Share This Episode
Our American Stories Lee Habeeb Logo

How The Tow Truck Came To Be

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
May 22, 2023 3:02 am

How The Tow Truck Came To Be

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

On-Demand Podcasts NEW!

This broadcaster has 1290 podcast archives available on-demand.

Broadcaster's Links

Keep up-to-date with this broadcaster on social media and their website.

May 22, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Nyle Vincent from the International Towing Museum shares with us the fascinating story of the tow truck.

Support the show (

See for privacy information.


I love mornings, which is a good thing since the Today Show starts early. Those first hours set the tone for the day ahead. We're here to give you the best start. You get the news, learn something new, and even get a little boost. You start the day off with a clean slate and we hope you'll start it with us. We begin our day so you can take on yours because every day meets today.

Watch the Today Show weekday mornings at seven on NBC. I'm Malcolm Gladwell. I live way out in the country. I drive everywhere and you know what scares me? That feeling of finding myself stuck on the side of the road. But now all of us can avoid that pain by getting our vehicle the part it needs before that breakdown oh no moment. With eBay Guaranteed Fit and over 122 million parts and accessories, you can make sure your ride stays running smoothly. For the parts and accessories that fit your vehicle, just look for the green check. Get the right parts, the right fit, and the right prices. Let's ride. Eligible items only.

Exclusions apply. Let's talk fashion. Whether you're looking for a sexy weekend look or a versatile blazer, the latest collection at Ashley Stewart is just for you. Ashley Stewart has been outfitting style-obsessed women in sizes ten through 36 since 1991. We've perfected the art of complimenting your curves since always. From new denim, dresses, modern work wear, and more. Runway ready styles for every mood and occasion. Time to stop settling and start celebrating.

Shop the latest trends in sizes ten through 36 now in stores and at This is our American Stories and we tell stories about just about everything here on the show. And this next story, it's all about the tow truck.

Here is Monty Montgomery. They get us out of ditches. They're on call 24 seven to assist us on some of our worst days. They can also be an unhappy sight for people who forget to pay their bills or how to park. I'm of course talking about the tow truck, a machine that we often forget the importance of, but behind the wheel of these trucks are men and women dedicated to what they do.

The tow truck industry is is a 24 seven industry. You know, if someone's broke down at 3 AM, someone needs to come out and get them. It's very similar to the first responders. They they kind of go hand in hand with that. They're very close with that community also, you know, because if you if you think if you see a wreck on the highway, what are the three things you see?

You see the ambulance, you see a fire truck, and then you see a tow truck. These guys are very dedicated to the people that they serve. They want to be out there and they they sacrifice a lot. You know, they sacrificed their a lot of their personal life to do it because you know if they're on call 24 seven, they're going to be getting calls 24 seven. The the the nature of the industry is a Samaritan industry. Anyway, you know you you break down the side of the road.

You're going to come out and and you know help the person. They're very proud of what they do because they know that their industry isn't super well known. It's not something that people talk about on a regular basis. In the United States, the majority of tow trucks are owned and operated by private family enterprises and that's always been the case even down to the very first tow truck made by Chattanooga native Ernest Holmes Sr. So Ernest Holmes Sr. He he started the tow truck. He invented it originally around 1917 1918 when he got the patent for it. He's had a friend of his who had broken down and he was basically stuck in a ditch out in the middle of nowhere and he called him and he said, Hey, I need you to come out and come get me. So he comes out six guys from his garage and it took them all day to get the car up out of the ditch and he said, well, I feel like there's a better way to do this. So Holmes took his 1913 Cadillac and strapped several pulls to the back and thus the tow truck was born and he patented his design, which was not only functional but relatively simple. So they came up with the first record, but it was all hand crank. There was there were no electric motors, anything like that, but it was a what they call a split boom design where you would have one boom would anchor the car to the ground or to a tree.

So you would have this cable attached to a tree and then you would use the other one attached to the vehicle and you would pull it up from wherever it came from. So that's what was kind of a revolutionary idea and then that that kind of just kind of took hold as far as wreckers went from there on out. He was being the original inventor. Of course, the tow truck was an almost immediate success due to its simple solution to a problem, which had previously plagued early motorists and Ernest Holmes started receiving orders from all over the United States. The Ernest Holmes company was quickly expanding after he had come up with the idea of the wrecker and it started selling.

He knew he needed more space. So he bought a large piece of property kind of out in the middle of nowhere and built up a company where they were solely building wreckers by the 1930s. They were building a couple thousand a year and selling them now for that time period.

That was a lot. You know that you gotta remember that back then, you know we didn't have as many connections. So it was more of a direct sale kind of thing where it was like if someone in Louisiana needed a wrecker, they would have to reach out to get one. So essentially he had built that up from the ground up solely producing wreckers.

Interesting bit of information with any of the wreckers. They were almost always named based on how much they cost. So if it was a 460, it cost $460. The 485 and the 110 were the couple of the first that were massively produced being that you know one was $485 and one was $110.

Ernest Holmes Sr. also contributed in a massive way to the arsenal of democracy in World War II. His assets were frozen for military use when the war began, so they were dedicated to building solely military wreckers. Now in the time period between 1940 and 1945, he built about 7500 of them, but most of them were used in what was called the Red Ball Express. After D Day, when they had a supply chain set up to follow the front as it went through Europe, these trucks were used to ferry supplies back and forth from the coast and the wreckers were part of that. They were used to keep the roads clear for the supply trucks for the tanks for the infantry. You know if if something was broken down or there was a destroyed tank in the road or a Jeep or something like that, they were called in to remove them from the road. They were used for salvage even after the war effort when when they were cleaning up from all the wreckage and everything, they would be out there pulling these tanks up out of the ditches trying to clear these fields that were people's farms and homes.

But yeah, that was that's primarily what they were used for. Ernest Holmes Sr. continued to expand his business, building more and more records and continuing to refine his invention to be more efficient. Holmes was also active in his community though. He was extremely active in his Presbyterian Church. He was a huge proponent for a lot of youth programs and that kind of thing.

He was also extremely active in the local country club, the Chattanooga Country Club. He loved golf. He would spend pretty much all of his extra time playing golf, which kind of ended up being one of the reasons he he was in very good health for a long time. Unfortunately for him, he had kind of a tragic death. He was a young man when he passed away. He had gone out and played golf that day. He came home, played a game of bridge with some friends and by that evening, he was just said to his wife.

Hey, I'm I'm not feeling well and in a few hours he was dead. The innovative company that Ernest Holmes had started would be passed on to his son, Ernest Holmes Jr., who would continue to expand upon what his father had started. After his father passed away, the man that originally invented the tow truck, he took over and he was responsible for a lot of the growth of the Holmes company because his father was only in business for about 40 years prior to that and it was pre-war era, that kind of thing. He took it from that and and made it into a modern entity and they developed probably a good dozen more models worth of wreckers.

They introduced the rail crane, which is one of the first basically a wrecker for trains. So he was the leader of the growth era for that brand. The company that Holmes Jr. took over would eventually break records too.

Records that still stand today. In the late 70s, they had gone through a time period where they felt that they would, they got very involved with the Indianapolis Speedway for obvious reasons. I mean, if there's wrecks and whatnot on the on the course, you need someone to come out and pick it up. Well, they kind of got this wild hair to, you know, let's see how fast we can make this wrecker go. So working with some guys in NASCAR and obviously, like I said, they had been in Indianapolis. They ended up going down to Talladega in Alabama and said, let's see how we can get, how fast we can get it to go after they had built the engine in this and it set the the world speed record for a wrecker of 109 miles an hour. The Ernest Holmes Corporation wasn't just making fast tow trucks though. They were also presenting a business model based on fast service just like the family-run garages on call for seven that they served. They had a very good reputation with the wrecking community, the tow truck industry, the people on the ground, the boots on the ground because their priority was to make sure that you kept your business going. You know, these guys, if your truck was broken down or your wrecker wasn't working, you weren't making money. So the Holmes company at the time, their biggest focus was getting parts and service out to their people as quickly as possible.

As soon as order came in, I mean, it was going back out the same day and that was that was a big priority for them. That's what really set them apart from the rest of the competition at the time. The Ernest Holmes Company would eventually be sold to the Dover Corporation in 1973 for $15 million. But that wasn't the end of the Holmes family being involved in innovating in the wrecker industry. Jerry Holmes, Ernest Holmes Jr.'s son, would be one of the first people to invest in the hydraulic wrecker. The Holmes family invested in a new idea and pioneered their own industry. It's easy to forget how important this oftentimes underappreciated invention is to millions of Americans, but tow trucks are truly the unsung heroes of the highway. And good job as always Monty and a special thanks to Niall Vincent and the International Museum of Towing and go to our story on the Wright Brothers because you'll find the same kind of spirit and David McCullough does a beautiful job telling that story.

The story of the tow truck here on our American Stories. You wouldn't settle for watching a blurry TV, would you? So why settle for just okay TV sound? Upgrade your streaming and sound all in one with Roku Stream Bar. This powerful two in one upgrade for any TV lets you stream your favorite entertainment in brilliant 4K HDR picture and hear every detail with auto speech clarity. Whether you're hosting a party or just cleaning the house, turn it up and rock out with iHeart Radio and room filling sound. Learn more about Roku Stream Bar today at

Happy streaming. In Denver, a girl's getaway to the city comes with the side of Rocky Mountains. Shopping in Cherry Creek turns into delicious Larimer Square eats. Sunny days in Wash Park lead to sizzling nights in River North and a concert at Red Rocks means dancing with a view. When you're planning your girl's trip, come to the intersection of life and however you like living it. Denver always welcome.

Plan your getaway at slash summer sponsored by Visit Denver. Entering your skincare era but unsure where to start versus clean high performance skincare bundles have your complexion covered. Whether you're focused on fine lines or acne, dry skin or dullness, each regimen set comes with the ingredients you need for the results you want. All you have to do is apply them. Get an additional 10% off already discounted bundles by entering promo code Let's Glow at slash iHeart. That's slash iHeart.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-22 04:50:02 / 2023-05-22 04:55:40 / 6

Get The Truth Mobile App and Listen to your Favorite Station Anytime