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Ernest Holmes and the First Tow Truck

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Tow Truck Tucson

Before The Tow Truck

Yes, there was a time when tow trucks didn’t exist. When having the ability to call up your local Tucson towing company seems as easy as pie, it’s easy to underappreciate the usefulness of a tow truck. As with many modern inventions, it is difficult for some to conceive of a time when certain things didn’t exist, like the television or cellphones. However, just as superheroes have their origin story, so do tow trucks.

A Horse and Carriage: The Original “Tow Truck”

If you want to go way back, you could technically say that the towing industry existed before tow trucks did. When people road in carriages on rough dirt roads, it was common for the wheels to break or get stuck in the mud. Though catching a lift or getting help with a tow back then was not as simple as it is today. Typically, you would have to wait around for hours before another person would pass by to help.

Once someone did come along, their version of towing involved rounding up some cattle or horses and using them to pull the carriage out of the mud. Or, if the wheel broke, they would pull it back to their home until it could receive repairs.

The Birth of the Automobile and the First Tow Truck

The first automobiles were invented in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Though, even then, there were not any specialty vehicles that could tow a car if it broke down. If the car could not be pulled back to a repair shop or the owner’s home using some horse and rope, then it was commonplace for the vehicle to be left on the side of the road.

Ernest Holmes and His Tow Truck

Ernest W. Holmes Sr. was born in 1883 in Hobbs Island, Alabama. Later in life, he relocated to Chatanooga, Tennessee, where he became a mechanic.  Holmes became known as the inventor of the tow truck in 1916 when his friend, John Wiley, needed help recovering his car. Wiley had lost control of his Ford Motel T and crashed it into a creek bed.

Though he was a mechanic, Holmes had never dealt with a situation like this before. He rounded up several other men, along with some rope, and blocks, and spent nearly an entire day rescuing the vehicle.

The Original Tow Truck

After spending several hours recovering Wiley’s Model T, Holmes retired to his garage, inspired to invent something that would make the effort of towing a vehicle much less complicated. His first attempt came when he modified a 1913 Cadillac by attaching an iron chain, a crane and pulley system, and some hooks.

Unfortunately, the chassis of the Cadillac was neither strong nor sturdy enough to lift and tow broken down vehicles very far. So he spent the next couple of years modifying and refining his idea until he came up with a successful model for the build of the first tow truck in 1918. This first tow truck, or wrecker, was named the Holmes 485.

The basis of Holmes’ build was a “split-boom” concept which involved anchoring the truck on one side, while the other side recovered the broken down car so as not to tilt the wrecker.

The Tow Truck EvolvesFlatbed Tow trucks Tucson

After he patented the Holmes 485, Ernest went on to found the Ernest Holmes, Co and furthered the towing industry by continuing to create newer models to adapt with the times and the needs of the towing industry. The Holmes W70 model is still, to this day, the largest wrecker in the world.

In 1973, years after Holmes passed in 1945, Ernest Holmes, Co, was sold to what is now Miller Industries. Since then, many manufacturers have further adapted and modified the tow truck, giving us these four models that are commonly seen today:

The Integrated Tow Truck

Integrated trucks are typically used in situations when the vehicle that needs to be recovered or towed is much larger than average, like a bus or a semi-truck. These types of tow trucks are a combination build that uses both the boom and the wheel-lift mechanisms.

Hook and Chain Tow Trucks

Similar to the original tow truck model that Holmes invented, the hook and chain build uses a type of crane and pulley system to tow vehicles. This type of truck is unpreferred today because when the hook attached to the car’s frame or axle, it can cause damage to the bumper and the drivetrain.

The Wheel-Lift Tow Truck

The wheel-lift model evolved from the original hook and chain build. Instead of using a hook to lift the vehicle, something called a yoke is fitted under the wheels of the car to lift it off of the ground.

Flatbed Tow Trucks

The flatbed-style tow trucks have an entire portion at the back of the truck that lowers or inclines to pull the broken down vehicle onto the bed. This method is safer for the car as it rests on the bed of the truck and away from the road.

No Two Towing Companies Are the Same

While you might think that you can call up any local towing company and receive the same service, you likely won’t. Even with newer builds like the flatbed tow truck being readily available, there are still some towing companies that use outdated models that can damage your vehicle.

So before you pick up the phone, make sure to do your research. When your vehicle gets damaged from being in an accident, the last thing you want is for a towing company to come and mishandle the car, resulting in further damage.

Mobile Maintenace & Towing

Mobile Maintenance & Towing, LLC in Tucson, has been providing quality, trusted service for over a decade. Our powerful fleet of tow trucks can pull any type of vehicle, from sedans to super-duty semis.

On top of towing services, we also provide mobile maintenance and roadside assistance. As first responders, we offer emergency tow trucks fro accidents, roll-overs, and more.

 

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