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COLUMN ONE

Really, he won't send you a bill

Thomas Weller has been on a self-imposed mission to aid stranded motorists since 1966. But gas prices have cut into his good deeds.

July 24, 2008|Elizabeth Douglass | Times Staff Writer

Over the years, Weller has weathered a few close calls.

There was the time he pulled somebody out of a burning car. Another day, he convinced a family to leave their broken-down car and stand behind a freeway pillar -- and saved them from a crash that killed the other driver and caused their vehicle to explode.

On a recent Friday afternoon, he headed out from his folksy "Highwayman's Roost" in eastern San Diego County wearing one of his Highwayman outfits -- a short-sleeved blue shirt and jeans with reflective yellow-and-white stripes, elbow pads and knee and shin protectors.

Weller added a hat, sunglasses and, being an avid fan of western writer Louis L'Amour, a red bandanna around his neck ("a kerchief has about 300 uses"). He fell into his "Highwayman" persona, peppering his conversation with "git" and "ain't" and phrases like, "that un got me a-sweatin'."

About an hour later, he came upon Ernst and her hobbled Honda Civic.

"It looks like she's got a flat. Maybe she'll let me help her," Weller said as he fired up the rig's lights and pulled over. Ernst was a AAA member but didn't have her card, and her cellphone battery was waning. She was delighted to see Weller.

"This is the strangest thing I've ever experienced," she said. "I would have been standing here for another two or three hours trying to figure out what I was going to do."

Next, Weller pulled behind two cars parked just beyond a curve and barely off the freeway, where others were whizzing by at smash-you-to-bits speeds. One had a flat tire on the freeway side of the car. And the battery was dead.

The second driver was trying to help but couldn't get in position to provide a jump and couldn't jack up the car enough for a tire change. Weller's hydraulic jack and heavy duty jumper cable did the trick.

"That gets the adrenaline pumping," he panted as he pulled back onto the freeway. "That's the excitement of jumping off the bridge with a bungee or going skydiving."

The day's mission was nearly done.

"The fuel gauge is showing me that it's the right time to head home," Weller said, peering at his extensive instrument panel. Two hours' cruising had burned more than $40 in fuel.

On the way home, he spotted an old camper stopped on the freeway. The driver had fixed an electrical problem but was left with exposed wires and no electrical tape.

Naturally, the Highwayman had some handy.

--

elizabeth.douglass@latimes.com

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