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TOWING&RECOVERY July 2010 Reaching thousands of industry professionals monthly HEALTH CARE & Your Business Thoughts on how you may be affected Page 14 TOW & DIVE Into The Depths! Recovery action on land & sea Page 8 TOUGH TESTS Revised Ratings New tow rules for many trucks Page 18 CHASSIS CHAT The Cabover Why this style appeals to many Page 20 Volume 21, Number 3 ❘ $3.95 FOOTNOTES A Family of Pioneers ® www.trfootnotes.com A Family of Pioneers ★★★★★★★★★★ An exclusive interview with Jerry Holmes, grandson of the founder By Allan T. Duffin Many of our Footnotes readers own, or work for, towing companies that are family operated. But then there’s the granddaddy of all family tow truck firms, the original Holmes company. Gerald “Jerry” Holmes, grandson of the company’s founder — Ernest Holmes, the inventor of the tow truck — and a towing pioneer in his own right, spent some time chatting with T&R Footnotes about his family’s historic role in the towing and recovery industry; his founding of the Century Wrecker Cor- poration; and what he’s doing today. “ “I was always interested in mechanical things” ” An Engineer’s Journey The story of the American tow truck industry began almost a century ago — with a seat-of-the-pants contraption that launched a family dynasty. In 1916, Ernest Holmes, Sr., an auto mechanic in Chattanooga, Tennessee, rescued a Model T automobile after the driver accidentally ran it off the road. Holmes rigged a makeshift towing assembly using a pulley, a chain, and three poles to retrieve the Model T. Holmes realized that he was on to something: Why not take his ideas about towing and turn them into a business? He worked out the mechani- Jerry Holmes with wife Betsye, about 1995. They're standing in front of a World War II Grumman Amphibian seaplane, which they had restored. The aircraft, with Holmes at the controls, won a number of awards at air shows. cal details, opened a small facility, and began manufacturing tow trucks and towing equipment. As it grew, the Holmes Company remained a family operation. Ernest Holmes, Jr., became president after his father died in the early 1940s. His son Jerry grew up surrounded by towing technology, and hoped from an early age that he would someday join the family business. “I was never promised, but I hoped and prepared for it,” said Jerry Holmes. “I was always interested in mechanical things. My brothers always accused me of taking their toys apart and never putting them back together!” While studying engineering at Georgia Tech — his father’s alma mater — Holmes spent his summers working at the family’s company. He became a full-time employee in the summer of 1954, immediately after graduating from college. He would stay for nearly two decades. Up The Ladder Although he was a third-genera- tion member of the family, Holmes was not given any special treatment. He had to work his way up the learn- ing ladder just like everyone else, beginning his career in an entry-level position. “I started as a draftsman, on a drawing board,” recalled Holmes. “Then I became a designer, still on a drawing board.” When the company’s chief engineer passed away, Holmes filled the sud- denly empty desk and eventually rose to the position of vice president of See JERRY HOLMES, page 5 Make Your Business Front-Page News! Advertise here. Call 877-219-7734, ext 1 © 2010 Dominion Enterprises. All Rights Reserved. Towing&Recovery Footnotes® 10 Bokum Rd. Essex, CT 06426 PRST STD MAIL U.S.POSTAGE PAID Peoria,IL PERMIT 315 TOWBRIEFS Free e-News! www.trfootnotes.com

Jerry Holmes

Allan T. Duffin

The story of the American tow truck industry began almost a century ago — with a seat-of-the-pants contraption that launched a family dynasty.<br /> <br /> In 1916, Ernest Holmes, Sr., an auto mechanic in Chattanooga, Tennessee, rescued a Model T automobile after the driver accidentally ran it off the road.<br /> <br /> Holmes rigged a makeshift towing assembly using a pulley, a chain, and three poles to retrieve the Model T. Holmes realized that he was on to something: Why not take his ideas about towing and turn them into a business? He worked out the mechanical details, opened a small facility, and began manufacturing tow trucks and towing equipment.<br /> <br /> As it grew, the Holmes Company remained a family operation. Ernest Holmes, Jr., became president after his father died in the early 1940s. His son Jerry grew up surrounded by towing technology, and hoped from an early age that he would someday join the family business.<br /> <br /> “I was never promised, but I hoped and prepared for it,” said Jerry Holmes.<br /> <br /> “I was always interested in mechanical things. My brothers always accused me of taking their toys apart and never putting them back together!” While studying engineering at Georgia Tech — his father’s alma mater — Holmes spent his summers working at the family’s company. He became a full-time employee in the summer of 1954, immediately after graduating from college. He would stay for nearly two decades.<br /> <br /> Up The Ladder Although he was a third-generation member of the family, Holmes was not given any special treatment.<br /> <br /> He had to work his way up the learning ladder just like everyone else, beginning his career in an entry-level position. “I started as a draftsman, on a drawing board,” recalled Holmes.<br /> <br /> “Then I became a designer, still on a drawing board.” When the company’s chief engineer passed away, Holmes filled the suddenly empty desk and eventually rose to the position of vice president of Engineering. “In that job I was responsible for product design as well as plant engineering,” explained Holmes.<br /> <br /> In 1972, after more than 50 years in the business, Ernest Holmes, Jr. Decided to retire, and the Holmes family sold the company that bore its name. The Dover Corporation, an industrial manufacturer with a history of acquiring manufacturing firms, purchased the Holmes Company.<br /> <br /> Though he decided to stay and work for the new hierarchy, Holmes eventually realized that it was time for him to strike out on his own. “The Dover Corporation came in with their own ideas in mind, and began to create changes that I wasn’t happy with,” said Holmes.<br /> <br /> “One thing I remember was that I had product ideas that weren’t readily accepted by management.” One of those ideas was the creation of hydraulically operated towing equipment.<br /> <br /> But at the time, said Holmes, “they weren’t ready for hydraulics.” Holmes remained with Dover for a year and a half, then announced that he was leaving.<br /> <br /> In 1974, Holmes and his youngest brother, Bill, founded Century Wrecker Corporation in nearby Ooltewah, TN.<br /> <br /> There they could fully explore their new engineering ideas, including the use of hydraulics — a concept that would transform the towing and recovery industry.<br /> <br /> Damage Control During his lengthy career, Holmes was a witness to — and a participant in — many milestones in towing technology.<br /> <br /> Public and government concern over automobile safety in the 1950s and 1960s led to massive changes in vehicle design. The towing industry had to modify its on-scene methods accordingly. “There was an increased concern for safety in towing, and eliminating damage to the towed vehicle,” explained Holmes. “We needed better damage control.” The safety revolution sparked a new spirit of cooperation between the Holmes Company and major automobile manufacturers. “We were able to get preliminary viewings of the prototypes to see what difficulties we might have in trying to tow these vehicles damage-free,” recalled Holmes, “and also what kinds of devices we could develop that would minimize damage.” “So we became involved with the automotive engineering departments of, at the very least, Chrysler, Ford and General Motors,” continued Holmes.<br /> <br /> “At that time automobiles were being designed with bumpers quite different from what we see today. Many had fiberglass spoilers that hung down and which were subject to a lot of damage when towed by conventional means.<br /> <br /> Early on, the car designers were not thinking about what could happen to these delicate underbody parts.” Not satisfied with the old hook-andchain method — and aware of the scratching and damage that it could cause to the towed vehicle — the Holmes Company introduced and patented the towing sling.<br /> <br /> Crucial Change During that period, Holmes recalled, a crucial change took place on the Business side of towing: “There was a drift in the industry away from service stations — who were performing the vast majority of the towing, at least where smaller vehicles were concerned — and toward professional towing operators. I thought this was a good move,” he said.<br /> <br /> In the mid-1970s, towing technology took another giant leap forward as hydraulics became standard equipment.<br /> <br /> Century Wrecker Corporation — the firm that Holmes founded — was at the forefront of this progress. As the next decade began, Century developed a practical hydraulic wheel-lift system for towing. This led to superduty underlift systems for trucks and buses as well.<br /> <br /> Holmes is understandably proud of the truck chassis and equipment that he helped design and build. “Holmes and Century had a great reputation for quality and innovation,” said Holmes, “and were always leaders in the industry.<br /> <br /> It seemed like most of our competition kind of tried to follow what we did after the fact — not all of them, but it seems like most of them did.” Today, Miller Industries owns the Holmes and Century brands and carries on the traditions of both nameplates, manufacturing new equipment at the Miller factory in Ooltewah and several other locations.<br /> <br /> Eventually Holmes decided he’d had a good run in the industry and decided to retire. Today he enjoys boating. “The principal social activity for us is the Chattanooga Yacht Club, which I’ve belonged to since 1971,” said Holmes.<br /> <br /> A supportive spouse can make all the difference in the world, and Holmes’ wife Betsye has encouraged his efforts over the years. When they met, Betsye was a beautician in Chattanooga, where they still live today. “She owned her own shop and had a very great following here,” recalled Holmes.<br /> <br /> Betsye and I were introduced as she came out of a local restaurant some 50 years ago,” Holmes continued. “I was blown away. She was beautiful and still is.” Over the years, added Holmes, “[Betsye] has been nothing but supportive, and always involved and always interested in what we’re doing.” Holmes has always had an interest in flying. A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, he earned his private pilot’s license when he was just 17 years old.<br /> <br /> “Shortly after that I got involved in college and getting married and all that goes with it,” he recalled, “so I didn’t resume flying until I retired from Century.”<br /> <br /> In short order, Holmes got his instrument, multi-engine, and seaplane ratings, and flew small aircraft from the Chattanooga airport until about five years ago, when he decided he was a little long in the tooth for the sport and decided to focus on other pursuits instead.<br /> <br /> You might be surprised to learn that this veteran tower also likes railroads — but on a much smaller scale. Ten years ago Holmes built an addition to his house so that he could create a model railroad layout. It’s an ongoing project, as he adds new features all the time. “I’ve always wanted to build a lifelike model railroad,” said Holmes.<br /> <br /> “It’ll never be finished,” he chuckled, “but it keeps me out of trouble.” Finally and most important, Holmes and his wife enjoy spending time with their children and grandchildren, all of whom live in Texas. “We make two or three trips out there a year to visit them,” said Holmes. It’s all part of a life well lived by an innovator in a family of innovators, a pioneer in an industry that continues to utilize and refine the products that he and his family introduced over the years.

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