Our History

By Jack Richards

In the year 1948 Red Richards, operator of Riverside Esso on 4 Street N.E. in the Riverside area of Calgary, decided a Calgary towing truck was needed. A 1948 F-68 Ford one ton was ordered from his friend, Ernie McCullough, of Maclin Ford Motors. At the same time, a wrecker was ordered from Motor Car Supply Ltd – a Marquette model 913 hand-cranked model. The truck was a maroon color when it arrived. It was sent to Steve’s Auto Body for the addition of an ivory color, with wrecker a bright red. The lettering was done at Hook Signs, and Unit #1 of Red’s Towing & Wrecker Service towing company was ready to go.

city wide towing company

This started the first independent towing company in the Province: the phone number was R1647 for 24 hour towing service, including AMA. In 1950 the towing business was moved to Banff Trail Esso at 16 Avenue and 10 Street N.W. and the phone number changed to H3847.

A duplicate of Unit #1 can be seen at the Big Hill Towing shop in Cochrane. It was completely restored by Jack Richards, Red Fulton and Dave Brosseau.

Next on the scene was Unit #2 a 1951 GMC three ton ordered from Calgary Motor Products. The wrecker was a twin boom Holmes model W-35, the largest commercial wrecker built at the time. Under the supervision of Red Richards, this truck and wrecker was put together by Industrial Welding and Equipment. It was painted company colors by Detroit Auto Body of Calgary and later lettered by Hook Signs.

By this time Red Richards had sold his service station operation and was now running a full time towing company assisted by wife Ruby, sons Fred & Jack, and son-in-law George Kneiss.

Later came the 1952 Ford F-6 with a Holmes 635 twin line wrecker. This was a cab over engine model; a real beauty with new colors of white with blue and a red wrecker. This was my unit to drive and I did so with great pride.

I would like to impart a couple of stories of what happened in those days. It was not much different from now: long 24-hour days, with call outs in the middle of the night. There were not many unlocks as everyone knew how to use a coat hanger. There was no boosting either, as you towed or pushed to start. This was tricky in minus 40 degrees with frozen transmissions and differentials. You had to look for dry pavement to get traction to start the vehicles. Boosting services are different today. Now we ask if the car has been plugged in, where as in the old days we needed to know if they had put a fire pot under the transmission and differential.

We were used by the Calgary Police for towing even though no formal contract existed. This included removing vehicles from the Calgary Stampede parade route. We moved vehicles from the route when the then Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip visited the city. In October of 1951, a miniature stampede was put on for them while they sat in the stands in the snow. I actually held up the Royal Procession while moving a stalled vehicle.

I recall a time shortly after Unit #2 had just been put together and was in the shop waiting for paint and equipment. The phone rang and I answered the call for a tow truck at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Centre Street South. My dad and brother were out on trips and not wanting to lose the a call, I decide along with my buddy and helper, Gorgon Stokke, to fire up Unit #2 and the trip done. To drive this truck, you had to have a chauffer’s license and to get that, you had to be eighteen years old… I was seventeen. When we arrived at the intersection, lo and behold, there was traffic office Mel Bestwick in his fine brown uniform. I did not know this was a police call! Gordie and I struggled trying to load this vehicle for transport to the Police impound yard, all under the watchful eye of Sgt. Bestwick. When you unloaded at the Police yard, you took your invoice upstairs in the old police station. Concerned about all the officers there, I simply left the invoice, saying to the officer on duty that my dad had asked me to drop this off. I hoped he wouldn’t know I had been the driver. Needless to say, my dad was not to happy when he returned and found Unit #2 missing.

Like City Wide today, we too attended to airplane recoveries. There was a drunken pilot on New Year’s Eve 1950, who crashed into a house on 11th Avenue N.W. just west of Centre Street. We were called in to winch what was left of the aircraft so the bodies could be removed.

towing company history

In those days many large recoveries were performed on Anthracite Hill near Banff on the old #1 Highway.

Red eventually sold the business to Motor Inn Towing operated by Len Ring. By that time my brother and I had decided we wanted to move on to different lives. Motor Inn Towing was sold two or three times and eventually became Metro Towing, owned by Carl Vanderspeck from Vancouver. He also purchased another towing company, City Wide Towing.

We purchased Buster’s Heavy Towing Service in 1988 followed by the purchase of ATO towing in 1990, then City Wide Towing in 1991. At that point Buster’s was awarded the City Towing Contact, which is still in force today.

Other companies purchased were: Big “I” Towing of Crossfield and Airdire, Able Towing of Calgary, Big Hill Towing of Cochrane, Sicotte Towing of High River (since closed) additionally we moved into Strathmore under the City Wide banner as well.

If we look back to our humble beginnings we can see, by a process of acquisitions, that Red’s Towing and Wrecker Service became City Wide Towing & Recovery Service Ltd.

What Goes Around Comes Around

Thank you for allowing me to relate the history of our company. It has been a thrill for me.  To my good friend Mark Eastman who toiled so many years for us; “May you rest in peace”.
Jack Richards

 Give us a call at 403-287-9111 or 587-557-1440 (Edmonton)

Serving Calgary, Edmonton, Airdrie, Strathmore, Okotoks, High River in addition to surrounding areas.

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