“They are the best in towing in Milwaukee” – J
Ray’s Towing, Inc. has been proudly serving in the towing, recovery and transportation industry since 1931. Though located in Milwaukee, WI, we have provided our services across the United States and into Canada for almost 90 years!
Ray’s is, of course, experienced in all aspects of 24-hour light, medium and heavy duty towing and recovery services as well as transportation, but we’re the specialists who even other towing companies recommend for the tough jobs. The history and experience of the Ray’s staff is unmatched in Milwaukee and has been honored with various awards nationally and internationally. Because of our proven quick response time with trucks throughout the Metro-Milwaukee area and Wisconsin, and our skilled, professional and courteous staff, we have maintained a relationship for over 40 years with Milwaukee County as their primary heavy-duty contractor, and as their preferred vendor for all of the Milwaukee County fleet vehicles as well. In addition, we are a preferred vendor to many motor clubs and automotive dealerships. We can handle everything from scooters, motorcycles and ATVs, to cars of all types and sizes, box trucks and 18-wheelers, construction equipment, and even your vintage, classic, or specialty sports car. We have staff that is experienced in ALL types of motor vehicles and equipment transport.
Our History and Mission
Ray’s Garage, now known as Ray’s Towing, Inc., originally started business in 1931 as a gas station and repair service under owner Ray Salentine. The business was first established 15 miles southwest of Milwaukee in the small town of Tess Corners, WI.
Ray had originally worked as a mechanic at his brother Sylvester’s car dealership. The two parted ways and Ray was encouraged by others in the community to start his own repair business barely a block down the street. With both moral and financial support, Ray did just that in his very own new building. Along with gas sales and repair services, Ray included towing with his first tow truck, an early model Chevrolet.
Though Ray’s brother, known as “S.J.,” also had a tow truck, Ray made a name for himself and his company. Ray was a founder of the Tess Corners Volunteer Fire Department and was known as a strong community supporter for donating money and services to area events and organizations. It was even common for Ray to use the barter system in accepting payment from a customer. Eggs or vegetables or something similar often replaced cash at Ray’s in this farming community. From its start to this day, people held the idea that if someone said a job couldn’t be done, you called Ray’s. But even Ray had learned his limits early on.
This 1936 Diamond T became Ray’s solution to greater heavy duty recovery needs in 1940.
By 1940, frustrated at being unable to upright a loaded, rolled over semi by using a Weaver Crane mounted in the rumble seat area of a 1926 Cadillac, Ray had a heavier tow truck built on a 1936 Diamond T. With an early slogan of “Any Time, Any Place, Anywhere,” Ray’s Garage became renowned and soon specialized in heavy duty towing and recovery, traveling as far away as Pennsylvania and Arkansas to upright semis. The equipment and people at Ray’s, coupled with the expertise of being a pioneer in the towing and recovery industry, made Ray’s known nationwide before the advent of major industry media like towing magazines and the Internet.
Through the decades, Ray, Jim, and later, Grandson Dave, would offer guidance to fellow towers either just entering or seeking to expand their knowledge in the towing and recovery industry. Ray’s well-maintained and specialized used tow trucks were often sold to other towing entrepreneurs who would start their own businesses. Prior to fire departments having the proper equipment to extricate accident victims, it was common for Ray’s to offer life-saving assistance. They would use their recovery vehicles to safely winch or lift obstructions away from or off of victims so that proper care could be given. Even an occasional farm animal, such as a horse, would be safely pulled from a mud hole.
Ray’s often staged recovery demonstrations for the benefit of traffic officials, emergency personnel, towing professionals, and the general public. One popular and repeated demonstration in the 1970s and 1980s done more for show than practical use was to upright three semis at the same time with just a single tow truck.
Jim Salentine (top) with his father, Ray, in 1966.
Jim Salentine took over operation of Ray’s in 1956 and helped incorporate the company in 1968. He became the president and owner of Ray’s Garage, Inc. in 1972. As his father before him, Jim was also innovative in engineering and helping to design the company’s tow trucks before the purchase of prefabricated towing equipment became the norm. Jim also led the field in marketing Ray’s Garage by being one of the first in the industry to have professional photos taken of his trucks for business cards, post cards, and calendars. He also helped found the Wisconsin Towing Association in 1967 and was a charter member of both the Interstate Towing Association (ITA) and the Towing and Recovery Association of America (TRAA). In 2008, Jim was inducted into the International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame for his substantial contributions to the industry.
1952 Diamond T pulling a homemade flatbed loaded with a 1954 International R180 mounted with a “Chicago-style pipe boom” wrecker body.
While gasoline sales and vehicle repairs were phased out of the company, Jim expanded Ray’s by being one of the first towing operations to incorporate hydraulic, self-loading flatbed trailers in the early 1970s. At that time, a Muv-All trailer built in Sioux City, IA replaced a homemade, single axle, pintle-hook, flatbed trailer. Nationwide transportation on similar self-loading flatbeds became a growing part of the towing business. Prior to deregulation in the trucking industry, Ray’s Garage, Inc. had one of the broadest authorities for nationwide towing and transportation in the contiguous 48 states and Canada.
1969 Ford W Model with a Muv-All trailer in 1972
Dave Salentine, Ray’s grandson and Jim’s oldest son of four boys, bought the towing side of Ray’s Garage, Inc. in October of 1980. Under Dave’s ownership, the company changed its name to Ray’s Towing, Inc., and in 1984, merged with Automotive Towing in Milwaukee. Ray, having retired earlier, passed away that same year.
Automotive Towing, owned by brothers Grant and Dennis Schaal, focused primarily on car and light-duty towing, so it was a perfect complement to Ray’s heavy-duty towing business. At the same time of the merger, Ray’s moved from its original Tess Corners location to Automotive Towing’s Waterford Ave. location in Milwaukee where it remains today.
Dave’s younger brothers, Lenny, Doug and Mark, also worked in the family business in various capacities at different times with the boys’ mother, Shirley, acting as bookkeeper and dispatcher.
The transportation business continued to be owned and operated by Jim Salentine under the Ray’s Garage, Inc. name until it and the Tess Corners property were sold in 1986. Through various subsequent sales, the Ray’s Garage, Inc. name was phased out and the original building that housed Ray’s is now home to a landscaping company. Jim passed away in 2015.
Though documents and city records show that Ray’s Garage was in business as of late 1931, Dave made a choice to promote a “50th Anniversary” in the economic recession of 1982, and the phrase “Since 1932” was added to the truck lettering and company stationery. Under Dave’s ownership, Ray’s Towing, Inc. grew to its largest fleet size and most financially successful point in its history, prior to being purchased by the nationwide towing, recovery, and transportation corporation of RoadOne, Inc. in April of 1999.
Late 1990s partial fleet shot of Ray’s Towing, Inc., years after a 1984 merger with Automotive Towing in Milwaukee
Upon sale of Ray’s to RoadOne, Dave stayed on as Terminal Manager until May of 2000, with Mark Salentine, Dave’s youngest brother, and Mark Block doing duties as Operations Managers. In May of 2000, Dave retired and moved to Florida. The terminal manager position was then offered to Mark Salentine who declined in order to pursue other interests.
Mark Block, the other operations manager and a close friend of Dave’s, accepted the position. Block had been working for Ray’s full time since 1989 and had previously worked for Ray’s on and off since 1973 at the age of 16. He was aware of and had respect for the deep traditions in the Ray’s history and wanted to keep them going strong. Mark Wendt, a longtime employee with Ray’s since 1984, moved into the Operations Manager position. Mark Salentine left Ray’s as a full-time employee in August of 2000, but would later return in 2010, becoming the company’s general manager.
Under the management of Mark Block, Ray’s Towing, Inc., a RoadOne Co., was one of the most successful and productive terminals in the RoadOne corporation, which at one point had approximately 122 terminals and 2,200 affiliate companies across the United States. In August of 2002, Mark Block made an offer to purchase Ray’s Towing, Inc. back from RoadOne. The sale was finalized in December 2002. RoadOne, Inc. announced its intentions to sell off its remaining terminals and close corporate operations by early 2003.
Dave Salentine (L) and Mark Block (R) with the 1973 Mack R Model and its Holmes 750 wrecker body. (Early 1980s).
From a humble beginning in a small, rural Wisconsin town in 1931 to becoming part of the nation’s largest towing corporation, Ray’s has since returned to its roots as an independent and innovative towing company, respected for its nearly 90 years of towing professionalism and excellence.
Our Mission at Ray’s, simply put, is to be the only towing and recovery service you’ll ever need. “Anything, Anytime, Anywhere.”
“The Best! I broke down mid afternoon, the tow truck was on the way within 30 minutes. Stranded in Milwaukee from NYC. The driver…was fantastic. Extremely professional and very friendly. He even went out of his way and gave me a lift to the hotel. I definitely recommend Ray’s Towing.” – Daniele F.