Broken Down and Saved by Saints

man securing vehicle to tow truck

Photographer Joe Haeberle travels the west in a rambling fashion, documenting small town Americana. A few summers ago, he found himself broken down in rural Montana and in need of a hand; what he found was new friends.

“uh, shit.” I murmured to myself. I put the truck in first gear and tried to get it to move. That plan worked for about 15 feet until I came to another grinding halt. My truck wasn’t going to move. After a quick check under the hood and seeing that nothing was on fire, I called the nearest towing company in Thompson Falls, MT. “We’ll have a guy out there soon”, the lady said. “Just hold tight.”

tow truck with lights on at night

“We can get a rebuilt one delivered in about 5 days, and then it’ll be another day to install it.” That was the diagnosis, meaning I wasn’t going anywhere for the duration of that time. Since I’d been staying in my truck for the past few months on a rodeo tour, I wasn’t sure where I was going to sleep. Before I knew it, Nate, the wrecker who showed up to tow my truck, said “Hey my parents have a cabin just down the road. You can stay there while your truck is repaired.” I stuttered, “Are you sure?”, “Yeah man, we take care of good folks around here.”

I spent the next five days helping Nate and his father Steve Saint with their towing business – mostly just watching. We found cars that had been beat to a pulp, trucks who forgot to fill their oil, and even an abandoned Honda with some old brass knuckles in the glove box. Nate and his father weren’t surprised by that, though. They’d seen it all – from semi-trucks lodged halfway down a mountain to livestock trucks stopped for hours at a time with thirsty cattle calling for water. Steve grew up in Thompson Falls, MT and doesn’t intend on leaving. He raised Nate the same way. Their relationship during work hours is just that – work. They’ve relayed their radios to both alarm in each other’s houses when there is a job to do – and they’re both out the door when the call comes.

man smiling with arms on truck bed

As Nate nears his wedding in June, between towing calls he’s been preparing the ceremony sight. Tilling the ground, planting new seed, moving soil, fixing the water pump to water the new grass seed – all lessons he’s learned from his father through working with machinery.

man standing in driveway of tow truck lot

Being able to study the way the Saints watch over head on collisions, metal fenders wrapped around old pine trees, and the otherwise stranded folks like me in the Thompson Falls area really put into perspective the hospitality of the West, and that seems like a damn good role to play in the modern world to me.