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  • Writer's pictureSaar

The History of Roadside Assistance and Towing

Roadside assistance and towing services are something we take for granted. When your car breaks down on the side of the road, you can conveniently call your local tow trucking service provider to assist you. It’s even easier now that people have smartphones and using different apps to get help without even calling anyone.

Sometimes the car problem may only require a battery jumpstart or tire changing assistance. An emergency roadside assistance technician can come to your location and perform these services without having to tow your vehicle away. But if the issue cannot get resolved on the side of the road, the tow truck operator must transport your car to a safe location to get it fixed.

When It All Began

Roadside assistance services have been around for almost as long as vehicles were sold to consumers. Up until 1919, there was no towing equipment of any kind. If someone drove their truck into a ditch, it required ropes, blocks, and several men to pull it out.

There was no way to transport a failed vehicle to an auto shop. The vehicle had to be either repaired on the side of the road or pushed to safety. A manual tow cost people countless hours of physical strain to move their vehicles hundreds of feet.

In 1916, a Tennessee-based auto mechanic named Ernest Holmes wanted to change this problem. He experimented with a crane and pulley system for recovering vehicles on his 1913 Cadillac. However, the system lacked the necessary stabilization to do the job correctly.

After spending three years modifying his tow truck prototype, Holmes released the first commercial tow truck in 1919. It was a converted 1913 Locomobile with a wider chassis and a hook and pulley system. He named it Holmes 485.

The Holmes 485 was a steam-powered vehicle that included a 4-speed manual transmission and 6-cylinder internal combustion engine. Today, the Holmes 485 is worth $250,000.

How Tow Trucks Evolved

The hook and chain tow truck design evolved from Holmes’ hook and pulley design. It seems simple by modern standards, but it did the job for several decades.

The towing operator attaches a hook to the rear axle of the stranded vehicle and then hoists it up into the air with a boom winch. The car must have a steel bumper and two-wheel drive only. The problem with the hook and chain towing model is that it pulls the vehicle on the road. Pulling makes the vehicle more susceptible to damage from potholes or other cars.

The wheel-lift tow design tried to solve this problem. This design places a metal yoke beneath the two front wheels or two rear wheels and hydraulically hoists one end of the vehicle into the air. Unfortunately, the car still gets pulled from behind the tow truck, though.

Consumers demanded tow trucks that kept their vehicles safe and off the road entirely. As a result, the flatbed tow truck was invented to carry the entire weight during transit. A flatbed tow truck has a long bed in the back for towing vehicles. Hydraulics are used to raise and lower the bed accordingly.

History of towing
History of towing

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