The way Galen N. Buckwalter saw it, "the efforts of 75,000 birds went down the drain." But to thousands of commuters who were caught on the Capital Beltway in Fairfax County yesterday morning it was no small matter that thousands of eggs were splattered across the highway.

Buckwalter, president of Lehman's Egg Service Inc. of Greencastle, Pa., said the company truck that ran off the right side of the road under the I-66 overpass and hit an abutment about 4 a.m. spilled nearly 150 cases of eggs, each bearing 30 dozen eggs -- a total of nearly 54,000. Police initially feared that far more eggs had been smashed, but more than half the truck's load was not spilled, Buckwalter said.

Police said the three-axle refrigerator truck went off the road when its driver, Mervin D. Hock of Shippensburg, Pa., apparently fell asleep at the wheel. There were no injuries. Police charged Hock with reckless driving.

State police and highway workers used sand to restore traction to the right lane and shoulder of the road, where thousands of smashed eggs had turned the pavement into a stretch of viscous slime.

Two of the southbound lanes were blocked off until about 9:55 a.m. while workers used shovels and front-end loaders to clean up the mess, state police said.

"It was starting to smell a little by the time we were getting done," said Sgt. Robert P. James, a state trooper who helped in the clean-up. "It was just a mess, far as I was concerned."

Said another state trooper: "There was hen fruit everywhere."

Rush-hour traffic was backed up to Leesburg Pike, police said, in part because of the accident.

Buckwalter, the egg company president, said his firm's cargo was uninsured. "We'll just have to take the loss," which he said will amount to more than $4,000. The firm planned to run the unspilled eggs through a grader to sort out the cracked or broken ones, he added.

Upon learning of the spill, Fairfax County Executive J. Hamilton Lambert, who is attending a meeting in Charlottesville, said: "That must have scrambled things up out there on the Beltway."