A Tree Fell on Our Car

There's really not much more to say than that. But I'll give some details for the curious.

Friday, July 24, 1998, I went camping with my 16-month-old son Jacob, my longtime friend Russell Peterson, and three guys named Lutz, Markus, and Carsten, from Zwickau, Germany, the last city I served in on my mission. How we met is interesting: My last companion, Aaron Hart from Grand Junction, Colorado, was working in his family's music store downtown one day and three guys came in speaking German. He asked them where they were from and they told him, Zwickau (in the state of Saxony, former East Germany). They were all quite surprised that Aaron had lived there too. He took them around that day to see Colorado National Monument and other things in the area. After that they were headed to Provo, so he had them call me. Russell and I had had this camping trip planned for a few months, and when we found out they were in town that weekend, we invited them along.

We drove to Diamond Fork Canyon, about 30 miles southeast of home in Provo. It was raining pretty hard when we got there but we hoped it would clear up eventually. I parked our 1984 Honda Accord LX in a dirt parking lot next to my friend's truck. We hiked about an hour away and camped for the night. By the time we pitched our tents it had cleared up mostly. There are natural hot springs close to where we camped and in the morning Russell, Jacob, and I were there while Lutz, Carsten, and Markus slept. Jacob loved wading in the hot springs and there was one really shallow pool that also wasn't too hot that he played in a lot.

Although it was only 9:00 or so in the morning, groups of people started showing up who'd just driven up that morning to sit in the water. After a while one guy came and asked if we had a car down in the parking lot. I said yes. He asked if it was a Honda. I said yes, an Accord. He said, grey? Yes, I said. He said he didn't quite know how to break it to us, but a big tree had fallen on the roof of our car and pretty much totaled it. Hmm, we said. Really? Very interesting. We didn't know what to make of the news, but he confirmed it really had happened and he just wanted to let us know so we could make plans accordingly. So we went back to camp, told the Deutsche, and packed up our tents etc. It was an interesting 45-minute hike down, wondering what exactly the damage looked like and what "totaled" meant.

When we got there it was indeed as he had said, and the car was quite squished. The left two windows and the back window were blown out, the left two doors were smashed shut, the trunk was smashed, the right two doors a little messed up but still openable. But amazingly, the windshield and the hood were fine, since the tree was a few feet up an embankment and thus fell over the front onto the hood and back. First I got everything out of the front of the car I could and put it in Russell's truck.

Soon some nice people with a large truck had come to fish and offered us their wood saw, with which we cut off a large chunk from the back and took a lot of weight off the car. The truck pulled that branch away. Next we tried shoving the rest of the tree off the side of the car and accidentally smashed Carsten's hand between the tree and the trunk, which ground some broken safety glass pieces into his hand, which I took out with his handy pliers. A nice lady helped clean him up with her first aid kit. After that we tried cutting on the front of the tree (there's a picture below of Markus cutting on it) but never got through because the saw was too small. Representatives of the Utah Fish, Wildlife, and Something agency and the Forest Service were there, taking pictures, wondering what to do, and generally getting in our way. But the lady from the Forest Service said their fire crew could probably come by and cut the rest of the tree off without damaging the car further, and maybe it would still be drivable. After a while I decided that Jacob needed to get home and Carsten needed to go to the doctor, so we told her they were free to score themselves some firewood and left.

When Russell and I came back about two hours later, there was a nice pile of logs off to the side and I swept up as much glass and sawdust as possible and got in and started the car. It ran fine. It drove fine. So we cleaned up some more and drove home. At 70 miles per hour it still worked fine. In fact, I nearly forgot anything was wrong, since I just had to slouch a little in the seat because of the smashed roof, but otherwise just had a little extra breeze due to the missing back window.

We took Carsten to the IHC clinic in Springville where they x-rayed his hand (no fractures), cleaned it up, and stitched it. Russell took him to a pharmacy to get some antibiotics, while I went to Wal-Mart in Orem to get a car cover to keep the rain out. And buy some cookies. And in general get a lot of interesting looks from people whose cars wouldn't exactly be classed as "nice" or "new" yet found mine to be yet more a spectacle than theirs.

So I guess the car is "totaled," sadly, since it runs fine. It had a good life in the 219,466 miles it drove up to the Great Day of Falling Timber. Maybe I'll get a cutting torch and make a topless cruiser out of it. Other than that, we're just looking for a new car to buy. And wondering, as one guy who saw it when the tree was still pinning it down, "What are the chances of that?"

Five more pictures are available, somewhat redundant but perhaps still interesting. Have a look if you'd like.

Jon Jensen
30 July 1998