Rise and Fall of the Shop-built Wrecker

Jun 29th, 2012 | By | Category: Jack Schrock's Blog

Fifty years ago there were many small fabricators producing wrecker equipment. Today, it’s almost impossible to find such a shop-built wrecker and there are several reasons.

First, they were extremely flexible as each wrecker could be custom made to the buyer’s expectations. In fact, no two were exactly alike, and one shop even had a pile of pics on a table from which to choose. Next, you didn’t have to take a number and wait for months, as was the case when supply couldn’t keep up with demand in the 70s. Also, like the noise birds make in the morning, they were “cheep, cheep, cheep”. For example, I remember one firm that used guy wire for winch line — giving a new meaning to the word “stiff” — another provided a piece of pipe to prop the boom in place during recovery, and so on.

I once called on a salvage yard that was in the market for a small wrecker. At the time we were featuring the 440, so that’s what I offered. The owner said he planned to build his own rig because he had idle shop space and was paying employees who always seemed to have spare time. I followed up six months later and sure enough, there was a wannabe tow truck (not a wrecker) sitting on his shop floor in the very early stages of construction. The owner was throwing in the towel because the project had taken more time (and money) than expected, plus he had been forced to give away business to his competitors because he didn’t have a small wrecker.

Interestingly enough, the hydraulic wrecker is much easier to copy than one of the older mechanicals, yet the number of shop-built wreckers has substantially declined over the years. Perhaps that is due to reduced demand, or maybe increased performance expectations. Whichever, current T & R manufacturers are doing a great job of provided superior equipment at a competitive price.