For the 15th year in a row, H&R Towing & Auto Repair, 805 Hannah Ave., Forest Park, won an award for excellence from a national trade publication. American Towman Magazine’s ACE award is given to 700 towing companies nationally every year.

“We’re looking at the top 1 percent,” said Neila Smith, spokeswoman for American Towman. “These are companies that have the highest scores in meeting estimated arrival time, customer service, lack of customer complaints and letters of customer recognition.” Automobile clubs such as GEICO, National Automobile Club, National Motor Club and Nation Safe Drivers nominate towing companies, she said.

Larry Moskos and Eddie Vince are the partners who run H&R. The business was founded in 1987, with a single tow truck and three employees. It now has nine tow trucks and employs 17. Besides towing, the company’s auto repair shop makes up about half its business.

“In the towing business, every day is a new day,” Vince said, referring to the variety of problems they face. “Service is the bottom line.” Vince, who was born and raised in Forest Park, has been working around tow trucks since he was a kid. He met his business partner when they were in their early 20s. At the time, Moskos was selling tools and hated it. After joining forces at H&R, neither partner looked back.

“It’s hands on, 24/7,” Moskos said of the job. “We’re in the office every day.” They can also fill in when their drivers aren’t available to handle a roadside emergency. “The standard for insurance companies is for the tow truck to get there within 45 minutes of the call,” he said, “We’re successful 95 percent of the time.”

They average about 50-60 tows per day. Some are more memorable than others. Vince recalled having to retrieve a car stuck in the dense underbrush of Thatcher Woods. A teenager was ill-advisedly driving his mom’s car down railroad tracks when he lost control and went down the embankment into the woods. “We had to park 200 yards away,” Vince recalled, “and use chains to pull it back up.”

Moskos recalled a difficult tow from one of Forest Park’s cemeteries. A driver was fleeing from the police, southbound on Circle Avenue. He hit the guardrail where Circle dead-ends at 16th and the car flipped over the fence. It damaged some of the monuments and the driver fled on foot but was later apprehended. Moskos noted that when towing cars out of cemeteries, it’s sometimes necessary to have the path cleared of tombstones.

Though most of their business comes from the Forest Park area, they occasionally get a long-distance assignment. “Last winter, a car stolen from here ended up in Oklahoma,” Vince recalled. “The insurance company wanted it towed back.” Likewise, a Forest Parker’s car broke down in southern Indiana and the owner paid for H&R to tow it back. The company negotiates a flat rate for extraordinary services like these but typically charges $85-95 for local tows.

The partners are well aware that most customers are at a low point when they call for a tow, so they try to hire drivers who love their job and are customer-friendly. “We have one who wears a Santa hat and passes out candy canes,” Vince said.

Moskos recalled a Forest Park family recently having an accident on Christmas Eve on the South Side of Chicago.

“Their insurance company couldn’t find a tow truck for three hours. The family finally called us.” The bonus for having H&R haul their van full of presents was that the Forest Parkers got dropped off at home. “We don’t want customers taking buses home,” Moskos said.

Both partners enjoy having their business at Hannah and Harrison.

“Forest Park is a great town to be in,” Moskos said, “It’s so accepting. It has a neighborhood feel.” In addition to tows and repairs, H&R provides roadside assistance to stranded motorists.

“We unlock cars, change tires, give jumps,” Moskos said.

Customers with locked doors are told, “We can take time and make this look hard,” Moskos said, “or we can get inside your car in five seconds. It’s the same cost either way.”

Besides adding another ACE plaque to their collection, the H&R partners are entitled to ACE award belt buckles. The catch is they would have had to travel to the ceremony in Baltimore to receive them. This would violate one of their tenets.

“We have to be reachable 24/7,” Moskos said.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.