Rory Irish: Moab’s Knight in Shining Mater
If to “err is human,” and “to forgive is divine,” then to rescue a stranger’s upturned rental Jeep out of a rocky gulch on an 80-something degree day in Moab is downright heroic. But it’s just a typical Tuesday afternoon for Rory Irish, owner and operator of the “Trail Mater” off-road tow truck. When wheeling out in Moab, Rory’s number is one that you never want to call, but if or when you do, you’ll be so very glad when he shows up.
You’ll hear Rory coming before you see him. His trusty Trail Mater dings, rumbles, coughs, and clangs along at a slow and steady crawl, climbing its way over the rocky obstacles that make Moab one of the world’s most beloved destinations for off-roading. As challenging as his work can be, the job’s got its perks. Rory’s office boasts the kind of views that, at a typical workplace, only exist on computer desktop backgrounds. A tough recovery job often ends in a radiant valley sunset.
“Growing up here, it’s easy to lose focus of the beauty. You think: it's like any other place to live. No big deal. But dealing with tourists and people that have never been here before and seeing how they react to the scenery and the red rocks and everything reminds me every day — I really do live and work in a beautiful place.”
More Error than Trial
Rory got into this unique business just as gracefully as his clients do — by stumbling into it. Over the years, he’s gotten his own truck into enough sticky situations off-road to learn how best to get himself out of them. After a while, he became the recovery resource for his friends. Then they told their friends, who in turn told theirs. It’s a circle of stuckness.
“I got into this by accident. I've always been the one my buddies have called when they got stuck. ‘Hey, we messed something up. The truck’s on the trail. Can you help us get it?’ I remember laying in bed at midnight one time, and I got a call. My new girlfriend at the time looks at me and goes, ‘really?’ I laughed and said, ‘welcome to my life.’
When I moved back to Moab, I started working at an off-road shop, and they did recoveries to an extent. We needed a better vehicle, and I had this old truck that was kind of a rock crawler. I used it a couple of times, modified it here and there, and slowly grew into what it has become. It was a process of trial and error — with extra error. But especially in off-roading, if you're not making mistakes, you're not learning.”
If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning — it’s a philosophy that Rory has infused into his work and his off-roading skills. It’s built right into his rig.
Meet the Mater
The Trail Mater was once a shiny new 1982 Chevy pickup truck. Then, it became a mud truck. Then a rock crawler. And now, it’s its own breed of wrecker. This rig has been through a lot. Part of being great at his job is Rory’s willingness to break his own truck to save someone else’s. Just about every part on it has been modified, broken, fixed, and modified again. From top to bottom, it’s covered in rust, scar tissue, and plenty of great stories.
“Back in the day, I helped a buddy of mine turn it into a rock crawler. We had to cut it up a lot, but he insisted. He wheeled it for about three years and then told me he wanted to sell it. I was like, ‘most of the parts on it are mine. How about I buy it from you?’’’
The fact that it was built as a crawler first and a tow-truck second is a strength, as the average tow-truck is way too heavy to pull off some of the moves Rory does daily while getting to clients out on the trail. After years of trusty-n-rusty refinement, today, the Trail Mater features a fuel-injected V-8, a Dodge dually rear-end, six winches, and a curated cache of spare parts and tools for remote repairs. (It’s a lot easier to fix a car and drive it out than load it on the truck to carry it out.) The wrecker’s BFGoodrich® Mud-Terrain T/A® KM3 tires were another critical refinement in the Trail Mater’s long, winding life.
“About three years ago, I posted about some tires I was looking at and one of my followers recommended that I try the BFGoodrich KM3s. So I did, and I absolutely love them. I run them on three rigs now because the traction is unbeatable. All my mechanics run them now, too, because they've seen how well they do on the Trail Mater. I’m on my third set, and I’ve never had a sidewall issue.”
The Art of Getting Unstuck
Especially in the last few years, Moab has become a bustling destination. There are more tourists and townies alike enjoying the highly demanding terrain on side-by-sides and 4x4s every day. Naturally, the Trail Mater is not the only off-road tow truck helping wheelers in need. But he is often the one the other guys call when they can’t get someone out of a situation— or simply don’t want to.
What’s his secret sauce? Rory has a wealth of knowledge about vehicles, off-roading, the geography of Moab, and the unique physics of moving cars that can’t move themselves. But more than his smarts, his tools, or the sum of all his experiences on the trail, Rory’s attitude is the key to his success.
“There's a couple of other trucks in town, but everybody seems to call me. I’ve had a few times where other guys have said ‘Hey, I can't get to it, call Trail Mater.’ Or they say, I’m not comfortable with that. I could scratch my truck.’ Or, ‘that sounds like too big of a job.’
I'm more of a ‘let's figure it out’ kind of guy. When it comes to these situations, everything's just an equation. And if you can figure out the pieces, work it out, and go slow, then you can come out of anything. But you gotta be willing to go into an unknown situation, potentially break your own vehicle, and figure it out.”
For Rory, even the gnarliest jobs are worth doing because they are opportunities to learn. His willingness to embrace the unknown, go slow, figure things out, and ultimately learn from the situation is his secret. Getting people unstuck requires guts, improvisation, and a whole lot of comfort with potential failure. It’s art as much as it’s work. An art that Rory has undoubtedly mastered.
All photos courtesy of Chris Collard.