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Dead cows dot the highway

From the March 14, 2001 edition of McKenzie River Reflections

As a state highway crew worker, Brad Bigelow has cleaned up his share of road kill. Over the years there’s been quite a smorgasbord - from elk to deer, raccoons to dogs, cats to squirrels and even opossums. Last Saturday morning he got his first call to pick up a dead cow. Shortly after, he was notified to pick up another, then another.

According to the Oregon State Police, in all, four cows fell out the back of a westbound semi along a 30 mile stretch of Hwy. 126. Only one survived. When the truck was stopped the cows still inside must have been pretty panicked because liquid manure poured out across both lanes of the roadway.

Officials first heard something was amiss when a motorist called in at 9:43 a.m. to report a dead cow was in the middle of the roadway near the junction with Hwy. 242. “I didn’t think anybody had any cows up there,” recalled maintenance supervisor Tom Boylan. “Maybe it was a cow elk,” he thought.

It wasn’t. Within a half hour another 500 to 600 pound brown beef cow had fallen out and died in the construction zone near milepost 34. Soon another had bounced out and landed near the eastbound guardrail at the Goodpasture covered bridge in Vida. The vehicle was finally stopped in front of the Old McKenzie Fish Hatchery when a fourth cow tumbled out.

State Trooper Chris Ashenfelter said the problem was traced to a design malfunction. When a weld broke it allowed a back door on one of the semi’s double trailers to swing open. The animals that were killed died on impact, Ashenfelter said. The injured cow had only minor abrasions and scrapes. The driver of the Morton Farms truck, en route from eastern Oregon to the coast, did not break any laws and no citations were issued, he added.

After the blue semi stopped by Leaburg Lake another motorist called in to report what he thought was a hazardous material spill draining into the waterway. Police described the leakage as an “animal by-product.”

The complaint that it was running into the lake wasn’t true Boylan said. Anything that drains toward the water is captured by a catch basin and re-routed through a culvert under the roadway to a capture pond on the north side. “If we had a major spill with a gas or fuel truck we’ll be able to handle it and get it cleaned up before it ever enters the water,” Boylan said. “It would take a tremendous volume to overload it. Whatever came out the back of that cattle truck was not sufficient.”

Since the incident, Bigelow said several people have asked him if he’d ever dealt with a dead cow before. “No,” he’s answered. “That was the first, the second and the third.”

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