Dan Strohl of Hemmings Motor News ran into the early history of the tow truck recently and reported the following: “While perusing a recent issue of the Caddie Chronicle, the newsletter of the Potomac Region of the Cadillac La Salle Club, we came across the interesting tidbit that the first tow truck was not built atop some heavy-duty truck chassis, as one would expect, but atop a 1913 Cadillac.”
“As the Chronicle and other sources have related the story, Ernest Holmes, a mechanic in Chattanooga, Tennessee, got a call one day in 1916 from his old business school professor, John Wiley, who had driven his Ford Model T off the road and upside down into a creek bed. Holmes eventually got the T out of the creek bed and upright, but it took eight hours and six men and untold amounts of manual labor.”
“The experience gave Holmes an idea, though: Back at his shop, he outfitted a three-year-old Cadillac – which sat on a fairly stout 120-inch-wheelbase chassis and which used a 365.8-cu.in. L-head four-cylinder engine for power – with a crane and pulley system that would lift broken-down and wrecked vehicles and secure them for a tow back to a nearby mechanic’s shop. After refining the idea with a pair of outriggers to provide stability while hoisting other vehicles, Holmes filed for a patent for his idea (US Patent 1254804) in November 1917.”
You can learn more of what Dan Strohl found out about Holme’s first tow truck, his 1918 patent and his business building Holmes Wreckers on Hemmings Daily. You can also find a a number of early tow truck images here on The Old Motor. The top photo was taken during 1932 in Lexington, Kentucky, and is courtesy of the University of Kentucky.