Think about how often you see a heavy-duty tow truck on the road on the way to rescue someone’s car or to a hefty towing job. They often already have a car on their back. They’re our go-to when we’ve got a busted tire or have been in an accident, yet most of us don’t even know how they came to be. Where did tow trucks come from?
Our vehicle-dependent modern society has made tow trucks a staple in our community, but what about way back when? Was there a widespread need for it or did somebody just decide one day that they were going to design a car for the specific purpose of getting other vehicles out of trouble? This guide will look at the history of tow-trucking and answer some of the industry’s most commonly asked questions.
The History of the Heavy-Duty Tow Truck
So, who came up with this gem of an invention, and why? Well, if we take a look at the records of the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame & Museum in Chattanooga, Tennessee, we’ll find our answer. Chattanooga, Tennessee, is the birthplace of the wrecker industry and is the towing and recovery capital of the world, in case you were wondering. A wrecker is a vehicle that tows and recovers, as opposed to a tow truck, which just tows.
As the story goes, a driver lost control of his Tin Lizzie on one otherwise uneventful day in 1916 and it ended up in the Chickamauga Creek. Ernest Holmes Sr. got wind of the accident and went out to help recover the car from the water. It ended up taking eight hours for ten men to complete the job, which left Holmes with the belief that there had to be a better way.
The Better Way
As a member of the local auto club and with a brother who owned a service station, Holmes was well-versed in automobiles. He went back to his garage and formulated a plan to build the first wrecker with the help of friends L.C. Decker and Elmer Gross. He created a prototype and bolted it to the base frame of a 1913 Cadillac. But when it was time for him to put his wrecker to the test, it failed, and they had to revert back to good old-fashioned manpower.
This setback contributed to his parents’ doubts about his work, and they tried to prevent his involvement in the auto service industry. His parents were so against it after Decker put his eye out on the job. None of this stopped Holmes though, and he quickly figured out that his wrecker needed outriggers to stabilize the car whenever it was in recovery mode.
Success Against the Odds
He made improvements to his prototype, then he secured a patent for his invention in 1919 and began selling branded wreckers mounted on the backs of used cars. His success story came in the form of the Holmes 485, which he fastened to a 1913 Locomobile. This wasn’t his first working model, though.
No, that was the Holmes 680, which sold for $680 and was too expensive for its time.
His invention was so successful that it even prospered in the time of the Great Depression, which meant no employees were laid off from the Holmes Company. His business did taper off during World War II, though, when the materials he needed to build were in short supply or, in some cases, off-limits.
That’s when he was offered a government contract to build recovery vehicles and bomb-loaders for the war efforts. This sustained his operation until his death in 1945. He patented about a dozen improvements on general tow trucks over his lifetime and around another half-dozen on vehicle lifts, creepers, and jacks. And that’s how heavy-duty towing came to be.
The Basics of Heavy-Duty Towing Today
The modern heavy-duty towing industry has progressed mightily since the days of Holmes’ innovations. Spotlighting three basic factors is the best way to explain how its many drivers get things moving:
What Towing Capacity Is and How to Calculate It
A heavy-duty truck’s towing capacity – along with those of every other level of tow truck – is measured using the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) system. This approach accounts for the weight of the tow truck itself, the additional possible weights of the cargo and passengers, and onboard fluids like gas, coolant, etc. Establishing the maximum potential operating mass of a vehicle using the GVWR, then applying it to the metrics of a towing scenario, lets drivers know if their rig can handle the job.
Vehicles That Require Heavy-Duty Towing
Wreckers have come a long way from their inception in 1916. Modern towing and recovery teams can handle anything from a small car in a mudhole to an overturned semi-truck. Today, heavy-duty towing mostly encompasses services for:
- Misshapen vehicles
- Extreme vehicles (more on those later)
These customers need heavy-duty towing the most because it’s a safer solution designed to handle even the weightiest and most awkward loads with care.
Heavy Equipment Transport and Relocation
Not all tow trucks are called on to take care of accidents. Sometimes heavy equipment or industrial machinery like tractors, steamrollers, or forklifts need to be moved from one location to another to get their job done. Heavy-duty towing services are the ideal solution for transporting these vehicles (some of which can weigh upward of 20 tons).
Let’s look next at the anatomy of a heavy-duty tow truck to discover how its component parts combine to deliver the most powerful recovery force on the road.
The Most Common Questions About Heavy-Duty Towing
There’s something about heavy-duty tow trucks that gets people of all ages interested. Some are curious about the facts from a practical point of view, while others just enjoy some fun statistics. Here are the most frequent queries about the heavy-duty towing service:
What Are the Types of Heavy-Duty Towing Equipment?
There are several key components in the primary equipment on a heavy-duty tow truck. Here’s how they all perform:
Wheel Lifts (also called Underlifts)
These attach to the front or back wheel(s) of a vehicle to hoist them partially from the road and allow the other wheels to remain at road level for transport.
These can be situated directly behind the driver’s window to provide illumination during low-visibility conditions. These built-in light sources can be invaluable in helping towing teams see clearly and do a better job.
Chains and Hooks
Chains and hooks are the securing measures that keep the vehicle fixed in place. Tow hooks are more common in light-tow scenarios, while chains are typically used to secure vehicles during medium-tow transit.
Winches use chains, synthetic ropes, or cables wrapped around a drum. A winch can either lift a vehicle from the road and provide firm tension to keep it stable as it’s transported, or it can fully lift a vehicle onto a flatbed tow truck.
A boom is the long, high extension rig on the rear of the truck that works in conjunction with the winch. All booms have a sling at their end to effectively cradle the vehicle as it’s maneuvered into the desired position. Some booms allow the heavy-duty wrecker to rotate, if necessary, to remove vehicles from hard-to-reach spots, while other trucks have fixed-frame booms.
You may also see rear outriggers, which act like additional metal posts to give the tow truck more stability during heavy loads. Not all heavy-duty tow trucks are designed the same, but most of these components will be present to some degree.
How Much Can a Heavy-Duty Tow Truck Pull?
You’ll find many towing companies with heavy-duty recovery vehicles capable of handling 25 tons. That’s 50,000 pounds, and there’s no denying it’s an impressive weight.
Now triple that, and you’ve arrived at the poundage the Geyers team can handle. You can class us in the super-heavy-duty range because we can take care of loads weighing up to 75 tons.
What Is a Light-Duty Tow Truck?
Light-duty tow trucks sometimes have the appearance of very powerful pickups. They usually use tow dollies to elevate the front two wheels of the customer’s vehicle while it’s being towed. Light-duty rigs are designed for getting drivers of vehicles such as smaller “city” cars, coupes, or sedans out of low-level incidents such as the following scenarios:
- Flat tires that require a tow to a tire shop
- Accident recovery that may require a tow to a mechanic or body shop, or, in the worst instances, a trusted salvage yard
- Weather-related towing that helps drivers who may be stuck in snow, water, or struggling in mud
- Jump-starting a battery or towing the affected vehicle to a reputable mechanic for aid
Dolly tows are usually all that’s needed to get a vehicle out of trouble at this lower end of the scale. Something a bit tougher with a different design is required for bigger jobs.
What Is a Medium-Duty Tow Truck?
Medium-duty tow trucks are flatbed designs that can be lowered to lift the customer’s vehicle directly onto them, or so the vehicle can just be driven onto it and secured in place. Medium-duty tows are often used for vehicles such as minivans, box trucks, and RVs.
Medium-duty tows are better for longer distances, as they prevent the wear and tear on the customer’s back wheels that would result from an extended light-duty dolly tow.
What Is a Heavy-Duty Tow Truck?
Heavy-duty towing is the big league, handling jobs that generally start around the 25-ton range. The tow trucks for the job have to weigh a great deal in their own right to tackle their work, and they’re typically fitted with boom lifts from 23 and 25 tons and 6-ton wheel lifts.
Heavy-duty tow trucks have engines to match. They need to provide significantly more horsepower and torque than their light and medium counterparts to deliver the necessary strength to lift massive loads and move at the same time. Their drivers also need to be certified to responsibly maneuver such huge load levels and respect the often-specialized handling requirements that come with the vehicle’s cargo.
Are There Tow Trucks Designed for Towing Semi-Trucks?
Yes. These tow trucks fall into the heavy-duty class and can move semis, garbage trucks, big rigs, trailers, and bobtail trucks. All these designs are extreme vehicles and must be handled with the utmost care and consideration for other drivers on the road.
This quick overview of heavy-duty recovery provides you with all the information you need to confidently ask a towing and recovery team the right questions. Your next concern is whether they can back up their answers with tested techniques and customer trust.
Heavy-Duty Solutions From Geyers Towing and Recovery
Heavy-duty drivers can feel lost or panicked if something goes wrong with their vehicle. They know their problem is in a different class, and any towing team they call has to be in one too. That’s where we bring decades of experience into play to deliver fast and delicate solutions even in the direst circumstances. Here’s how we do it:
We’re Certified, Licensed, and Insured
Geyers Towing and Transport can handle trucks of all weights and classes and in all areas of highways and interstates. All our drivers are WreckMaster certified, fully licensed, and insured. We’re also proud members of the Towing and Recovery Association of America and the Towing and Recovery Professionals of Maryland Association.
Our team is available around the clock and will provide you with unmatched service. We’re the towing company for you whether you’re a business that handles massive equipment transfers or an individual who needs help transporting heavy and overweight vehicles.
We’ve Earned the Highest Levels of Trust
We’ve been in business since 1993 and have become a trusted name in our industry. In fact we’re so trusted that we are a “Police Authorized and Approved” company providing service to:
- Maryland State Police
- Montgomery County
- Gaithersburg City
- Maryland National Park Police (Montgomery County Division)
You know you’re in good hands when Geyers Towing and Transport is the company the police call for help. The benefits of working with us don’t stop there.
We Cover All Aspects of Heavy-Duty Service
Heavy-duty towing is concerned with more than just the design and dimensions of a vehicle. Our team is experienced and equipped to handle every kind of vehicle recovery, including:
- Load shifts
- Luxury towing
- Equipment moving
- Accident recovery
- Underwater recovery
- Uprighting overturned vehicles, including aircraft and boats
- Hazardous material containment
- Air cushion recovery
If you need help with your semi, motorhome, bus, aircraft, or whatever else you can imagine, we can handle it. No job is too big for us from motorbikes to motorhomes. We welcome a challenge!
Above all, we believe in operating at a rate that fits into your budget. The last thing you should have to worry about when you’re dealing with an emergency is whether you can afford help.
Contact the Experts With Any Questions
Heavy-duty towing requires professionals. Otherwise, you risk further damage to your vehicle. Don’t settle for second-best.
We treat every single one of our customers like family and will care for your vehicle as if it was our own. We can always provide an accurate quote in terms of pricing and a reliable time estimation of when one of our heavy-duty tow trucks can arrive.
We use GPS tracking devices like these, which helps not only with ETAs but also safety for both the customer and the recovery team, according to trackingfox.com. Your vehicle is safe with us whether it’s heavy, medium, or light duty. Just call Geyers Towing and we’ll take care of everything.