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Continuing the traditions started by Ken

Ken Kallmeyer Memorial Page  

Photo by Elaine KO - Daughter

Icon Of Towing

When the word ICON is mentioned to today’s generation, who has grown up with a pacifier in one hand and an IPod in the other, they instantly visualize a computer icon; a pictogram displayed on a computer screen and used to navigate a computer system or mobile device. In this usage, the icon itself is a small picture or symbol serving as a quick, intuitive representation of a software tool, function or a data file accessible on the system. And, it functions as an electronic hyperlink or file shortcut to access the program or data.
Speaking for my generation, and for the many who have grown in the Catholic faith, the ICON is the term is used in a wide number of contexts for an image, picture, or representation; it is a sign or likeness that stands for an object by signifying or representing it— i.e. a name, face, picture, edifice or even a person readily recognized as having some well-known significance or embodying certain qualities. More appropriately stated, for this essay regarding a long-time member of the towing community, an icon would be an image or depiction, which represents something else of greater significance through literal or figurative meaning, and is usually associated with religious, cultural, political, or economic standing.
Enough of the semantics; I would like to suggest, in reflecting on my good friend Ken Kallmeyer, that he would be considered an icon by his peers. I will ask your indulgence as I share some insights, some stories and some observations as I make a feeble attempt to describe this iconic legend of towers in Kentucky.
Ken had what one person described (accurately, in a website posting) as a “…wealth of knowledge about wreckers and trucks. He was a walking encyclopedia in those areas.” The writer continued, “He didn't have to go to the internet, he owned more information than most of us would be able to find in our computers!”
Ken had the innate ability to quote equipment capacities, working line loads even the part numbers of many of the wrecker cranes built and distributed by the former Holmes Wrecker Company. And, he was also a veritable catalogue of where old wrecker cranes and bodies were (literally) buried across the region. Ken kept a watchful eye on the old “scrap iron piles” where the skeletons of old Holmes equipment were resting. Again, quoting from the mainstay journal of towing, TOW411, Kenny “… knew where it was, and who had it!”
It is fair to say that when you called Ken for advice or to negotiate a purchase, you could count on hearing a few "war stories" as well. Just this past weekend, at the Midwest Family Tow Show at Great Wolf, Ken attended a seminar that discussed the “OLD” ways of recovering vehicles, and verbally jousted with myself and my son Casey as we reviewed some older crash recoveries. Kenny was a frequent caller to many of us who operate neighboring towing services, and I have had days where he called more than once, managing what has been termed a “serial discussion board” where he called several people to discuss an idea or opinion, and then recalled the group one-at-a-time to share his finding or to resolve a question.
Returning to my suggestion that Ken might well be considered an ICON in the current vernacular, it is no stretch of the imagination to propose that if you had an icon on your computer screen that resembled a “twin boom” wrecker, clicking on the icon would take you back to the days of PTO-driven sprockets and roller chains, wrecker booms that elevated and lowered with a crank handle instead of a hydraulic control lever; a towing hitch that resembled a “single-tree” and outrigger legs raised and lowered by hand, and chained to the wrecker frame. Now, before I go further, there are a number of readers who thought, “What the h… is a single tree?”
Well, it is a wooden bar swung at the center from a hitch on a plow or a wagon, and hooked at either end to the traces of a horse's harness. Kenny, as well as his peers, borrowed from the earlier methods of attaching a load to the horse-power to achieve a secure method of attaching disabled and wrecked vehicles to the tow truck. There are even those who would suggest that Kenny was closely related to the end of the horse where the single-tree attached, but that is another conversation, entirely!
I would now as that you consider the former definition, or characterization, of the word ICON. First of all, in my earlier paragraph, I mentioned that icons were a large part of the Catholic faith. Here is where I would tell you that Kenny was proud of his religious heritage in the Catholic church. If you were able to derail a conversation about towing or wreckers to one of religion, Kenny would quickly share how he could tell whose garbage cans were Baptist and whose cans were Catholic. Being raised Baptist, I quickly took the proffered bait, by asking, “How?”
“Well, it is a simple matter; in the Catholic cans, the beer bottles will be on top, and in the Baptist cans, they will be buried under the rest of the garbage!” I share that with the knowledge that Kenny had no animosity toward those who did not share his faith, and that Ken was just as willing to be the butt of a joke if the situation arose.
Consider, if you will, the classic icons of the church: the depictions of the saints of the faith most always have some sort of halo, or glow, around their heads. With Kenny, it was his ever-present suspenders! Again, with the depictions of those early church fathers almost always looking heaven-ward, with Kenny, he had that hard look that he could give you, where his eyes almost seemed to jump out of their sockets!
In many of the representations in the church, one will see mother and child illustrated. Well, let me also propose that this “father and child” would be Kenny and the Zack-Lift towing mechanism that he represented so well for so long. My first memory of Ken Kallmeyer was when he pulled into our driveway decades ago with his long-wheelbase Ford chassis with three (3) Zack units mounted on the frame. I’m not going to explain that one; you will have to ask Ken Jr. or Kevin for pictures to understand what I am trying to convey.
“Kenny Zack-Lift!” I can think of no better nickname, when he would launch into the merits of that particular piece of towing engineering. Kenny was heart and soul into the Big Blue Beast! But, he was like that with all of the older tow trucks and mechanical wreckers. He know, as did most all of the old-timers, that you weren’t really working a Holmes wrecker until the winches were pulling so hard that you couldn’t get them to disengage! For, at this point in the recovery, when the cables were humming, it was time to hide and watch to see where the parts landed!
Kenny failed to answer his phone last Friday evening, sometime around 11:00 PM. It would seem that he had already left on his last wrecker run, where he would dim the lights on this earthly highway, and his beacon light would begin illuminating the streets of gold. I am willing to propose to you that Ken has no strobe lights on his heavenly wrecker; nope, I bet it is one of the old 4-bulb Dietz beacon lights, sitting astride the mast of an old twin-boom crane. Hey, Kenny: wave at dad when you see him!
Scott Burrows


Tow Truck Procession


Family Procession