Tim Cook hops out of his largest tow truck, a 20-ton former military wrecker nicknamed The Great Pumpkin, at his garage in Bridgton. Cook was pinned into the prestigious Order of Towman last month. Andree Kehn Buy this Photo

BRIDGTON — Tim Cook has been towing for more than five decades. With thousands of tows under his belt, he specializes in the ones most people don’t want, rescuing an oil truck stuck miles down a snowmobile trail, pulling half of a house out of a pond.

“A manure truck that rolled over comes to mind,” said retired Lovell Fire Chief Tommie McKenzie.

Cook, 66, was pinned into American Towman Magazine’s Order of Towman last month, an award reserved for drivers nominated by fire and police officials.

“He’s always done a great job doing it, an expert in how to recover a vehicle,” said McKenzie, who put in Cook’s name. “I figured it was well-deserved.”

Cook, a Bridgton native, found himself at age 8 hooking cars up to his father’s wrecker. His father wasn’t a commercial tow truck driver but would bring customers’ cars back to his shop to work on them.

“I said I didn’t want to be in the towing business, I wanted to drive a truck, I wanted to build fast cars — well, here I am,” said Cook, who started Lake Region Towing in 1979.

And like his father, he’s also a mechanic, “unfortunately,” he joked. “My first scan tool was $280; the last one I got was $14,000.”

He’s passionate about community service, volunteering 45 years with the Bridgton Fire Department. He’s fire chief in Sweden, a safety officer with Sebago fire and a member of the Harrison Fire Department.

He’s also a longtime municipal fire and vehicle extraction instructor.

Cook listens to calls, and if there’s a vehicle involved, he’ll often respond in his small, one-ton tow truck, not to get the tow business — departments often have a rotating list of companies that get those — but to help if the vehicle needs to be lifted or otherwise moved.

“It’s a tool,” Cook said.

It’s also a bit of an art.

“Back in the day, everybody thought, ‘Wreckers, all they do is (hook) up cars and tow them off,'” said Cook. “Well, no. Today’s operator, a true towing operator, you go to school. I’ve got hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours of technical school. . .

“It’s a challenge, it uses physics,” he added. “It’s nice to be able to go get something and bring it back with effectively no more damage than when it went in.”

Lake Region Towing, run with his wife, Audra, specializes in heavy recovery (vehicles over 10,000 pounds) and off-road tows.

“If nobody wants to mess with it, we will,” he said. “Case in point: (We) had half a modular house get caught in a guardrail out in West Bridgton. It wound up in Moose Pond.”

He helped pull it out with a few others. He’s pulled a truck from the same pond and once towed an oil truck whose GPS had led the driver 2.5 miles down a snowmobile trail in winter. Cook approached from another direction and pulled him out half a mile.

He’s also lifted vehicles off people. Fatalities are tough.

“Everyone takes a little more out of you,” Cook said. “The closer you get to your mortality, it takes more out of you.”

His phone rings 24 hours a day. Ahead of an expected ice storm like last weekend, he’ll make sure everything is gassed up, and then, it’s a wait. In very big storms, people tend to stay off the road.

“It’s the little ones that get you — the first storm and the last storm of the year is where you make your money, because they either haven’t put their snow tires on yet or they’re overconfident,” Cook said. “(The last storm of the season) it’s the same story, ‘Oh, it’s black road, I can go like hell.’ How’d that work out for you?”

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