RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Time again for StoryCorps. This project travels the country recording stories and it recently stopped in San Diego. People who come to StoryCorp often talk about turning points in their lives. For Thomas Weller that moment came almost 50 years ago when he was a young man living in Illinois.

THOMAS WELLER: Well, in 1964 I was youthful and full of myself. I was out late at night, tomcatting against my mother's wishes. It was a blizzard and I went off the road into a snowbank. I could have froze to death there, but one single individual came along. He stopped to help me and he pulled my car out with a chain. And when I asked him what I owed him, he said you just pass it on, and that's what I've been doing ever since.

I try to go out every day and I cruise around San Diego County and I search for folks in trouble on the freeway and I rescue them. I carry spare parts, several different kinds of hydraulic jacks, a baby delivery kit, never had to use it. I had one fella who was a scary-looking dude. He was muscle-bound and he had tattoos. Well, he had a flat on his T-Bird. I put the spare on the car.

We shook hands and I turned to leave and all of a sudden he had me by the shoulder and he spun me back around. I'm thinking, oh my god, now what? The man was crying. He said nobody in his life had ever done anything like that for him and that I had just changed his life. Makes me want to cry. I've been called the Lone Ranger and called an angel more times than I can count.

But I'm no angel. When you help somebody else, you help yourself, and that's real gratifying.

MONTAGNE: Thomas Weller at StoryCorps in San Diego. His interview will be archived in the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. Get the project's podcast at StoryCorps.org.

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