By Cindy Ladage
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Farm trucks sometimes have to be pulled out of farm and field, and at times require a wrecker truck. In Chattanooga, visitors can stop and see a vast collection of wreckers, and wrecker models at the International Towing Museum.
The museum began with towing professionals, the Friends of Towing. They began collecting and displaying artifacts about towing and created a Hall of Fame for their industry. At first, the museum was displayed in a semi-trailer. The trailer was driven to and from towing and recovery industry trade shows across the country.
Why locate this one-of-a-kind museum in Chattanooga? The location makes sense after learning that Chattanooga is credited as the birthplace of the tow truck. In 1995, the museum found a permanent location in a building in Chattanooga’s city limits.
The fascinating story of the invention of the tow truck goes back to Ernest Holmes Sr. This Chattanooga mechanic received a call in 1916 that John Wiley had driven his model T Ford off the road. Upside down in a creek bed, the driver needed assistance. After eight hours, and six men working to free the vehicle, Holmes thought there must be a better way to perform this labor-intensive service.
Putting on his thinking cap, he went back to his shop and outfitted a Cadillac and used a 355.8 cubic inch four-cylinder engine for power. Assisted by a crane and pulley system that would lift a vehicle, this invention would successfully lift a wrecked vehicle, which Holmes could then tow back to town. Holmes subsequently applied for a patent and the tow truck was invented.
Holmes then founded the Ernest Holmes Co. Ernest Holmes Jr. continued to establish the company under the Holmes name, which continued on as Miller industries. Today, the museum has evolved from the humble Friends of Towing into the International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum.
One of the first versions of the Holmes tow option was called the Locomobile and this is on display at the museum. It sold for around $6,000 and was manufactured in Bridgeport, Conn.
In a brochure offered at the museum, they list staff favorites, which includes Pedal Power, a special collection of pedal car tow trucks. The staff favorites also include a 1943 Diamond T 969A, which is an old war hero truck from WWII. There is also the 1970 Cony, a Japanese tow truck that visitors can sit in and have their picture taken. The last of the staff favorites listed is the 1959 Mac A, a rare model A Mack truck with a classic W-45 boom.
There is a 1935 Ford with a 3 Ton Weaver Crane installed in the bed of the truck.
The museum is a win/win for both truck and model truck enthusiasts, as well as those who love wrecker vehicles. They have a collection of older vehicles like a 1925 Ford with a 3 Ton Manley Crane on loan from Scotty’s Carriage Works in Cameron, Mo. For those who are into details, they also have details of some of Holmes pattern parts as well.
Pictures also offer history into what life was like with some very unusual machines like the International Harvester cab-over engine tow truck. Every industry had its own professional publication like the American Towman, which is also on display.
Besides sharing Holmes Sr. history, there is also a board with Holmes Jr. and his accomplishments. Along with the tow trucks and the wrecking truck models, there are other items to see like uniforms and equipment that tow truck operators have used over the years. Then there is another part of the business like the 1982 Dynamic Hydraulic Wheel-Lift System developed by Calvin Russ and David Craze used in the repossession businesses. “They constructed a tool labeled the Dynamic Hydraulic Wheel-Lift System. The company Dynamic Manufacturing was formed.”
Another cool area is the service station display because they go hand in hand in history with the towing industry.
Many of the truck models have been shared, like the miniature wrecker collection owned by Peter Fuerst, of San Francisco, Calif.
The towing industry is a very dangerous one. To commemorate those who have lost their lives, a beautiful memorial to those killed in the line of service may be found outside the museum. Besides this lovely memorial, the International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum have a Survivor Fund that provides financial assistance to the families of their fallen in time of need.
For more information about the museum, check out their website at www.towingmuseum.com.