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Hebert Magic

Oct 26th, 2012 | By | Category: Jack Schrock's Blog

A traditional strength of the Ernest Holmes Company was their loyal following of towers throughout America and Canada. Yes, approved Holmes maintained these relationships by providing a quality product at a fair price. But beyond that they had, for sale at one time or another, almost every major tower at their plant to pickup a wrecker that had been installed or serviced there. When such a tower visited the plant they were warmly welcomed, given a free car to drive while there and a handful of free tickets to Rock City and a number of other local attractions. There’s more, but you get the idea.

Now fast forward to the early 70s when Otis Whitlow, a Holmes distributor in New Orleans, was entertaining the Holmes management team in town for the NADA show. About two dozen of us were eating dinner in Whitlow’s service department when a “drunken” Cajun barged in with money sticking out of every pocket. He wanted to buy a “reker” and he wanted it now because he had to be back in Beau Bridge by morning. Whit got up to talk with this “tower” who by now had everybody’s attention. Whit explained that it would take some time to build him such a wrecker and the tower demanded immediate action. At this point, Alton Hebert (pronounced a-bear) got up from the banquet table and said he could build this customer a wrecker in less than two hours, so Whit took the man’s money and Alton pulled in a chassis/cab from the yard, put on his work clothes and went to work.

As we continued eating, Alton and one helper kept the air wrenches screaming, just to keep everybody engaged. Gerry Holmes was seated next to me and wanted to bet $$$ that Hebert could not build a 440 wrecker in less than two hours.

As we were finishing the last of dinner, the Holmes 440 wrecker came alive with lights and noise when the engine started and Hebert and his helper wound wire on the winch. They spun the rig around, drove it toward the service door, the “tower” (who actually was Whitlow’s zone rep from GM) got in and drove away with a grin and a wave.

Holmes management was hesitant to allow distributors to install wreckers in the field as that would sever the one-to-one relationship with towers they had enjoyed for years. So they often used the excuse that distributors could not efficiently install Holmes wreckers. That night Alton Hebert proved otherwise and the rest is history.

P. S. I did not take Gerry’s bet because I knew that Hebert could indeed quickly reinstall a 440 wrecker when it had earlier been assembled, installed and then removed for this demonstration.