WEST MINERAL, Kan. (KSNT) – A massive piece of equipment, hidden in a small southeast Kansas town, is a symbol of the area’s rich mining history. Its size and force were the talk of the town for decades, and now, it’s an interactive museum that tens of thousands from across the globe visit each year.
Big Brutus is the largest electric mining shovel still standing in the United States. The behemoth machine is located in West Mineral, Kansas. About 135 miles southeast of Wichita and 26 miles northwest of Joplin, Missouri.
“They used it to uncover the coal, it was pretty deep here so they got this big machine to do it,” says Betty Becker, the manager at Big Brutus Inc.
Its construction in the 1960’s was a legendary moment in Kansas’s budding coal industry, with a price-tag of $6.5 million.
”It was shipped in 150 railroad cars and assembled right on site right about 11 miles from here and it just worked one square mile a year,” says Becker.
Brutus worked fast and efficiently but really caught the attention of the nation because of its size.
“They look up and they say wow I can’t believe how big it is, you know,” tells Becker.
To give you an idea of just how massive this machine is: the bucket itself is 90 cubic yards, standing at a huge 16 stories tall and weighing in at 11 million pounds.
It took just three men to run: an operator, a groundsman and an oiler.
But still, it provided a lot of other jobs for the small community.
“It was a very good place for everyone to work. It employed a lot of people and paid good wages at that time,” says Becker.
It operated from 1963 to 1974, before it had to be put out of commission.
“Reclamation laws were getting stricter, so they had to do more reclaiming of the land. The pollution laws were getting stricter. They had a 20-year contract, and of course, as time went on, it got more expensive to operate it and wash and clean the coal and ship it out,” says Becker.
Too big to move and not structurally sound to disassemble, it sat in a field for 11 years. Until some locals decided its nostalgia was worth more than its fate.
“A lot of them either they were miners or their families were involved in mining,” says Becker.
The Pittsburg & Midway Coal Mining Company donated Big Brutus in 1984. It was restored and became a museum the following year. Now, about 20,000-25,000 people from all across the globe visit Big Brutus every year. Big Brutus was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2018.
Big Brutus is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they plan to reopen soon. Click here to check on their reopening.