Third Time’s A Charm

There’s a little hamlet called Mesa located a few miles away from a big hamlet called Basin City. Mesa has been there forever. I went to kindygarten there. Burlington Northern Railroad tracks go through Mesa but the choo-choo train never stops unless they have a derailment.

They stopped there once a few years ago. It was a mess.

In 1982 I was working for my dad on the farm. Neither one of us was getting much job satisfaction from my efforts. I began looking for something else to try so I joined the sheriff’s reserve for 3 years.

One night I was riding with a deputy named Richard Lathim. There was an armed robbery at the Arco Mini-Mart on Court Street just around midnight. Richard and I were racing around dark streets trying to find the perp. We jumped out with our guns drawn whenever we found something in the dark that looked suspicious as we searched for the dude. I still remember the adrenaline pumping through my veins.

I would guess the pointy end of my 357 magnum was jumping around at about the same rate as Barney Fife’s empty one-handed musket used to do whenever he got in a jam. At least I had bullets in my gun. We came up empty that night.

I got off the shift at 3:00 am and headed home to grab a couple hours sleep before the farm day’s work began. I turned west at the Sheffield intersection in Mesa and as I crossed the tracks, I suddenly became aware that my Nova was catapulted skyward from the first railroad iron just before it slammed face-first into the asphalt on the other side of the tracks.

I remember that this demolition-type incident was the basic reason I traded the Nova in shortly after the Mesa landing. In the decades since, I’ve always slowed to a cautionary crawl of three inches per minute when attempting to cross the Sheffield chasm. The locals have averaged 1.0 totaled vehicles per capita as they have learned this same lesson. There is no doubt that this is strictly a one-episode learning experience.

I’ve wondered why Franklin County leaves this road in this condition. I finally decided that maybe because the rails make a slight turn, maybe there needs to be a bank in the tracks. Without the bank, maybe the train might be less stable. If all these maybes aren’t the reason for the treacherous spot, then what is the reason?

So a couple of years ago, I called the head of the county road department. We’ve always been on good terms and he is a nice guy. I told Matt about the problem. He was well aware of the situation.

The bottom line to this local problem is that drivers from everywhere around the world except the 99343 zip code are unfamiliar with the topography of the asphalt/steel combination at this particular point. They should definitely be made aware of the hazard before steering down Sheffield Road. A simple flashing florescent billboard for vehicles going each way would be sufficient. Stick some lettering on a couple of signs like…

SLOW TO A CRAWL WHILE GOING ACROSS GULLIES/TRACKS OR YOUR RIG WILL BREAK INTO AT LEAST THREE PIECES!!!!!!!!

I told Matt he needed to get two signs up there. He agreed and said he would do it. I ended the conversation by musing about how many strangers to Mesa in the last 40 or 50 years have demolished their vehicles on this 10-foot stretch of road. I guessed it has been in the hundreds of vehicles and billions of dollars damage. Matt didn’t argue. Maybe billions is an exaggeration but hundreds probably isn’t.

I couldn’t and can’t understand why such a road hazard could be so overlooked by so many county road people. Maybe they can’t fix the road but they could sure make more people aware of the nightmare ahead.

The next year my brother Brent had a friend from Colorado visit him in his new 3/4 ton pickup and even newer fancy camper. Guess what? After crossing the tracks in Mesa and seeing just how fast his airbags could inflate, he limped into Brent’s place with a pickup that had a brand-new showroom paint job in places but overall looked like it had just completed the Baja 500. The camper was in even worse shape.

There had to have been at least $30,000 damage to the camper combo of this formerly proud owner. His cab was smashed down by the front of the camper. It was a twisted mess.

I called Matt. I told him about the incident. I asked him why he hadn’t erected the billboards. He had no answer but assured me that it would be taken care of. It was at this point that I began to have suspicions that perhaps Matt might be a stockholder in one or more of the local tow-truck or body and fender shops in the area. Maybe the signs I was requesting would put a damper on his investment portfolio. Thus, no florescent signs.

That was last year. So this year, we went to a family reunion in Idaho. My son-in-law Todd drove my van home from Idaho while I drove my pickup. As we approached Mesa, I told my relations in the pickup about the problem and the efforts I’d made to stop the carnage.  I wondered aloud whether Matt had erected the signage. And did I mention that the Todd-driven van was in front of the Ben-driven pickup by a couple of miles?

Because my wife was riding with Todd, I figured she would alert him to the treacherous ravine they had to circumvent. To my misfortune, she was occupied with grand kids and oblivious to the impending lifetime guaranteed 4-wheel misalignment and instantaneous bendage of the unibody frame this poor Honda van was about to undergo. Todd is from Mesa AZ and hadn’t yet experienced his Mesa WA 1.0 rig demolition per capita number. But he soon learned. On my dime.

Everyone in the van, including the baby-faced toddler that Michele had been attending to, was pushed down in their seats to the tune of at least six G-forces. A loud BANG! then sounded with an immediate Apollo rocket-like upward thrust affecting all occupants. I’m pretty sure every seat belt in the rig stretched a good 50% past Ralph Nader’s comfort zone. And what are all those head-shaped convex cones in the roof of the van?

Todd and crew limped home. I arrived home a few minutes later and was immediately greeted with the latest Mesa Tracks accident report. My weekend was demolished. I just couldn’t accept the fact that a public servant that makes a nice living didn’t do what I, HIS EMPLOYER, had asked him several times to do.

The damage? I’m sure my van will start wearing tires like crazy due to the severe impact and damage. A dog-gone sign from Matt warning Todd from Mesa AZ was sorely needed.

A watermelon in the back of the van will never be the same again. (See below)

Gosh, even if Matt had posted a couple of stakes with plastic flags fluttering in the breeze  Todd might have known something was amiss in front of him.

Michele had three musical instruments in the van that are now messed up. She just discovered today that her violin won’t stay in tune now. It always did before. These instruments cost far more than the signs Matt should have erected.

Matt! Why?

How much time does it take to write up an order for a couple signs with the word “SLOW!!!!” imprinted on them.

I imagine there’ll be more casualties discovered as we go along.

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So this is Monday night. Tomorrow I’m going to call Matt and ask him to meet me at the Mesa/Sheffield intersection in his family car. I’ll bet it’s a late-model town car that’s never been off-road. I am then going to ask him to slide over and let me in the driver’s seat. I’ll mildly accelerate for 468 feet west on Sheffield as any stranger to this country will do, seeing nothing but open road. My speed in Matt’s rig, by the time we encounter the road hazard will be between 30 and 40 mph.

After we experience the very nasty change in terrain, take off and finally land again, I will hand him back the wheel to his now pretty much worthless beater. I will then ask him about the billboards he’s been promising.

Stay tuned for my oncoming Matt dialogue.

1 Comment

  1. Yay for you, Ben! This is badly needed! If you post Matt’s full name and his office phone number, I will be delighted to add my voice to yours. I’m sure others will as well.

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