The Farmall 560: Bad news travels fast

In 1959, International Harvester had one of the first major tractor recalls in history

This one-owner Farmall 560 lives on a Wyoming hay farm until November 10, 2020 … maybe it needs to come live at YOUR place? Our friends at Musser Bros. Auction & Real Estate are handling this auction. 

They say that bad news travels at the speed of light, and in 1959, International Harvester found that out the hard way with the Farmall 560. It resulted in one of the first major tractor recalls in history!

That said, this particular tractor doesn’t have anything wrong with it. I literally just hung up the phone with the seller out in Wyoming. It’s a one-owner tractor that’s never had any major issues. Obviously it’s slept outside a few nights, but mechanically it’s pretty sound. The hour meter was replaced a couple of times, so the hours aren’t accurate, but it starts right up and drives just fine!

Farmall 560
TractorZoom.com

Sadly, that wasn’t the way it worked out for some of these tractors, though.

If you ask an older farmer about the Farmall 560, some of ’em will tell you that they were the worst thing that Harvester ever built (even if they never owned one). 

For a few years during the late ’40s and early ’50s, International Harvester was broadening its horizons. Management felt like the ag equipment market was hitting a saturation point, so they set their sights on other markets. Development dollars went toward residential products like fridges and freezers, trucks, and lots of other things. The tractor division of IHC wasn’t making great strides in development; they were sort of set on cruise control. They made some incremental improvements here and there, but other than that and some minor cosmetic refreshes, the tractors remained essentially unchanged from the stuff in the late 1940s.

In the mid-1950s, though, they got back on track as farmers began expanding their operations and asking for more capability. The 60-series was a new, modern looking machine with six-cylinder power. They were cutting-edge tractors poised to take the market by storm.

Except for one thing.

They broke a cardinal rule of product development.

Never release a product until you’ve beaten it to death … twice.

International Harvester made a late-stage decision to put a bigger motor in the Farmall 560 so it could compete with Deere’s 730, and they didn’t test the drivetrain hard enough. The rear end was a legacy piece from the 400/450 model tractors. The extra power from the new motor accelerated bearing wear in the bull gear assembly. Basically the ball bearings deteriorated enough that they fell out of the cage and jammed in between the bull gear and the cast rear end housing. At that point, the housing would go kablooey!

Engine bearing failure
TractorZoom.com

Here’s what that bearing failure looks like.

At the end of the day, though, I want to be clear. The failure was NOT a widespread thing. In all actuality, the failures were pretty regional. They usually happened in areas where farmers were pulling five-bottom plows in sticky, gumbo-y soil. BUT… the failures were catastrophic, and two-thirds of American households had telephones at this point.

Bad news travels fast. Word traveled from the field to the feed store, and then to the phone. It didn’t take long before it became pretty highly publicized, and Harvester had to do something about it. In mid-1959, they issued a full recall of all 460s, 560s, and 660s whether they’d blown out the rear end or not. Dealerships would then replace the rear end parts, and IHC would eat the bill for it all.

It was a costly lesson for Harvester, too. It’s rumored that they spent $19 million to fix those tractors, which was an enormous amount of money at the time (in 2020 dollars, that’s over $167 million). In a tremendous stroke of luck, though, IH had its best sales year ever in 1959!

At the end of the day, the Farmall 560 was – and still is – a great tractor. Dealerships fixed the tractors with issues, and Harvester implemented those fixes on the assembly line as well. If you’ve got a 560 today and it runs and drives, you’ve got nothing to worry about. I doubt there’s more than a hundred tractors out there that haven’t had the fix already applied!

Fun fact: Want to know how to spot a tractor that was part of the recall and fixed at the dealership? Look at the serial number. There’s a triangle after the serial number that the dealership added to each one they fixed.

Farmall 560 serial tag
TractorZoom.com

Here’s a Farmall 560 serial tag. That triangle signifies that a dealership replaced the rear end under the recall.

One more thing; if you need a gift idea for the IH fans in your life, I’ll bet they don’t have Paul Wallem’s book!

Paul was an IHC executive in the ’50s and then owned several successful Illinois IHC dealerships into the late ’80s. He recently published The Breakup: What Really Happened. It’s a terrific insider’s look at the multiple problems that came together at the wrong time to take down a farm equipment giant. It’s a great read!

IHC Breakup Book a
TractorZoom.com

If you are looking for a Farmall 560 at auction, go to https://tractorzoom.com/search-result/?keyword=farmall%20560

Ryan Roossinck
TractorZoom.com

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 (tractorzoom.com), I’m going to show it off a little bit! This equipment is all up for auction RIGHT NOW so you can bid on them! I think they’re cool, and I hope you will, too. This is Interesting Iron!

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