I saw the sign on the side of the highway as I rolled into the small city of Chattanooga. Two days later, I drove past the sign again. I saw it a third time when I tried to find a gas station the next day.
And each time I saw the sign, I shook my head, admittedly, with some internal laughter at what I thought was a silly, silly idea for a museum.
Today, I stand, or sit, here before you and with a straight face and a renewed appreciation for life’s surprises, I declare that I was wrong.
What seemed like a museum worth ignoring proved to be a museum well worth visiting.
Of none other do I speak than the International Towing and Recovery Museum in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Actually, let’s be official. The full name is the International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum.
While I still feel strongly that the full name could use some tweaking, or at the very least, some shortening, I implore you not to let that lengthy and rough title prevent you, as it almost prevented me, from stepping inside the halls of this intriguing shrine.
Pay the $10 entrance fee and feel the texture of your ticket in hand. Chat with the kind fellow at the front desk and watch the 5-minute intro film. At that point, I (almost) guarantee that you’ll be ready and eager to dive deeper into the world of towing and recovery.
You’ll simply walk through the back door of the film room and suddenly you’ll stop in your tracks as you behold the wonders of this industry. You’ll probably say something like, “Holy crap” or “Are you kidding me?” as you look around.
While the towing and recovery industry might not be your preferred topic to explore, or in your top 1000 topics of interest, I understand. I think it was #2429 on my own list.
But I will tell you this. I thought it was a very cool museum and well worth the $10. I loved the unique experience. It might not be an industry that many of us spend too much time thinking about but like anything, it does have a history. And that history is full of ideas and impressive innovations, mistakes and experiments, and the occasional absurdities. It’s also full of good people trying to change the world for the better or make our lives easier and safer.
After spending an hour learning the history, examining the various towing and recovery vehicles, admiring the equipment and techniques used over the past 100 years and reminiscing alongside the infinite number of towing-related toys that have shaped the youths of so many…I actually wanted to know more.
By the time I reached the Hall of Fame section at the end, which consists of two hallways filled with photos of ‘outstanding individuals in the towing and recovery industry worldwide’, I wished there was additional information about why each person was recognized. I really did.
So, I’m a changed man. I went from laughing at the sign to welcoming any chance to sit down over a cup of coffee and talk some towing and recovery with anyone who will listen.
If you’re ever passing through Chattanooga, Tennessee and you have an hour to spare, you’ll most likely be pleasantly surprised as well if you spend that hour at the International Towing and Recovery Museum.
Also, you won’t be alone. There were about 8 other visitors inside when I was there. After talking with the man at the front desk, it seems that the museum is far more popular than I ever would have imagined.
It turns out this city is considered the birthplace of the tow truck. The tow truck was invented in 1916 by Ernest Holmes. He then started the Ernest Holmes Company right there in Chattanooga, and it was the first major tow truck manufacturing operation.
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