Writing The Mirror of Pharos has taken me on some big adventures. You get to do some cool stuff when you research a book. My three favourite fact-finding trips included taking a wolf for a walk, visiting a lighthouse across land containing unexploded mines AND … at Charlton’s Breakers Yard I got to press a button and demolish a car. Now that’s what I call a ‘smashing’ day.
At the centre of The Mirror of Pharos is an action-packed scene set in a scrapyard. Without spoiling too many surprises, let’s just say there’s a big battle in which someone gets locked in a car …
Cue the car crusher!
I used to drive tractors and forklifts on a farm so I love big machines. I’d always wanted to see a car crusher in action and suddenly, I had the perfect excuse. I needed to know how one worked! So I picked up the phone to my nearest breaker’s yard – Terry Charlton’s place in Thriplow, near Duxford.
Terry and forklift driver Pete were really helpful. I learnt a lot. Did you know we throw away more than two million cars in the UK every year? Most are between 12 and 15 years old. When they arrive at the yard many are still working. But the chances of a breakdown and costly repairs make them too expensive to keep on the road. So owners send them to be turned into scrap metal.
Charlton’s is an amazing place, a storyteller’s dream. Piles of dented vehicles are stacked everywhere, their innards hanging out as if Wreck-It Ralph had just barged through.
But it isn’t all about demolition. First, they carefully remove any parts that can be sold and re-used. That includes wheels and all the fluids – like engine oil, antifreeze, and brake fluid. Tyres go to be shredded and used for fantastic things like children’s playgrounds.
Then comes the exciting part. What’s left of each car is fed to the crusher … Using the forklift, Pete lifts an old red Golf into position on the machine’s platform. Then he calmly invites me to press the button on the control panel. Really? Oh yes please.
I hold my breath as if I’m about to detonate a bomb. The machine shrieks into action and the wooden platform rumbles. Massive jaws lined with spikes drag the red car forward and press down, opening and closing like a greedy monster.
When it appears on the other side, the car is only six inches high! This flattened wedge is then stacked with 24 others on a lorry which Pete will take to Liverpool to go in a sea container to China. I wonder what amazing things they will be made into.
It has taken just three minutes to crush the car, using 100 tons of brute force. Not very long. Especially if someone happens to be trapped inside … You’ll have to read the story to find out who!