Destination Kansas: Big Brutus – the world’s largest electric coal mining shovel

Destination Kansas

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.​​

Ticket and location information and Big Brutus’ personal ties to the local mining town as shared by its manager provides some interesting historic facts for all visitors — local or global.

Big Brutus is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they plan to reopen soon. Click here to check on their reopening.

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