By Kimberly Barker
May 8, 2023 - Big Brutus, the electric dragline shovel that played an integral role in shaping the coal mining industry in Southeast Kansas, is turning 60 this year.
A two-day event celebrating the historic milestone is set for Friday and Saturday, May 19-20, at 6509 NW 60th St. near West Mineral.
The festivities begin at noon Friday with food trucks and children’s activities. Admission is $10 for adults and free for children 12 and younger.
Big Brutus will celebrate its 60th year this month. The large dragline shovel was used to scrape away the rock and topsoil over the deposits of coal. The electric-powered dragline, which required crew of nine electricians, operated from 1963 to 1974 in Cherokee County.
Photo: Courtesy, Big Brutus
Live music will play from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday. There will also be food trucks, a train ride, inflatables and an appearance from 1 to 4 p.m. by K.C. Wolf, the official mascot of the Kansas City Chiefs. Pittsburg State University’s mascot, Gus Gorilla, will also be visiting. Admission is $20 for adults and free for children 12 and younger.
In 1985, Big Brutus was proclaimed “a museum and memorial dedicated to the rich coal mining history in Southeast Kansas.” The Big Brutus Museum is located inside the visitors center and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
“That small fee gets you in to see all of the exhibits inside our museum, and we have a video showing Big Brutus when it was being constructed and during its operation,” says Cindy Morris, executive director and manager of Big Brutus. “You can tour our entire grounds, and we have some smaller draglines and other equipment that was used in the mining days. The showcase of the tour is Big Brutus, and it allows them full access inside. They can even sit in the operator’s cabin.”
Morris says she expects a large turnout for the two-day celebration. The attraction draws 25,000 to 30,000 visitors annually.
Assembled in 1963, the Bucyrus Erie Co. Coal Shovel Model 1850-B is the largest shovel of its kind currently in existence. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in January 2018.
Coal mining in Kansas began in the 1850s, according to the Kansas Historical Society. The main function of Big Brutus was to scoop off the rock and soil on top of coal deposits as part of a method called strip mining.
Weighing 11 million pounds and towering over 15 stories tall, Big Brutus cost $6.5 million in 1962. The parts for Big Brutus were shipped from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 150 railroad cars and took 52 people to assemble. The shovel operated in Cherokee County from 1963 to 1974. Big Brutus was a nickname coined by mine Superintendent Emil Sandeen, who called it a “brute of a machine.”
The historic shovel is located 6 miles west of the Kansas Highways 7 and 102 junction, and a quarter of a mile south near West Mineral. For more information, call 620-827-6177.