How the Tow Truck was Invented, Probably…

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The following story should be called fictional, although it does contain known facts. The May 2017 issue of Westways magazine had an article about tow trucks in its “On the Road” section. According to that article, the tow truck was 100 years old in 2016.

by Sue Chehrenegar

In the late spring of 1915, melting snows caused the creek levels to rise markedly in those areas of New York near branches of the Hudson River. As a result, an unsuspecting driver might assume that a former crossing had retained its decidedly shallow water. By making that faulty assumption, the same driver could end up having to haul a vehicle from a creek’s rising waters.

Indeed, one such man found himself in that predicament, as he drove his car to a mechanic’s shop to have his old tires replaced. He always used the same mechanic, a man named Ernest Holmes. He had faith in Holmes’ mechanical skills, so he did not hesitate to drive the good distance from his home to Ernest’s shop.

In those days bridges suitable for cars couldn’t be found just anywhere, and Ernest’s greatly satisfied customer lacked much patience, once he got behind the wheel. Consequently, he did not think to consider the depth of the creek’s waters, when attempting to ford across at the usual location. Too late, he realized that the once shallow bed had become much deeper. Before he could change direction, he found himself and his vehicle sinking.

Luckily, he didn’t sink all the way and the driver managed to get out of the partly-submerged vehicle. Of course, no one had cell phones, hence, Ernest’s steady and now very wet customer had to walk to the closest residence with a telephone.

The driver telephoned Holmes’ repair shop and explained what had happened. Ernst did not want to fail a good-paying customer, so he loaded his pickup truck with the usual tools and supplies, including a length of sturdy rope, and drove to the location of the water-logged vehicle.

That rope proved of great value, after Holmes arrived at the scene of the failed creek-crossing. He and the driver managed to get the rope tied to the swamped vehicle, but it was plan that the two of them lacked the muscle to pull it out. They tried running the rope around a tree for leverage and pushing with their feet against the trunk, but the car wouldn’t budge. Ernest now sought at the nearest residence with a phone and called his employees to come help. The owner of the home heard the dilemma and offered his and his sons help.

Returning to the half-submerged car, Ernest and his crew, now six men strong, began pulling on the rope. And they pulled. And they pulled more. Finally, as the sun began to set they replaced the tree with a block and tackle from a nearby farm and the mechanic realized he had transformed a simple rope into a tool. He badly needed. It also helped to replace the six men with his truck.

Finally, the car came free of the river, and an idea planted firmly in Ernest’s head. That experience pushed the mechanic to become an inventor. He worked hard at placing an improvised pulley system on a truck. Once he had succeeded, he experimented with using his pulley to lift various vehicles.Sue_First Tow Truck_Replica_of_Ernest_Holmes_Co_Wrecker

By the end of the year, Ernest Holmes felt confident about using his pulley to transport any four-wheeled vehicle that was not running properly. With full confidence acquired, he then launched the procedure for obtaining a patent. By 1916, he had that patent, and the world was ready to pay for the privilege of using Holmes’ patented invention.


So what parts of the story are true?

In the spring of 1915, Ernest Holmes had felt motivated to invent the tow truck after he and at least 5 other men spent 8 hours pulling on a rope, so that a car could be removed from a creek. There you have it—truth is actually about as strange as fiction.Sue_First Tow Truck_US1254804-0


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