It can fit the Kansas State marching band and football team in its bucket. It’s almost as tall as a six-story building. It’s so large and so impressive that it’s a historic mechanical engineering landmark.
In 1962, the Pittsburg and Midway Mining Company (P&M) of Pittsburg, KS, purchased a model 1850B shovel from the Bucyrus-Erie Company of Milwaukee, WI, for $6.5 million dollars.
One hundred fifty railroad cars delivered the component parts to Mine No. 19 as 52 men worked for 12 months assembling Big Brutus. Once operational, the 5,000-metric-ton (5,500 ton) machine and a crew of three worked around the clock for 11 years moving rock and soil in order to expose the bituminous coal in southeast Kansas. The coal was just below the surface. By the early 1960s, improved technology permitted surface mining, and Big Brutus was purchased.
The overburden was prepared for removal by drilling and blasting. Each time Big Brutus used its 68.4- cubic-meter (90 cu. yds.) bucket, it moved 136 metric tons (150 tons) of overburden and placed it in spoil piles. Crawler dozers then ripped the exposed coal and pushed it into piles for wheeled loaders to load 90.9-metric-ton (100 ton) capacity Kenworth-Dart off-road trucks. The coal was hauled 11 miles to a coal tipple for processing and rail shipment.
Economic and environmental issues eventually forced the closing of Mine No. 19, and in April 1974 Big Brutus was shut down for the last time. The 50-meter (165 ft.) high machine stood neglected for 10 years until P&M donated the machine, 16 acres and $100,000 to a nonprofit organization to establish a museum and mining memorial. On July 13, 1985, the governor of Kansas and president of P&M dedicated the site. In 1987, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers designated Big Brutus a Regional Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.
Since the dedication, additional equipment has been added to the museum. In 1991, a 1920 Page dragline was donated by the Wilkinson Coal Company, which used the machine in surface mining near Wier, KS. Other antique equipment on site includes a Lorain shovel and a 1947 D4 Caterpillar crawler.
The Visitor’s Center provides exhibits, photographs and displays explaining the mining history of the area. The museum also provides a picnic area and hook-ups for recreation vehicles. The adjacent Mined Land Wildlife Area provides 15,000 acres of excellent opportunities for hunting and fishing.
But the center of attention is Big Brutus. A self-guided tour allows visitors to roam throughout the giant machine, from the ground where the four giant crawlers once moved the shovel at 0.35 kilometers (0.23 mi.) per hour, all the way to the 45.5 meter (160 ft.) boom. From the cab one can sit in the operator’s seat and imagine moving tons of material with the giant bucket. On the horizon the visitor sees the remains of mined areas, now productive fishing lakes.
Inside the shovel body, one can view the crowd gears which operated the bucket and the main hoist which held 242.4 meters (800 ft.) of cable on each side. The main barrel and attached gears, minus the hoist cable, weighed 85 metric tons (93.5 tons). Other operational statistics are as follows:
Maximum Dumping Reach: 45.5 meters (150 ft.)
Maximum Dumping Height: 30.6 meters (101 ft.)
Maximum Digging Depth: 20.9 meters (69 ft.)
Operating Crew: 1 operator, 1 oiler and 1 groundman
Power Requirements: Normal 5,592.8 kilowatts (7,500 hp)
11,185.7 kilowatts (15,000 hp).
17.6 meters (58 ft.) by 24.1 meters (79.6 ft.) supported by a roller circle 13.6 meters (45 ft.) in diameter, consisting of 90 rollers each 40 centimeters (16 in.) in diameter.
The Big Brutus Museum is about six miles west of the junction of Kansas Highway 7 and 102 in West Mineral, KS, and is open year-round except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
For more information, contact the museum at 316/827-6177.