Jerry Summers: Ernest W. Holmes Sr. - Towing Pioneer

Wednesday, July 8, 2020 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

The world’s first tow truck was built in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1916, when Ernest W. Holmes, Sr. mounted the industry’s first vehicle to the body of a 1913 Cadillac.

Mr. Holmes was born on January 17, 1883 in Hobbs Island, Alabama and moved to Chattanooga, setting up a garage and workshop.

The aforementioned Cadillac was modified to enable Holmes to pull and transport cars to his garage for repairs. He initially created the first tow-truck by affixing an iron chain, a pull and several metal poles to the back of his Cadillac automobile.

After his initial success with his combination automobile and tow-truck he patented the device and the towing industry was born.

After he had filed his patent on January 17, 1918, he became the industry leader and developed a highly successful business.

Although a few of his wreckers were used at the end of World War I it was in World War II that he supplied the allies with between 6,000 and 7,000 military tier wreckers.

With the development of NASCAR a Holmes wrecker was a familiar fixture on the racing circuit when it became necessary to remove a disabled car from the track. It was also used in Indy Car racing for many decades.

Prior to his unexpected death from a heart attack on June 10, 1945, at the age of 62, Holmes, was an active member of the Chattanooga community.

He was an avid golfer and also sponsored a fast pitch softball team bearing his company’s name in the highly competitive league that included Combustion, Chattanooga Gas, DuPont teams and others.

Out of his garage and plant at 2505 43rd Street in Chattanooga, Holmes invented and built many types of towing trucks and developed ideas for more complicated rigs including twin extendable booms, rotating platforms, power up and power down transmissions and also provided 24-hour parts service.

The extent of Holmes' success is that by late 1965 two-thirds of all wreckers in the industry were Holmes units. Upon his death, Ernie, as he was called by his friends, was succeeded by his son, Ernest Holmes, Jr. in 1943. He ran the company until he retired in 1973.

The company was bought out by Dover Corporation and Holmes, Sr.’s grandson Gerald Holmes, started Century Wrecker as a rival. After an industry consolidation both Holmes and Century were bought out by the present owner, Miller Industries, in 1990. Miller, with its large operation plant in Ooltewah outside of Chattanooga, claims its role as world leader in the towing and recovery equipment field with four manufacturing plants in the United States, one in England, and one in France.

However, the memory of the gentleman that started it all has not been forgotten. The International Towing & Recovery Museum at 3315 Broad St. on the Southside of Chattanooga is a must see stop for a tourist (or local) fan of the history of the towing industry started by Ernest Holmes, Sr.

A group called the “Friends of Towing” started the project of building the museum and it has evolved into a superb warehouse of the industry. Original and replica models of various towing vehicles and tools that have been devised and built by tow truck drivers compile a part of the many items on display. Also included is a Hall of Fame created in 1986 which is recognized as “one of the highest honors of the towing and recovery profession”. Of course, Ernest Holmes, Sr. is recognized as an industry giant.

Finally the “Wall of the Fallen” is a memorial remembering towing and recovery people who have died on the job.

Ernest Holmes, Sr. would be proud of the present state of the industry that he created with his 1913 Cadillac.

Ernest Holmes Sr.
Ernest Holmes Sr.

Drug Court Holds 80th Graduation At Edwards Park With Masks And Social Distancing In Place

Whitfield County's Shawn Giles Named Sheriffs' Association Deputy Of The Year

Houston Street 2-Way Conversion Is Complete


Calvin’s father pulled him out of school when he was in the sixth grade. He couldn’t read or write and ran away when he was 13 years old. Life was hard, and he sometimes would eat out of dumpsters ... (click for more)

It’s not every day a law enforcement officer has a chance to save the lives of eight people after an accident. But that’s what happened on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019, when Whitfield County Sheriff’s ... (click for more)

The Chattanooga Department of Transportation announces that Houston Street has reopened. "Houston Street is fully reopened with two-way travel in place," officials said. "Please use caution ... (click for more)



Happenings

Drug Court Holds 80th Graduation At Edwards Park With Masks And Social Distancing In Place

Calvin’s father pulled him out of school when he was in the sixth grade. He couldn’t read or write and ran away when he was 13 years old. Life was hard, and he sometimes would eat out of dumpsters and steal things to get what he needed to survive. He hitchhiked all over the country, started doing a lot of drugs, and wound up in and out of youth detention centers, jails and prisons. ... (click for more)

Whitfield County's Shawn Giles Named Sheriffs' Association Deputy Of The Year

It’s not every day a law enforcement officer has a chance to save the lives of eight people after an accident. But that’s what happened on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019, when Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office deputies Shawn Giles and Andy Center witnessed an accident while transporting an inmate back to Dalton. While Center kept a watch on the prisoner and remained in local contact, ... (click for more)

Breaking News

CBL Has Net Loss Of $69.8 Million For 2nd Quarter; Losses Over 6 Months Total $203.7 Million

CBL & Associates on Thursday reported a net loss attributable to common shareholders for the second quarter 2020 of $69.8 million, or $0.36 per diluted share, compared with a net loss of $35.4 million, or a loss of $0.20 per diluted share, for the second quarter 2019. Net loss attributable to common shareholders for the six months ended June 30, 2020, was $203.7 million, ... (click for more)

Hamilton County Has Another Death From The Virus And 84 More Cases; Tennessee Has 42 More Deaths

Hamilton County had another 84 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, as well as another death bringing the toll to 50. The number of COVID patients in Intensive Care is now at 39 after Wednesday's high of 40. Total cases now are 5,833 in Hamilton County. There are 4,591 that have recovered from the virus in the county. There are 88 COVID patients hospitalized as well as ... (click for more)

Opinion

Busloads Of COVID-19 Headed This Way - And Response

Peaceful protests are a constitutional right of all Americans under normal conditions. These are not normal conditions. Atlanta is a major "hot spot" of new cases and total cases of the virus. So forgive me for saying this, but Atlantans, STAY HOME! Busloads with an estimated total of 500 protestors are probably bringing coronavirus to Miller Plaza Friday night at 6:30 in ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: We’re Out Of ‘Touch’

I’ve been a “people person” for all of my life and not until this past weekend did I become aware I have been suffering badly due to “lack of touch.” A lifelong friend passed along a Daily Devotional where a gifted pastor in Massachusetts mourned the fact that – get this – she had been touched by another human being only four times in the last four months. As I paused to dwell on ... (click for more)