The Jim Hensley Hitch Story
Jim Hensley is the inventor of the Hensley Arrow hitch and the ProPride 3P hitch, see a comparison of Hensley hitches here. He has been awarded hitch patents, which he has always owned, and licensed them to Hensley Mfg. and ProPride, Inc. Below is his story...
In 1955 Jim Hensley was stationed in Colorado, serving the US Army. Jim was granted leave to come home at the birth of his first child and he made plans to take his wife and newborn son back to Colorado with him when he returned.
He purchased a 30 foot house trailer, as they were called at that time. (Mobile homes and the modern travel trailers had not been separately identified then.) He went to the shop where he had worked, previous to being called upon by Uncle Sam, and built a hitch under his 1951 Kaiser automobile. There were a few Reese brand hitches on the market at the time, but Jim couldn’t afford to buy one.
So, instead he bought a used trailer dolly equipped with two caster wheels. Jim hooked the dolly between the tow vehicle and the trailer for carrying the tongue weight.
When the baby was just three weeks old, Jim and his wife left Centralia, IL with this rig for the 1,000 mile trip to Colorado. Grandparents were certain the baby would not survive such a journey... with two very young parents, in the month of July, and of course no air conditioning.
About 40 miles into the trip one of the dolly tires suffered a blow-out making it useless. The entire dolly was loaded into the trailer’s bedroom and they continued on the way with the nose of the car in the air and the rear end nearly dragging the ground..... trailer fish-tail swaying all the way. Still to the surprise of many, Jim, his wife and their small son made it to Colorado. But, five months later, Jim was assigned to go to Korea and the family made the return trip to Illinois in the same fashion they had left. This was the beginning of the Hensley Hitch concept. Jim continually thinking on these two long trips, “There has to be a better way to tow a trailer”.
Reese was taking care of the weight distribution issues with spring bars, but these did little to help the sway problem.
Jim’s first ideas were along the lines that Pull-Rite used on their hitch much later on. Jim didn’t really like the need for all the necessary frame-work under the tow vehicle, and the cut-through when turning corners with this design. He considered a lock-unlock system in which the hitch would pivot near the rear axle of the tow vehicle until a turn was initiated. At that time, the pivot point would switch to the rear of the tow vehicle. But he became concerned about the possibility of the latch mechanism malfunctioning too easily.
The ideas on improved hitches were put on the back burner until about 1970 when Jim added sales of travel trailers to his used car sales business. That’s when he thought “We’re selling these trailers, we have to do something to make them safer and more relaxing to tow.”
In 1972 Jim built a small, simple prototype of his converging link design and it seemed to work just fine. But, this was about the time when there was a surge in travel trailer sales and there was no time for developing a new hitch concept.
About 1976, with plans to pursue his hitch idea, Jim ran a patent search and found there was nothing even close to his idea in the patent office. But, Jim’s wife, Nina, was diagnosed with cancer and she died a year later in 1977. With two children at home and a booming business there was again no time for hitch development.
Finally in the late 1980’s Jim made the decision to slow the trailer business down and make time for the Hensley hitch. It seemed he had to either go with his idea or just forget it. He completed the design idea and obtained a patent.
After no success in getting anyone else interested in manufacturing, Jim made the decision to set up, build and sell it himself. Central Innovative (CII) was incorporated for manufacturing and selling the Eliminator Towing System. The first one was sold by CII in August of 1992.
In 1993 Jim received an inquiry for information from a man in Michigan. A short time later, a second man called. He had just bought a new travel trailer. He said when he pulled into a campground a neighboring camper (the man who had asked CII for information on the Eliminator) stopped over and remarked about the second man’s nice car and new trailer. The second man’s reply was that his trailer was “for sale” as soon as he got it back home because he couldn’t stand the white-knuckle-driving caused by the swaying of the trailer. The campground neighbor said he had some information from a company that claimed its hitch would fix the sway problem, but he also said it sounded too good to be true and he wasn’t going to do anything with it because he didn’t think it could work. He passed the information packet on to the second man.
In a few days the second man called CII for additional information purchased an Eliminator. A few days later, following his towing experience with the Eliminator, the excited man called CII again saying “This thing really works”. He had called the campground neighbor who originally gave him the information packet and that man bought a hitch as well. Very shortly after that the second man wanted to know why there hadn’t been more done to promote sales, what kind of company was producing the hitch, and asked if Jim would sell his patent.
Jim told the man he was willing to license the patent, but not to sell it. And that is what happened. Jim licensed the patent to the second man, and in the first part of 1994, a new company, Hensley Mfg. Inc., was formed in Davison, Michigan for the manufacturing and sales of the hitch, now renamed the “Hensley Arrow Hitch”. CII continued to build hitches for Hensley Mfg. for a time until they got up to speed.
For the next 14 years Jim received a royalty on every hitch that was sold. During that time Jim continued to work on design improvements in hitches and brake controllers with the idea of licensing these products to Hensley Mfg., Inc. This never materialized with Hensley Mfg. and the relationship between Jim and the company named after him was severed during the middle months of 2007.
The synchronicity of the break in the Jim Hensley and Hensley Mfg. relationship couldn’t have been more perfect. At the beginning of July 2007, Sean Woodruff, the 10 year Vice President of Hensley Mfg., also ended his relationship with the company. With nowhere else to turn, and vast experience and contacts in the RV industry, Sean began working on an idea to form his own company, ProPride, Inc.
In October of 2007, Jim Hensley and Sean Woodruff began work on bringing the newly designed hitch to the market. With information from thousands of customer experiences with the old design they set out to improve it. That is what brings us to the most advanced Hensley hitch design to date… the ProPride 3P.