Big Brutus’ glory days
It looms in the distance like a huge steel monster.
The closer one gets to Big Brutus, the bigger it appears.
The electric shovel, 16 stories tall to the top of its boom is taller than the 10-story residence halls on the Kansas University campus But it hasn’t moved in more than 30 years. It rests in the spot in western Cherokee County where it dug its last massive strip of ground to unveil seams of coal beneath.
It’s bucket could hold 90 cubic yards of earth, or about 150 tons.
Once Big Brutus had done its job, smaller loading equipment would be used to remove the coal. It was a process called strip mining.
But there was only one Big Brutus, which dwarfed all other strip mining shovels.
Dave Kimrey operated Big Brutus for two years until it shutdown in April 1974. He controlled the shovel and sat in the operator’s chair at the front of the machine.
“Yeah, that was something,” said Kimrey, 66. “I suppose it would be comparable to flying a jet airplane.”
Dan Stover, 66, also operated the machine.
“It was quite a treat,” he said. “It was one of my better experiences in the working field.”
Big Brutus was purchased by Pittsburg & Midway Coal Mining Co. in 1962 for $6.5 million. For 11 years it worked the ground west of Columbus near West Mineral. The machine could only move at just less than a quarter of a mile per hour. It was used to dig a pit lengthwise and then turn around and work its way back digging a parallel pit. The earth it removed from one pit was dumped back into the pit next to it.
“You just continually worked your way across the property you were stripping,” Kimrey said. “It was very similar to plowing a field.”
Big Brutus was in operation night and day and during all kinds of weather.
“Sometimes the lights would barely go past the digging because the snow or the rain would be coming down so hard,” Stover said.
When Big Brutus was shut down, P & M left it where it was. Its last monthly electric bill was $27,000. It was too expensive to continue operating and too expensive to take apart and move.
Big Brutus became a tourist attraction. In 1984, P & M donated the machine and 16 acres around it to Big Brutus Inc., as well as $100,000 to restore it. A museum and visitor’s center is now on the site located 6 miles west of the junction of Kansas Highways 7 and 102 and about a quarter of a mile south of West Mineral.
P & M is now a wholly owned coal mining and marketing subsidiary of Chevron. It has had mines in New Mexico, Wyoming and Alabama.