International Towing & Recovery Museum
Location: Chattanooga, Tennessee (3315 Broad Street)
When to visit: Open 9 am – 5 pm (10 am – 5 pm on Sundays)
Cost: $10 for adults, $6 for kids
Time needed: 30 minutes
Who knew tow trucks were so fascinating? The Towing Museum in Chattanooga (officially, The International Towing & Recovery Museum) is the place to learn about the towing profession and see numerous tow trucks from the past 100 years.
Why Chattanooga? The first tow truck in the U.S. was built just three miles from the museum’s current location. Ernest Holmes, Co. is credited with making the first “wrecker” in 1916.
Chattanooga has a surprising number of fun activities. Make sure to add the Towing Museum to your list when you’re in town! Here’s what you’ll see inside.
Inside the International Towing & Recovery Museum
A museum visit begins with a short movie providing some context for the history and importance of towing and recovery. Then, it’s on to the exhibit hall, which features lots of fun stuff.
This is a massive museum. The huge space provides an opportunity to see more than two dozen old tow trucks. Many of these are very old!
Ernest Holmes Sr. was inspired to create the first towing device after he (or possibly a friend – the stories vary) crashed a car into a creek and needed an entire day (and eight men) to rescue it. Holmes went to work, and soon after, the wrecker was born!
Have you ever seen a vehicle that is more than 100 years old? The museum displays a 1913 “Locomobile” that was fitted with a Holmes 485 towing unit.
What’s the world’s fastest tow truck? The wrecker that claims that honor has a prominent spot in the museum’s exhibit hall.
As noted on the body of the vehicle, this truck reached an average speed of 109.3 miles per hour at the Talladega Speedway in Alabama in 1979. Wouldn’t it be cool if your AAA driver could reach you that quickly?
It’s funny seeing these gorgeous antique vehicles with a towing contraption hooked up to their backside. How surprised would you be if you needed a tow and something like this showed up?
I liked the small corner dedicated to service stations. Look at all these old gas pumps! This is one of many exhibits at the museum that creates a feeling of nostalgia – even if you weren’t alive back when these pumps were being used!
The museum also has a military tow truck on display. This is a 1943 US Army Diamond-T wrecker with a Holmes W-45 towing unit.
This thing is a behemoth. And it needed to be, since it was towing military vehicles. This truck was used in France in WWII, and eventually made its way here to Chattanooga.
Just about every boy of a certain generation played with trucks as a kid. The museum has several cases full of tow truck toys from different eras. Some are used and worn, while others are still in the box.
Yes, tow trucks can be artsy! I love this truck constructed from a bunch of spare tools and parts.
Honoring The Fallen
Visiting the Towing Museum is a fun, quirky experience, but it becomes very serious when you’re reminded that towing is considered one of the more dangerous professions in the world.
Tow truck drivers are out there everyday on the side of the road, while hundreds of cars speed past. They are sometimes recovering vehicles from ditches and other difficult-to-navigate terrain. And they are working with dangerous machinery.
Roughly 25-40 tow truck drivers are killed in the line of service each year, depending on which source you consult. That’s a fatality rate nearly 15 times that of most other professions.
In 2006, the museum dedicated The Wall of Fallen to honor those in the industry whose lives were taken. There’s a statue outside the Towing Museum and plaques listing the names of these folks so they will not be forgotten.
They hold an annual ceremony in September to remember these individuals who lost their lives.
The Towing Hall of Fame
The museum was created by a group of towing professionals called the Friends of Towing in 1995. Even before opening a museum, they established a Towing Hall of Fame to recognize outstanding individuals in the industry. The hall now resides here.
Who’s your favorite tow truck driver? You probably don’t have one, as their names are not as well-known in our society as athletes or celebrities. But look through some of the Hall of Fame exhibits and you will likely gain a new respect for the work they have done.
The Hall now boasts more than 300 members from around the world, although it would be great to see them add even more international folks.
The museum has a bust of Steve Cardinale, known as the “Godfather of Towing.” He’s another person that many visitors probably have never heard of, but reading his story is interesting.
He ran Atlas Towing in the ’70s and ’80s and became one of the most well-known professionals in the industry. Even after he retired, he created training courses for truck operators and worked as a consultant in the business. He was an early member of the Hall of Fame.
Visit the Towing Museum: Hours, Ticket Prices
The museum is open seven days a week. Sunday hours are 10 am to 5 pm, while every other day is 9 am to 5 pm. Arrive at least a half-hour before closing to have time to see the introductory video and walk through all the exhibits.
As of this writing, adult tickets cost $10, while the price for seniors is $9. Military and AAA members pay $8.50. Children ages 6 to 14 cost $6, while kids under 6 are free.
You can purchase tickets online in advance, or in person at the door. Parking is not a problem, as there’s a large parking lot on site.
The museum has a sizable gift shop as well, offering up a range of products, including books, toys, hats, socks, shirts, water bottles, and even pillows embroidered with tow trucks.
The gift shop also has a mini tow truck with driver vests and hard hats that kids (or big kids) can play with.