Tim Zlomke’s heart will always be in Wyoming, and now it’s shattered.
He and his brother, Dave Zlomke, grew up together in Powell, where their family has deep roots.
Tim was just 13 months older, and even into adulthood they stuck together, Tim told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.
“He and I shared a room growing up,” he said. “Dave lived with me or near me our whole lives.”
Dave, 45, drowned Sunday evening in the Clark Fork River in Montana while on vacation with his wife and their two children.
Tim was struggling with the sheer magnitude of the loss as he spoke with Cowboy State Daily over the phone from the Houston, Texas, area, where he and Dave had recently opened a successful axe-throwing business.
“Holy crap, I’ve been living next to a saint my whole life,” he said through tears. “They guy never complained, he was like a rock.”
Big Wyoming Family
Dave and Tim come from a big family. They have two other brothers and two sisters. And though none of the siblings still live in Powell, they have strong ties to the community and Wyoming.
A couple of years ago, they buried their father in Powell, Tim said. That was fitting, because the family goes way back there.
All the way back, as a matter of fact.
“Our family goes all the way back to the first settlers in Powell,” Tim said.
Dave was in robust health and wasn’t expecting to pass anytime soon. However, he had made his final wishes clear, Tim said.
Accordingly, his body will be cremated, and some of his ashes will be buried next to family in Powell, while the rest will go to other family burial sites around the country, Tim said.
“That’s the way he wanted it,” Tim said. “He wanted to honor the family and to not be a burden on anybody.”
A Huge Man With A Huge Heart To Match
As a freshman at Powell High School, Dave joined the football team as the kicker, an unusual position for such a big kid, Tim said.
He grew into a mountain of a man.
“The dude was 6-4, 265 pounds,” Tim said. “The guy was just a monster. He would tower over everyone, but he was so gentle.”
The brothers recently founded their business, Tex Axes, in Huston, where they had settled.
To better look the part of an axe-throwing master, Dave started growing out his beard and hair, taking on a striking resemblance to a certain superhero and action movie star.
“He looked like Jason Momoa,” Tim said. “He looked like a mountain man.”
Amazing Dad, Mentor
Despite his intimidating appearance, there’s really not enough time in a day to share all the stories of Dave’s generosity and big heart, Tim said.
Tim recalled that when he was serving in the military, Dave lived with him.
“I would come home and, more than once, there would be a homeless person sleeping on the couch,” Tim said. “I told Dave, ‘We can’t do that, it’s a security risk.’ And Dave just told me, ‘These people need a place to sleep.’”
The brothers followed opportunity around the country. Dave met his wife, Jennifer, in Omaha, Nebraska. They were married for 20 years and had a son and daughter.
Dave had incredible devotion to his family, Tim said.
“His daughter is one of the pickiest eaters in the world. And every day, Dave would take the time to stop by McDonald’s and buy her lunch, and then go to the school and eat lunch with her,” Tim said.
That, despite an absolutely grueling schedule.
Dave worked full-time for his father-in-law’s company, which supports railroads, Tim said. And he also worked at least 40-50 hours a week at Tex Axes.
To be working two full-time jobs and still take time every day for his daughter speaks to the kind of man Dave was, Tim said.
Dave also befriended an autistic boy, Jaden, 16, who lived nearby, Tim said. Jaden was all but incapable of social interaction, but under Dave’s mentorship at Tex Axes, that changed.
“He took this kid who couldn’t function at all and turned him into somebody who could interact with everyone,” Tim said.
News of Dave’s death was devastating for Jaden, Tim said.
‘And Then He Was Gone’
This summer was going well for the brothers. Tex Axes was starting to turn a profit and their families were thriving.
They decided it was time for a break. Tim went first, taking his family back to Wyoming for a vacation in Yellowstone Park over the Fourth of July holiday.
Then it was Dave’s turn. He and Jennifer decided to take the kids to enjoy the outdoors near Missoula, Montana.
Ever vigilant about the business, Dave watched livestream video of the Tex Axes axe throwing team on Sunday evening before joining his family for a swim in the Clarks Fork River.
“And then he was gone,” Tim said.
All the details aren’t clear, but apparently Dave got caught in a freak undertow and disappeared, Tim said.
Emergency responders were called, who did everything they could, he said.
“They had divers out, they had helicopters out. Bless their hearts, they were all trying,” Tim said.
The Mineral County Sheriff’s Office in Montana reported that Dave’s body was located by a drone at about 12:45 p.m. Tuesday.
‘You Could Feel The Love In That Room’
The loss has left an unfathomable chasm in Tim’s life. But he knows, that for Dave’s sake, he has to carry on the business they founded.
Dave envisioned Tex Axes to be much more than a business.
“He wanted it to be a community center,” Tim said.
And so he intends to make it just that.
“I’m going to rename it ‘Big Dave’s Tex Axes.’ And I’m going to put his picture up on the wall so his heart will always be there,” Tim said.
A crowd of employees, loyal patrons and others recently gathered there in Dave’s honor.
“You could feel the love in that room,” Tim said. “That was Dave.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at email@example.com.