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Phillip's File Revisited: Big Brutus
By Leisha Beard
WEST MINERAL, KS.--- Big Brutus is the most famous name in the coal mining history of Southeast Kansas. Located in the now defunct West Mineral coal field, it has become a legend. The giant shovel was built in 1962 for the Pittsburg and Midway Coal Company, at a cost of $6 million. The components were assembled in Hallowell, Kansas and Brutus began digging in 1963, slowly working its way 11 miles Northeast to its present location.
It's as tall as a 16 story building and weighs 5,500 tons. The great dipper could dig 70 feet into the earth and pick up 135 tons with each bite, enough to fill three rail cars. On its four towering crawlers, it could travel a quarter of a mile an hour; it had 15,00 horsepower and used as much electricity as a town of 15,000 people. Yet, only three men were needed to operate it.
After Yeoman Service, Brutus was shut down in 1974 and lay idal for 11 years, at the mercy of nature and vandals. Then, in late 1984, P&M deeded Brutus to an area non profit organization for use as a coal mining museum. After a thorough cleaning, it formally opened to the public in mid 1985.
"We've got 16.7 acres here. And our feeling is to develop an old time mining theme atmosphere around here. The shovel is to get people an idea of what it's like during the olden days. Brutus is like the all time taking of high technological industry,” said Vic Boccia, Big Brutus. “It was one of its kind only built and we want people to be able to take a look back and see where its from and how it got here. So we're going to make it as authentic as we can.”
Now registered as a Kansas Historical site, Big Brutus is a prime tourist attraction. Not long ago, it played host to a social event. An area couple, Bret Dignus and Kelery Ledbetter exchanged marriage vows atop Brutus' high boom, 160 feet in the air. The wedding party, formally attired had to climb 150 dizzying steps to get there.
Like anything of gigantic proportions, Big Brutus must be seen to be believed. It's a towering technological achievement and a piece of history as well.