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The Man Who Rescued Over 10,000 Stranded Motorists

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
May 1, 2024 3:01 am

The Man Who Rescued Over 10,000 Stranded Motorists

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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May 1, 2024 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Thomas Weller, also known as 'The San Diego Highwayman,' shares the story of why he dedicated his time to helping people on the side of the road.

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Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb
Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb

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AT&T. The Truth Network Podcast is a podcast that gives you the seven most important and interesting stories, and we always try to save room for something fun. You get it all in about seven minutes or less. I'm Hannah Jewell.

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All you can stream with Zumo Play. And we continue with our American stories. Up next, we have the voice of Thomas Weller, aka the San Diego Highwayman. Thomas is nationally recognized for doing something he simply calls playing on the freeway.

But what he does is truly much more. Here's Thomas with the story of why he decided he would dedicate much of his life to helping people, specifically stranded motorists on the side of the road. Well, it was 1964, and I was out against my mother's wishes, tomcatting around in a snowstorm one night, and I'm coming home about, oh, one, two o'clock in the morning. It was a blizzard, and it was a two-lane highway, and I was blown off the road into a snowbank. And my 58 Chevy ex-police car, and the top was white, and the back end bottom was black. That's all you could see.

The car was the black trunk sticking out of the snowbank. And I'd been there for a number of hours, and I was freezing cold, and a fellow in a pickup came along, the only person that came by that night, and he stopped and he pulled me out with a chain. And I said thank you, and I tried to pay him.

He wouldn't take any money. What he said was, pass it on when you have a chance. And I never even got his name. I didn't really understand that he probably saved my life until about two years later, 1966.

That's when I started doing what I do and have done ever since. Charles Kuralt called me the highwayman on national TV in 1996. He said, highwaymen of old were figures to fear, but here's a highwayman to admire.

And I thought that was pretty cool. My son was sitting there watching it with me on TV, and he turned to me and said, dad, isn't a highwayman a bad thing? Anyway, ever since then, I've been the San Diego Highwayman.

In 1964, I read a book by Rick Raphael called Code 3, and it predicted the future of gigantic cross country highways, transcontinental highways, and vehicles that were jet powered. And the story was about this one officer's Buah, which was their vehicle, that was set up as a wrecker, a patrol car. It had cranes on it for lift and wreck vehicles. It had a jail shell on the nose, and there's a picture of it on the front page of the book.

And it just enthralled me as a teenager, and I named my rescue rig Buah from that. And Buah, my Buah, was a 55, 56, 57, 58, 59. It was parts of a dozen different cars. I found it initially in a vacant lot, wrecked, gave $35 for it. And I paid $50 for the front end off a 56. Buah was a 55, you see, but the 56 front end fit on it just perfect. So for under $100, I had me a running car. This would be the car that Thomas would go on to rescue thousands of people with. I had a full tool kit.

It grew over the years. I had basic emergency services stuff. I had my first response kit because my wife and I took EMT courses. I had gasoline. I had oil. I had air, compressed air for tires.

I had several different kinds of jacks, pry bars, cutting tools. She weighed 5,600 pounds with the dog. She was sitting in the seat when it got weighed. Sheila was Thomas' lab, also known as his shotgun rider, who went on every one of his adventures with him.

I looked all over San Diego County. When I found her, I knew what it was to be. She was in the last cage, the last place I looked, and she was in the back of the cage, and the person took me to see her. She'd only been just brought in.

I looked at her, and I already had the name picked out from the Crocodile Dundee movie. Well, I said, Sheila, would you like to come home with me? She got up, came out to the wire, and put her nose through. Anyway, two weeks later, after she'd been through all the processes and gotten fixed and everything, I came to get her. She jumped into the rig on the passenger side, crossed over the driver's side, and sat down the driver's seat, put her front paws in the steering wheel, and looked over at me like, okay, I'm ready.

Get in. Let's go. And I said, Sheila, you can't drive the vehicle. Well, she put her head down, and her tail went down. She crossed over the passenger seat and sat down and waited for me.

And then when I came around and put the harness on her, the safety harness to protect them if there was ever a crash, she lifted her paws one by one in the front, and she did that every time. One Fourth of July weekend, Thomas was out playing on the freeway and spotted a family in need. They were stranded at the stoplight there, and I stopped to help them. And they were driving a mid-engine Mazda van with the alternator going bad on, and the battery was dead.

And that's where they died, right there. So I put my jumper battery in that I carry with me for these things, and I followed them to their motel up in Kearney, Mesa, where I left the jumper battery in, disconnected, and showed them how to reconnect it. And the next morning, they came out with their van to my place in El Cajon, and I reinstalled their battery, which I charged from overnight, and I gave them a battery so they could make it home to San Jose, running just on the battery. And I warned them not to use their lights or signals or air conditioning, and they made it.

And the thing was, this particular vehicle, it's hard to work on, and it was the Fourth of July weekend, and it would just totally ruin their weekend if they'd had to take it somewhere and try to get it fixed down here. So the little girl drew for me. They sent me that, and it's up on my garage wall, and she even put my dog in the driver's seat of my Buah. And it's my most favorite thank you of all the years that I've done this. Thomas had a card of his own that he would give to people after helping them. It says, assisting you has been my pleasure. I ask for no payment other than for you to pass on the favor by helping someone in distress that you encounter. And on the backside of the card, it's the words from a country western song.

It says, you don't owe me a thing. I've been there too. Someone once helped me out just around helping you. If you really want to pay me back, here's what you do.

Don't let the chain of love end with you. And you've been listening to Thomas Weller, the San Diego highwayman, telling his story, which really started fundamentally, in a snowbank where his car was trapped. And, well, there was no one in sight until one person came by. As he put it, Thomas, a fella in a pickup came by and pulled me out with a chain. He wouldn't take money. I never got his name. Pass it on if you get a chance, is all he said.

And my goodness, Thomas has been passing it on, and he has had many chances. A highwayman to admire, Charles Corot called him in 1996. Generally, highwaymen are feared, not this one. And we learn about Beulah, his precious car, which he cobbled together from many different cars, for under a hundred bucks.

But as he put it, for under a hundred dollars, I had a running car, weighing in at 5,600 pounds with his tools and his dog, Sheila. When we come back, more of Thomas Weller's story, a classic American story, here on Our American Stories. There's a lot happening these days. But I have just the thing to get you up to speed on what matters, without taking too much of your time. The Seven from The Washington Post is a podcast that gives you the seven most important and interesting stories, and we always try to save room for something fun. You get it all in about seven minutes or less.

I'm Hannah Jewell. I'll get you caught up with The Seven every weekday. So follow The Seven right now. Visit or download from the app and Google Play stores today. All you can stream with Zoomo Play. The wait is almost over. Get ready for the 2024 NFL season as the full schedule is announced. Every rivalry, every rematch, every rookie debut, every game revealed. The 2024 NFL schedule release presented by Verizon coming in May. Live on NFL Network, ESPN2 and streaming on NFL Plus. Terms and conditions apply to NFL Plus.

Visit slash schedule release to learn more. And we return to our American stories and to Thomas Weller, the San Diego highwayman who spent much of his life helping motorists who was stranded on the side of the road. Let's pick up where we last left off. I was southbound 163 and there was a 90s T-bird on the right shoulder with a blown tire. And the fellow driving it was a felon, a jailbird.

He was wearing a wife beater shirt and he had the teardrop tattoos. And just as I pulled up, his friend pulled up with two spare doughnuts that they were going to try on the car and neither one of them fit. So I gave the guy my card and I told him I'd be back with one that fit. And I drove home here to the ranch and I picked out one that I knew would fit, took it back to him. And when I arrived, his friend had left. He was sitting in the car reading my card, holding it in his hand. He didn't believe I was coming back. He thought he was totally screwed. He was down from L.A. to pick up a friend who was getting out of jail.

I put the spare on and it worked and shook hands with him. And this was a really scary looking guy and I was kind of concerned for my safety with him. He turned to leave and all of a sudden he had his hand on my shoulder and he spun me around.

And I was thinking, oh, shit. Well, the guy was crying and he said nobody had ever done anything for him before in his life. And he said, I just changed his life. And it tears me up now to tell you about it.

He broke down and cried, this big, scary looking dude. I've had a number of fellows and gals cry as I'm helping them. There's a little gal who I helped on the 163. She was talking to AAA on the phone when I pulled up. And she told the AAA people, well, the Ghostbusters car just pulled up behind me. She was initially scared of me and told me, no, she didn't want any help and wanted me to leave. But I won her over and I changed the tire for her and sent her on her way. And she sent me a real nice little email saying that she was the redhead that I'd helped that day. And the reason she was so scared of me was that she knew I wasn't AAA because she was on the phone to AAA as I pulled up. And one of her best friends had been Kara Knott. It's a long and really sad story about Kara. But this CHP officer, Craig Payer, killed Kara Knott and attempted to get away with it. So she was not convinced at all initially that I was there to help her.

And it goes uphill from there. We still correspond via email every so often. I had one fellow I helped, his wife, she had a bone and shredded tire and a damaged fender by it. And he arrived as I was finishing up and he tried to pay me.

This was an expensive vehicle that had the bone and tire and he was driving an expensive vehicle. Well, I wouldn't take his money, but I lost my sunglasses that day and I either said something about it or he noticed I didn't have any. He took off his expensive sunglasses and gave them to me.

And I did accept those because the sun was pretty bright. There were a number of CHP officers through the years who assisted me at scenes as I assisted them as well. But one particular officer, Officer Cammie, a little blonde, the first time I met her, I was on the right shoulder with a young girl in a Mustang that was broken down. And Officer Cammie pulled up and walked up to me and said, let me see your business license. And I didn't know her name then.

I said, Officer, I don't have a business license, but I do have this. And I gave her my card and she read the card and her demeanor changed and she gave me a hug. And from that day to the last time I saw her, we were good friends. You see, I would go out to play, as I called it, when I was despondent or depressed because every time I helped somebody, it would raise my spirits.

So this one night I'd gone out to play in a couple of hours and I hadn't found a single person to help. So I'm headed home and all of a sudden I get lit up and pulled over by a CHP. And I'm thinking, that's just great.

Perfect ending for a perfect day. Now I'm going to get a ticket and I don't know for what. Well, the officer walks up to my window and sticks his hand in the window and shakes my hand. And he said, for the 17 years he'd been on the East County Beat, he's seen me at accidents and breakdowns and other things, doing what I do, and never had a chance to say thank you because I always took off so fast. I said, you pulled me over to say thank you.

Yep, he sure did. And that lifted my spirits considerably. I haven't ever had a problem asking for help to help others with, like when my car broke down or the engine blew up or I needed a part for spare tires for folks. I didn't have any trouble asking for others when I needed stuff for them, but it's difficult asking for me. So some of the people who Thomas had helped and others who'd heard of the work he was doing took it upon themselves to help him back. They came together to raise money for Thomas to get a set of teeth. And I'm going to cry because I do have teeth now, thanks to like 1,100 people, some of whom I had helped and some I never knew and never will know, and I have my teeth and I can eat. And I've gained a little bit of weight back. Thomas played on the freeway for 51 years and helped over 10,000 people on the side of the road.

In 2017, Thomas had a stroke that partially disabled him, preventing him from playing on the freeway any longer. I recovered from cancer two months ago. Luckily, they got it all. I'm real happy to still be here. Folks have sent me emails and letters and a couple of folks have posted stories on the internet about their experiences with me and what it meant to them and the things that they'd done in return. There's just so many of them. I got stories to fill several books, but a lot of them are just in my memory and my one foot stack high of letters and emails and pictures and such.

But they're all in my memory. I've had numerous experiences that convinced me that there are angels out there and I've been called an angel many times my own self. I just realized that I might not have been here if it hadn't been for that one fellow helping me. And there's been a number of people since who have espoused similar feelings for what I did for them.

And a terrific job on the production by Madison Derricott. And a special thanks to Thomas Weller, the San Diego Highwayman. In 51 years, 10,000 people helped 10,000 stories in the end and he shared some of them with us. That 90s T-bird that was blown out, a blown out tire that is, and an ex-felon who was driving it. And he was driving to pick up another ex-con coming out of jail. And the guy looked tough and he had to leave that ex-con stranded, go back, get a tire and then come back to him. And when he was leaving after having fixed the problem, he felt a hand on the shoulder. When he turned around, he was a little afraid and then he saw he had nothing to fear at all because that ex-con was crying. No one had ever done something for me, that man said. He even got pulled over by a cop who wanted to just thank him and how often does that happen in any of our lives that we get pulled over by law enforcement just to say thank you.

Numerous experiences in my life tell me that there are angels out there. Well, Thomas Weller is one of them. The story of Thomas Weller here on Our American Stories. So what are you waiting for? Start streaming at or download from the app and Google Play stores today.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2024-05-01 04:18:17 / 2024-05-01 04:26:35 / 8

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