Ernest Holmes, Sr. was an engineer, inventor and entrepreneur. He was born January 17, 1883 near Huntsville, Alabama, and when his father took a job with the railroad, the family relocated to Chattanooga in 1885.
An excellent student, Ernest's formal education ended at the eighth grade, normal for the times. He joined the workforce at the age of 14 as a messenger in Fort Oglethorpe, an Army post during the Spanish American War, and later as a carpet and drapery installer for Lovemans Department Store.
Ernest was interested in all things mechanical and to the dismay of his parents began working for the Chattanooga Garage. Young Holmes soon became an automotive expert at a time when motorized vehicles were not commonplace or well understood. During this period he furthered his education in engineering through the International Correspondence Schools of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
By 1915 Holmes and a partner owned a garage and auto repair shop on Fort Street when one day an incident forever altered his life. John Wilder, owner of a local business school, drove his Model T Ford into swollen Spring Creek near present day Eastgate Center. A call went out to Ernest who arrived to find a frantic Wilder clinging to the axle of the overturned vehicle.
Mr. Wilder's son had been washed downstream by the raging current, but was later found unharmed. Now the job remained to retrieve the car.
The recovery took eight hours using blocks, rope and six men. On his way back to the repair shop, an exhausted Holmes began to formulate what might make the job easier should he ever encounter a similar situation. He tried several combinations of booms, cables, pulleys, and winches designed to lift an automobile by transferring most of the load to nearby trees or other suitable anchor.
By 1916, Holmes assembled his first practical recovery mechanism, which he called a twin-boom wrecker, and installed it upon a 1913 Cadillac Touring Car chassis which he had modified to accept and transport the device. This was the essence of his first U.S. Patent.
The marketability of such a product was not lost on Ernest, who, with his brother Curtis, began field testing a production version. In their new location at 318 Market Street, the Ernest Holmes Company, manufacturer of wreckers and towing equipment, was formed. Orders for wreckers began to flow.
As automobile production soared, the company grew steadily, expanding and improving model lines and outgrowing several locations over the years.
Other towing equipment manufacturers came and went, but Holmes totally dominated the industry worldwide. During WWII hundreds of military wreckers built by the Chattanooga firm were a familiar sight to those serving in all theaters of the war.
Mr. Holmes died suddenly of an apparent heart attack on June 10, 1945 at the age of 62. His son, Ernest Holmes, Jr., assumed control and continued its successful operation until the company was sold to Dover Corporation in 1973. Wreckers bearing the Holmes nameplate are still produced today in Ooltewah, Tennessee.