The crash of a garbage truck into the railroad trestle on the UVA Corner was a jarring sight on August 5, but it was hardly an unfamiliar one. Large vehicles cram themselves into the gap between bridge and road with a regularity about equal to the appearance of streakers on the Lawn.
The height sensor and alarm, installed in the early ’90s, rarely seem to make much of a difference. Corner regulars know that the sound of the clanging bell is more likely to precede a crash than it is the sound of brakes, and we run and crane our necks to see what sort of ridiculous situation a Class B driver has gotten himself into this time.
Usually it’s just a box truck looking embarrassed. Over the years, odder things have occasionally resulted. In 1995, a bus from West Point slammed into the 113-year-old bridge, peeling back the roof like the top of a tin of sardines. A horde of confused cadets in tidy uniforms poured out and attempted to take control of a situation which was clearly beyond them.
Local lore has it that a cargo of live chickens took advantage of a crash to exit the vehicle in the 1950s, and Paul Jones, a former Corner business owner and current Libertarian candidate for Congress, recalled a series of collisions in the 1970s.
“This delivery truck just peeled the top off and grapefruit was knee deep all across the road,” Jones said. “The driver was standing there trapped and couldn’t go through and was telling people to just take the grapefruit.”
“I used to see a lot of them hit,” he said. “After a few years of being up there you could just tell that a truck was going to hit…you got to know whether a truck was going to make it or not. I used to just stop and put my hands over my ears because I knew it was going to be a terrible noise when they hit.”
Don’t feel badly about our instinct to laugh at these truck-jamming incidents. The crashes generally happen at low speed and the bridge is high enough that people are rarely, if ever, hurt.
Extraction methods vary. Sometimes all they have to do is back up. In other situations, the twisted metal of the wreck has locked with the structure of the bridge like a pair of whitetail bucks with their antlers terminally entwined. Letting some air out of the tires is usually good for a few inches.
Zane Craig, operations manager for the Buckingham Branch Railroad, which leases the tracks from CSX and Norfolk Southern, said the crashes come regularly every few months. According to city police, there have been five since last January. After every collision, Craig said, the bridge is immediately shut down for inspection. Even after all the assaults, major repairs have never been required.
“Pretty much that thing is built like a tank,” he said. Good thing, too, since in all likelihood, the crashes will keep happening. So will the rubbernecking. And it will continue to be hilarious to everybody but the drivers—until someone attempts to deliver a load of giraffes to West Main Street.