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Big Brutus

Big Brutus

The newspapers called it a coal monster, and a monster it was. Dubbed "Big Brutus," the enormous power shovel towered 15 stories high and weighed 11 million pounds. Purchased in 1962 from the Bucyrus-Erie Company of South Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The machine's cost was $6.5 million. To ship the shovel to Cherokee County, Kansas, 150 railroad cars were needed, and once there it took a year to build.

When the work was completed in June 1963, Big Brutus, with its 90-cubic yard shovel, could move 150 tons of coal in one bite, enough to fill three railroad gondolas. The shovel was behemoth, capable of only moving .22 miles per hour. It was used to remove the dirt and rock from on top of the coal and provided coal to seven electric companies.

Coal mining in Kansas began in the 1850s. Lead and zinc deposits of southeast Kansas drew a large number of workers to the area in the 1880s and 1890s who found jobs in the shallow shafts.  Strip mining began in the 1870s and became the preferred method by the 1930s.  Power shovels like Big Brutus were used to remove the layers of coal.  However the minerals had been depleted by the 1970s and the mines closed in the 1980s. During the history of mining in Kansas, more than 300 million tons of coal was processed.

Although designed to last a quarter of a century, the big shovel was used for only a decade. The coal in the area had been depleted, and coal prices made digging what was left unprofitable, since it required 6,900 volts of electricity just to start Big Brutus. By 1973 the shovel was obsolete.  Deeming the it too big to move and too expensive to dismantle, the owners stripped Brutus of its electrical and auxiliary equipment, leaving it to rust, a dinosaur of the technological age.

Eventually the old shovel received new hope when a non-profit corporation dedicated to the mining heritage of southeast Kansas decided they wished to make a theme park dedicated to coal mining, with Big Brutus as the centerpiece. The P & M Coal Company donated the shovel, 16 surrounding acres, and $100,000 to the project. Volunteers quickly restored Big Brutus, and it now operates as a museum. With the claim that it is the largest existing electric shovel in the world, the coal monster of southeast Kansas lives again, now teaching children and families about the history of coal and Kansas.

Entry: Big Brutus

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2003

Date Modified: May 2022

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.