The 850 was the flagship of the Holmes lineup and had a rating of 40 tons, which was the highest of the manufactured mechanical wreckers of the day. In terms of today’s ratings, the 850 would easily work alongside wreckers rated at 60, 70 or more tons. Its winching capability could exceed the structural limits of even the heaviest truck chassis, so tower controls were provided to overcome the flexing of the chassis. And, those tower controls placed the operator right behind the mast and between the two booms … in the middle of everything, you might say.
The late Chick Malcolm once told a story of how he was winching a passenger bus up a canyon wall in the mountains of New Mexico. His 850 was installed on a B model Mack which had been positioned across the highway so the booms and service lines extended over the edge of the canyon. The nose of the truck was so high off the ground that you could walk under it, causing the ground controls (at the rear of the wrecker) to become ineffective. So, Chick climbed up on the wrecker to use the tower controls for this super heavy winching job. He said he could feel sleet hitting him in the face, but couldn’t see a cloud in the sky, and then realized the “sleet” was actually the paint popping off the wrecker mast as it strained against the tremendous load.
The 850 proved itself in various trials, not the least of which was the re-railing of a diesel electric locomotive for the Sante Fe Railroad, which led to the Holmes Railroad Crane development. Indeed, the 850 was to the HD towers of yesteryear as the rotator is today. All wanted one but few could afford the price. I recall Chick Malcom paid almost $30,000 for his new 850 in the late 50s — and that included the price of the Mack chassis/cab.
So while the 850 set the bar for wrecker performance, only a dozen or so per year were sold. But that paved the way for the success of the smaller, 25-ton 750, which became the accepted heavy-duty wrecker of the day. And, yes many of those 750s are still in regular service today.