sure that the straps were about to break, and I’d have to do my best to dodge a 20-foot length of steel pipe flying along I-5 at 60-some miles per hour in the middle of holiday traffic. Not at all a pleasant mental picture, and I’m very glad it never came to that.