Profiles in Carnage: Tim Santry

Timothy Santry, 91, founded Winn Street Service, the tow truck company now located on Wall Street near Donahue’s Furniture.

His body contains so many steel fragments, airport security forces him to strip. And strip. And strip. And they still think he must be hiding something somewhere. He has countless steel shards inside both hands and up his forearms, and a few big ones embedded near his shins.

They’re not medical implants. They’re steel splinters that have randomly shot into his body during decades of hammering and chiseling at truck frames. “After I’m down to nothing, they finally say, ‘Okay, get your clothes back on.”

Besides attending to car accidents with his fleet of tow trucks, Santry was the de facto town mechanic who fixed, modified and outright built municipal trucks, including fire tankers.

Santry’s bloody battles with vehicles started early. He might be the only person in Burlington who can say he’s been run over by a Model A Ford. He was under the car at his lifelong home, 3 Newbridge Ave., tinkering with the brakes, while his buddy was behind the wheel. “I told him to move it a tiny bit. Well, he moved it right over my chest, the crazy nut. It didn’t hurt that much, though.” He was eight years old.

Dapper Tim Santry graduating St. Charles in Woburn

Dapper Tim Santry graduating St. Charles elementary in Woburn

At the advanced age of 11, Santry started chalking up victories. During the hurricane of 1938, his father called from nearby Lowell Street to say he was stranded due to downed trees. Tim used his family’s tractor to yank the trees out of the way. In the aftermath of the same hurricane, a gas station around the corner on Winn Street was without power. Tim removed the tire from his bicycle’s back rim, turned the bike upside down, ran a belt from his rear rim to the gas pump motor and hand-pumped gas when customers pulled in.

In his early 20s, he operated a gas station on the corner of Mountain Road and Winn Street. He bought it from the Sylvester family, the namesake of Sylvester Road in Winnmere. Here’s a “then and now”:

Tim Santry's Calso gas station, 1953, corner of Mountain Road and Winn Street

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He used the revenue to start his flagship business, Winn Street Service, across the street (pics below), where a Dunkin’ Donuts is today. Santry owned it from 1953 to 1970 before he separately sold off the gas station part to Angelo “Sonny” Morandi, the Winnmere barber. The towing business now belongs to Edward Igo, who has since expanded to tow truck sales and service at its current Wall Street location.

Long before the Jaws of Life came to town in the late 1970s, Tim’s fleet of 12 “wreckers” did the dirty work. Multiple trucks would hook up to crushed cars and yank them apart. “I’d straighten out the cars and pull people out. I’d pull them out dead or alive. Some of them had their arms missing, or heads. Then I’d go home at night and think about those people.” He has letter after letter from accident survivors thanking him for saving their lives. And he’s written a few thank-you letters himself, even when things turn out badly.

But never mind the on-the-job heroics. Even when he’s off duty, Santry seems to be in the right place at the right time. Or maybe the wrong place at the wrong time.

  • In the mid 1950s, he witnessed a car leave the Mass Pike in Framingham and plow into a pond. He pulled a mother and daughter from the car before they drowned.
  • Soon after, he became an impromptu lifeguard on Plum Island and saved a 200-lb boy with a deflated inner tube. That episode almost cost Santry his own life.
  • In the 1960s, he saved two people from a capsized sailboat in Boston harbor.
  • One day he was simply looking out his window on Newbridge Ave. and saw a tractor-trailer flip over on Route 128 and land on two cars. He used his wreckers to lift the trailer and free the cars.

Here are some other disasters. An overturned fire truck, a mangled tractor with a nasty crack in the windshield left by the driver’s cranium, and a routine car-tastrophe.

When blood is shed, the sharks move in. Lawyers. They like to quiz Santry about what he’s witnessed, but Santry doesn’t like quizzes. During one courtroom hearing, he ran out of patience with his interrogator and took a swing at his face, barely missing.

In the early 1970s, Tim suffered a repeat of the Model A accident from his childhood, but this time with the ante upped just a bit. He was working on the brakes of this motor home belonging to Donahue’s Furniture when one of the jacks partially sank into the warm asphalt and collapsed. The motor home bounced off him when it came down.

DD17AD13-3115-44C3-9A37-6A8A6472980CHe suffered so much internal bleeding that when he finally regained consciousness in Mass General, he was black from the chest down. Struggling to understand this through the fog of medication, he thought the doctors had performed some custom modifications while he was knocked out. “I thought they attached a black man’s body,” he says with a laugh.

Santry’s career wasn’t devoid of humor:

img090The driver was trying to steal pigs from a Lexington farm, but when he hit the gas to enter the highway, the pigs unwittingly engineered their own escape by stumbling to the rear of the bed. The sudden cargo shift forced the front of the bed skyward, jamming the overhead sign. This in turn vaulted the cab about 10 feet off the street, where it froze in place with the pig thief stuck behind the wheel, too afraid to jump out. He was arrested, the pigs fled the scene, and everything worked out just dandy.

All in a day’s work for Burlington’s commander of chaos, man of steel. Literally of steel. Looking over his hard-knocked body, Tim Santry has zero regrets. “That’s my life. I don’t care about going to a party or something. I’d rather go in the garage and work on a truck.”

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