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Farmall 856: The Hustlin’ Harvester

I stumbled on the listing for this Farmall 856 a few days ago, and kind of fell in love with it. I'm a big fan of the 56-series, and I've never actually written about them. This seems like a perfect opportunity to do that, and a perfect opportunity to introduce a new tractor category: the Hustle Tractor. We'll talk about that in a minute.

Here's the auction info, before I forget:

Auction Date: Ends Jan. 18, 2023 at 12:02 p.m. CST

Auctioneer: Kobza Online Auctions

Format: Online-only auction (bidding opens Jan. 11, 2023 at 5 p.m. CST)

Location: David City, Nebraska

Tractor Zoom Auction Listing

To be perfectly transparent, I have absolutely zero interest in owning this tractor. In fact, as much as I liked it when I saw the listing, I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me awfully anxious. We'll get to why in a minute.

For now, let's talk about what the 856 is, and why I like them.

The Farmall 856
Photo credit: Kobza Online Auctions

The Farmall 856 is one of my favorite tractors ever.

The 856

On paper, the Farmall 856 was just an updated version of the very successful 806. As such, it had big shoes to fill.
However, I think there's more to it than that. I think — and this is just my opinion — the 856 was when Harvester finally felt like they'd really put a rocky past behind them.

To make a long story short, early 460s and 560s had issues with rear end failures. It turned into something of a public relations dumpster fire, and led to what I believe was the company's largest product recall ever. Furthermore, estimates put the cost to fix the problem as high as $19 million — close to $200 million today.

The 806

To put it bluntly, Harvester was salty about the whole thing. They knew that the 560 was their own fault, they knew what it had cost them, and quite frankly, they were sick and tired of being reminded of it every nine minutes.

When they built the 806, they engineered the single toughest machine they'd ever built. By the time they rolled off the assembly line in Rock Island, Illinois, the test mules had racked up over 75,000 hours of testing. The IH engineers had beaten those tractors to death over and over because they could still feel the sting from the 560 debacle, and they didn't want to deal with it again.

Well, it worked. The 806 and the dry-sleeve D361 was one of the most bulletproof motors ever. The company moved close to 51,000 units, and it's not hard to find them still earning their keep today. Some have over 20,000 hours on the clock, and haven't had the head off or the pan dropped.

The Farmall 806 in a field.
Photo credit: Aasness Auctioneers

The Farmall 806 turned out to be the redemption that IHC was looking for. This tractor sold for $9,500 at a Cary Aasness sale up in Minnesota last summer. This was a nice (and pretty original) tractor.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Interesting Iron guy, we know. 806s are awesome. Get on with it.

Fine. Moving on.

The 856: Making a great tractor even better

A look at the IH 456 tractor.
Photo credit: Kobza Online Auctions

With the 856, Harvester improved on the 806. In doing so, I think they proved to themselves that the past was behind them.

The Farmall 856 was introduced in 1967 as the direct replacement for the 806. For the most part, the changes were subtle. It got just a tiny bit bigger and heavier, and borrowed the grille from the 1206. The biggest change was in the diesel powerplant. The tough-as-nails D361 was now bored and stroked out to 407 cubic inches, and made about 5 more hp. (The gasser and propane models retained the C-301 engine from the 806.)

The 856 was produced from 1967 to 1971, and per TractorData, total production was 29,004 units. That figure includes IH serial numbers as well as the Farmall 856 Custom, a lower-cost variant meant to compete with the John Deere 4000. It was essentially the same tractor, but with a single hydro, smaller fuel tank, Fast Hitch, and single headlights in the fenders.

Overall, the tractor sold well. Basically, they took everything that had proven itself in the 806 and gave farmers just a little bit more. The 856 was nimble, tough, and punched way above its weight class.

Muscle Tractor or Hustle Tractor?

I asked a buddy of mine about his definition of a "muscle tractor" a few months ago. He said, "It's gotta be 2WD, have a minimum of six cylinders, a turbo, and make at least 100 horse on the PTO."

I think that's a fair assessment, too. Most of the tractors that we'd consider "muscle-y" would fit that mold, too. They were built to be the big tractor on a farm, and as we know, the competition was stiff.

There's another category, though — one that I call the Hustle Tractor. Basically, it's the little brother of the Muscle Tractor. 2WD, 80-100 PTO hp., and a naturally aspirated inline six. On a large farm, it would be a secondary tractor, but on a smaller farm, it might be the big horse. They could do pretty much everything a turbo tractor could do, but were probably better-suited for smaller jobs.

It was a seriously crowded category, which makes sense — the market for an 80 to 100 hp. tractor would naturally be bigger. Not every farm could justify a 130 hp. tractor, but most of them had a place for a little smaller tractor that could get out of its own way and get a job done quickly. Between 1963 and 1971, I'll bet there were at least 25 (if not 30) different tractors that would fit this category.

By the numbers

If you're looking purely at sales for the definition of what reigned supreme, everybody played second fiddle to John Deere and the 4020. From a capability standpoint, I think the story has a different ending. I know the 4020 was a big deal and broke a lot of new ground, and I respect that. However, if I can only take one to the field, I want the 856. 

The Farmall 856 you can bid on right now

The side profile of the 456 tractor.
Photo credit: Kobza Online Auctions)

This tractor is pretty much all original, and has been in the same family for generations. (Photo: Kobza Online Auctions)

This particular tractor is somewhat unique, because it's been in the same family for over 50 years. It's getting harder and harder to find a bigger tractor like that, to be honest. It's not uncommon for the same family to have an M for that long, but it's a little less common for bigger, more modern stuff.

A man named Dwaine owns this tractor, and he told me a little about it on the phone recently.

His uncle bought this Farmall 856 in the late 1960s — he wasn't the first owner, but it didn't have many hours when he bought it. It had the cab on it, but Dwaine believes that it was installed by the dealer, not by the factory. Not long after, he added the M&W turbo to it for a little more power. It's currently set at about 120 hp., which is a very sensible number. There's a lot more in that combo if the pump were to be opened up a little more.

The M&W turbo on the tractor.
Photo credit: Kobza Online Auctions

M&W turbos were fairly common add-ons to 806s and 856s. (Photo: Kobza Online Auctions)

It wasn't the primary tractor in the operation, but for nearly 40 years, the 856 served him faithfully as a planting, baling, and feed wagon tractor. Dwaine spent a lot of time in that tractor in his younger days, too, so when it went up for sale about 15 years ago, he bought it from his uncle, and it's been on his acreage ever since. He mainly used it for utility type work and snow removal, so it's had a pretty easy life.

The Details

This is about as original as you can get
Photo credit: Kobza Online Auctions

This Farmall 856 really is about as original as you can get.

Dwaine told me this is a very original tractor and it’s been remarkably trouble-free. The hour meter is original, and the hours showing are accurate. At 8,537 hours, it's not exactly low-houred, but it has plenty of life left in it. The motor, as far as he remembers, has never been cracked open. The pan hasn't ever been dropped, and the head has never come off either. No overhauls. The only thing that's been rebuilt is the injection pump.

It's a strong runner and a great driver with a strong torque amplifier. The hydraulics are very good as well, and no issues with the dual PTO. The only things that Dwaine noted that needed attention are the cab heater (which hasn't worked in many years, and is currently disconnected), and for whatever reason, the horn doesn't work. He thinks that maybe a wire came loose, but he hasn't taken the hood off to chase it down.

Overall, it's a solid, dependable machine.

Still, it makes me squirm.

Why this tractor gives me anxiety

The front view of the 456.
Photo credit: Kobza Online Auctions

Just looking at this tractor makes me squirm. Ice Cream Box cabs and big fellas just don't get along. 

There's only one reason; the Ice Cream Box cab.

In 1965, Harvester partnered up with Stolper-Allen out of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, to build them a cab that they could market as a factory option. It was basically just a metal box with windows and a door, if we're being honest. Because they were all-metal and didn't have much of anything to deaden the sound, they were unbelievably loud. They didn't seal well, either, so they were dusty in the summer. Furthermore, the cab glass acted like a magnifying glass in the summer and it got pretty hot.

The biggest complaint about those cabs, though, was the interior space. These cabs are literally just a touch over 38 inches wide. They were designed that way so that a farmer could still mount a 234 corn picker when it came time to harvest. I mean, I understand why they had to be built this way, but they sure weren't made for comfort! I'm 6-foot-6-inches tall and with my arms at my sides, I'm 32 inches wide. If I could even get into that cab, I'd have a total of 3 inches of room to move on each side. I'd feel like I was literally wearing the tractor.

Even with all that, these cabs were a notable accomplishment. Even if they were drafty and dusty, they did keep you out of the elements. To a lot of farmers in the 1960s, that was a pretty big deal.

The cab on the 456 is just a little tight.
Photo credit: Kobza Online Auctions

Nope. Not for me. 

What's it worth?

This Farmall 456 is a fairly original model, with very few modifications.
Photo credit: Kobza Online Auctions

Clean, original examples of the Farmall 856 are getting awfully hard to come by these days. This one has a lot going for it. 

Values on the Farmall 856 have been increasing over the past five years. Based on a quick look in our Iron Comps database, which captures more auction values than anywhere else, the average auction price in 2022 was $9,113 with 72 tractors sold.

On the plus side, it's very original. 8,500 hours on a working meter, and owned by the same family for over 50 years. It's always been treated with respect, maintained properly, and the motor's never been open. Depending on who's bidding, the M&W turbo could add a nice chunk of change to the selling price, too. There are collectors who get a little crazy over M&W setups. The fresh rubber on the back and the fact that pretty much everything works is a bonus, too.

On the downside, the cab hurts it. They're so restrictive that there are plenty of potential bidders who'll pass this one by because the cab is essentially a straitjacket if you're a decent-sized human. Furthermore, taking the cab off isn't exactly difficult, but you'll need a spare set of fenders to mount to have a practically useful machine. That adds to the cost of purchase, because most farmers don't have spare sets of fenders laying around anymore.

At the end of the day, I think that this is probably a $12,000 to $14,000 tractor. My guess is that the buyer will probably end up trashing the cab and restoring it as an open station. It'd make a great machine for tractor rides and poker runs.

Wrapping up

Hustle Tractors are an important piece of farming history, in my book, and I think we'll continue to see these tractors rise in collectability. Pound for pound, they were (and in some cases, still are) the tractors that worked the hardest to feed America. They make terrific parade tractors, too! It'll be interesting to watch this 856 as the week progresses.

Here's the details on this auction:

Auction Date: Ends Jan. 18, 2023 at 12:02 p.m. CST

Auctioneer: Kobza Online Auctions

Format: Online-only auction (bidding opens Jan. 11, 2023 at 5 p.m. CST)

Location: David City, Nebraska

Tractor Zoom Auction Listing

Also, while I’m thinking of it, I wanted to give a shout-out to my buddy Tyler Montgomery at Territorial Trading (and his dad) for giving a little help on this article. His dad happened to be in David City the other day and gave the tractor a quick once-over for me. The two of them have got a neat collection of tractors out in western Kansas, and Tyler’s active on social media, too.

Ryan Roossinck
Hi! I’m Ryan, and I love tractors. It doesn’t matter if it’s a showpiece, an oddball, or seen its share of life ... if it’s unique and it’s listed by one of our auctioneer partners at Tractor Zoom, I’m going to show it off a little bit! This equipment is all up for auction RIGHT NOW so you can bid on it. I think it’s cool, and I hope you will too! This is Interesting Iron!

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