Tow trucks are, alternatingly, our best friends and our worst enemies. When we’re stranded in the middle of nowhere without a way to get home, it’s often a tow truck service that comes to our rescue. On the other hand, it could also be a tow truck that we see as we run out of our favorite restaurant, shouting about how the meter only just expired and stop towing my car! Ultimately, whether we’re thanking God for them, or cursing their very existence, tow trucks are something that can affect very strong emotions in us. For something that can have such a big effect on us, most people know very little about tow trucks and their history. Here is a little information to help you gain perspective on this often taken-for-granted vehicle.
As with many great mechanical inventions, the tow truck was first conceived by somebody that wanted to make their life a little bit easier. In 1916, Ernest Holmes, Sr., of Chattanooga, Tennessee was forced to pull a car out of a creek using only blocks, ropes, and six men. Unsatisfied with this strategy, Holmes decided that he could do better, and the first design for a tow truck was patented that very same year. The international Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum still honors this invention today by displaying restored antique trucks and related tools and equipment of the tow truck industry.
Like most things that are taken for granted, there are many different variations on the tow truck of which most people are unaware. In fact, there are at least five different types of towing equipment: boom; hook and chain; wheel-lift; flatbed; and integrated. Boom is not a distinct type of truck, but a piece of equipment used on many different types. The hook and chain uses chains and a boom to lift a car aloft and rest it against a pair of heavy rubberized mats, allowing the car to be towed on its other axle. These aren’t used much nowadays since they tend to scratch bumpers. The wheel-lift is an evolution of the hook and chain that uses a large metal yoke to hoist the vehicle so it can be towed. Flatbed trucks consist of one large bed at the back of the truck that can be used to transport cars and other vehicles. Integrated trucks combine the boom and wheel-lift varieties and are often used in jobs that require quick towing, such as repossession or moving illegally parked vehicles.
Fortunately, most of us are more familiar with tow trucks used in a repair capacity than a repossession one. The Towing and Recovery Association of America was founded in 1979 in Kansas City, Missouri and has been helping stranded drivers ever since. Unbeknownst to many drivers, requests for tow truck service are first placed to a dispatching center. With advances in technology, automatic vehicle location systems are now being used to help dispatch centers determine the closest towing truck service to the vehicle. More research here.