Tow trucks came on the automotive scene in 1915, well after several French and German inventors were finished experimenting with pushcarts and propulsion throughout the 1800’s, and only twelve years after the explosion of Ford Motor Company‘s mass-produced automobile.
Since necessity is always the mother of invention, this dire event caused Holmes to think about how to make lighter work of what was soon to become a very common situation. The growing popularity of motor vehicles meant there needed to be an easier way to transport wrecked vehicles to repair shops. And to avoid spending half a day helping your buddies every time they ran their car into a ditch.
Only a few months later – using a 1913 Cadillac, poles, a pulley, and a chain device that wrapped around the axle or frame, Ernest Holmes invented the world’s first twin boom wrecker tow truck.
He filed a patent for a more refined version in 1918. The concept involved a “split boom” wrecker that could anchor the truck itself and lift from the opposite end without tipping over. This made it possible to retrieve vehicles that were stuck on steep embankments.
A major success, Holmes’ first models were said to lift up to 15 tons. This made them very useful during WWI and WWII as delivery, supply, and transport trucks. Holmes’ regular wreckers were also used for decades to recover race cars NASCAR and IndyCar.
The Ernest Holmes Co. Automobile Repairing operated for two generations until it was absorbed by Dover Corp., then continued as Century Wreckers, and ultimately purchased by Miller Industries.
Holmes’ method of wrapping a chain around the axle or frame, which causes damage to the chassis, has been mostly replaced by hydraulic towing methods (developed by Holmes’ grandson/Century Wreckers) that involve fitting a yoke on the front or back wheels.