“He said it’s commonly known among mechanics and drivers that you can convert those trailers to heat, but he said he was surprised that many of the drivers didn’t know how,” said Pate’s sister, Kate McKay.
Pate is a Cordova native who learned diesel mechanics and engineering at Bevill State Community College. He is now employed by Ryder, a truck company in Birmingham.
On Tuesday, Pate used his skills to turn several empty refrigerated trailers into temporary shelters.
He set the trailers to maintain a temperature of 72 degrees. There was enough space in each to hold up to 200 people.
Some motorists did seek heat in the trailers after the sun set, while others walked to a nearby church that opened as a shelter.
Pate decided to spend the night in his own vehicle.
“We tried to get Neal to go there [the church], but he said that he was afraid to leave because if something happened and one of the trucks went down, he could be there to fix it,” McKay said.
Pate made it safely to his home in McCalla at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, more than 18 hours after he first got on the interstate.
McKay said it was completely in character for her brother to look for ways to help others because their parents, Kenneth and Brenda Pate of Cordova, raised their children to be that way.
“He doesn’t get recognition, and he doesn’t want it. He is just a good human being,” McKay said.
T.J. Armstrong, pastor of New Generation Ministries, said he has seen many selfless acts of love since temperatures began to drop earlier last week.
The church has been open as a 24-hour warming shelter since Friday. Local residents have taken turns providing meals for those who are staying there.
When word got out about a woman and two children were struggling to make it through the winter with only a wood-burning stove for heat, someone stepped forward to pay the power bill.
“I am amazed. This past week, I have been more amazed at the people of Alabama, specifically Walker County, than I ever have been in my life,” Armstrong said.