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Evolution of Tow Trucks

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You probably don’t give much thought about tow trucks on a daily basis until vehicle gets in an accident or breaks down on the road. You may feel frustrated but know that help is on the way to recover your vehicle and transport it to a repair shop. Tow trucking service ever-so-quietly makes the world go round. Seldom do we think about what modern life would be like if tow trucks didn’t exist at all.

100 years have passed since the tow truck as we know it was born, so let’s delve a little deeper into the interesting history of this silent yet heroic business.

A museum in Chattanooga called the International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum features restored antique wreckers and displays related toys, tools, equipment, and pictorial histories of the tow truck industry.

An idea is born

First tow truck was invented by Earnest Holmes, Sr. of Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1916. The first incident that inspired the invention of prototype to tow truck occurred in the year 1916 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. A Ford Model T found its way into the Chickamauga Creek and the resulting extraction took many hours and a great deal of manpower, including Earnest Holmes, Sr., a service station owner, using blocks and ropes.

After the exasperating process of early roadside recovery, Ernest Holmes Sr. knew there had to be a better way and began working on developing a simpler and efficient method to recover vehicles. He and two friends, L.C. Decker and Elmer Gross, designed a crane and pulley system, mounted on his 1913 Cadillac, the first prototype for tow truck. But his towing system wasn’t stable enough to recover vehicles. Undeterred, he continued to work on his new towing designs and eventually added outriggers to support and stabilize his new invention. He earned a patent for it in 1919 and thus the towing industry was born.

Evolution of Tow Trucks

Once he had earned his patent for wreckers, Holmes founded a business building his very own line of Holmes Wrecker tow trucks selling them other mechanics and garage operators. The first truck built by Holmes was called Holmes 680, priced at $680 but it was too pricey for buyers. So he created a cheaper version priced at $480 named Holmes 485. Holmes mounted his system on a 1913 Locomobile, a steam-powered automobile with a six-cylinder engine and four-speed manual transmission.

One interesting fact is that his company also built vehicles for military use when the United States entered World War II. His company was sold in 1973 and is now known as Miller Industries.

Over The Years, the tow truck continued to evolve and manufacturers developed a variety of different types of towing equipment to meet different needs. These include:

Hook and chain

Hook and chain, also referred as sling or belt lift, where chains are looped around the vehicle’s axle or frame and a boom winch lifts the vehicle so that customer’s vehicle can be towed on its other axle. However, this system works only works for vehicles with steel bumpers without all-wheel drive, or it will scratch the bumpers of cars. But they are sometimes used for towing vehicles that have been in an accident or have one or two of the front or rear wheels missing.

Wheel Lift

This is one of the most common types of towing equipment, where a large metal yoke is fitted under the car’s front or rear wheels and lifting the vehicle clear of the ground by a pneumatic or hydraulic hoist so it can be towed. This is a great option for two-wheel drive cars, as the tires not used for driving can assist in the towing process and your transmission won’t be harmed.


This system has boom winch attached to a vehicle to lift the vehicle. Not specifically for towing rather this system with adjustable boom winch is to recover vehicles that are no longer in the drivable surfaces such as ditch, culvert, over an embankment.


Also called a Rollback or a Slide, in this system the entire back of the truck is fitted with flatbed trailer that can be hydraulically inclined and moved to ground level, allowing the vehicle being towed to be placed on it under its own power or pulled by a winch. Flatbed Trailers can get those bigger vehicles where they need to be. Ever wonder how an oversized load or farming tractors that aren’t running get moved? A flatbed has plenty of room for these and other unusual vehicles.

Integrated Tow Trucks

Also referred to as a “Self Loader” Snatcher, Quick Pick or Repo Truck, this system combine a boom lift and a wheel lift on a single truck. This makes it more versatile and gives these tow trucks the ability to handle virtually any kind of residential vehicle without much trouble. Used in light duty trucks to repossess vehicles or move illegally parked vehicles. Most have controls for the apparatus inside the cab of the tow truck to make quick pick up possible without the inconvenience of exiting the truck to hook up the vehicle. Heavy duty trucks are also manufactured with integrated lift.

The Indomitable Tow Truck

Since 1916, tow trucks have made vehicle recovery easier. Before their invention, recovering a vehicle took many hours and lots of manpower. Today, one qualified professional can use his or her tow truck to rescue vehicles in the most precarious of situations. Next time your vehicle breaks down or experiences an accident, feel grateful for this amazing invention and when choosing a towing company, do your research so that you can get maximum benefit. If you’re looking for a towing services, call us at Atlantis Towing.

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