'Big Brutus,' World's Largest Electric Shovel, Turned Into Museum Big Brutus is the world's largest electric shovel, standing 16 stories in the fields of southeast Kansas. The coal mine it helped dig has long been shut down, and Brutus has been turned into a museum.
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'Big Brutus,' World's Largest Electric Shovel, Turned Into Museum

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'Big Brutus,' World's Largest Electric Shovel, Turned Into Museum

'Big Brutus,' World's Largest Electric Shovel, Turned Into Museum

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/512058833/512333786" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

You never know what roadside attraction you might find along America's byways. Our colleague Melissa Block is on a reporting road trip around the country, and she just had to check out a behemoth in Kansas.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: When I told folks in Kansas that I was going to be in the southeastern corner of the state, everybody said you've got to go see Big Brutus. Big Brutus - what's Big Brutus? It is the world's largest electric shovel. And that's where we're going right now. We just saw a sign. Big Brutus in West Mineral, Kan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Come with us as we guide you through the past, present and future of this mammoth mining machine.

BLOCK: Mammoth is right. You can see it on the horizon from miles away.

BETTY BECKER: At the very top, it's 160 feet, or like a 16-story building.

BLOCK: Our guide is Betty Becker. She's manager of Big Brutus and the mining museum.

BECKER: Weighs 11 million pounds.

BLOCK: 11 million pounds?

BECKER: Yes.

BLOCK: Put another way, 5,500 tons. Big Brutus is painted bright orange. Its job was to scoop rock and dirt off the coal seam in a strip mine. Each bucket load could fill three railroad cars.

BECKER: It took 52 men about 11 months to assemble big Brutus.

BLOCK: The cost, back in 1962, $6.5 million. Big Brutus worked 24 hours a day for 11 years. When the PNM coal mine shut down in 1974, Big Brutus dug his last pit right here. They backed Brutus out and parked the giant in the fields. It would have cost too much to dismantle so...

BECKER: They just left it here.

BLOCK: Should we go up?

BECKER: Let's go.

BLOCK: All right.

BECKER: Watch your step, and watch your head.

BLOCK: We climb up a metal staircase till we're five stories off the ground. The boom goes up another 100 feet or so. You used to be able to climb all the way up there, too. Some people even got married up there but not anymore.

BECKER: There's the stairway to the boom, which has been locked and closed and no one...

BLOCK: I see.

BECKER: ...Goes there.

BLOCK: Boom is closed by notice from insurance company.

BECKER: Yes, ma'am. Yes.

BLOCK: It's tempting though, isn't it?

BECKER: No, not really.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: The shovel operator would sit in a glass-enclosed compartment. You get a nice view of Kansas farmland from up high here. It took huge amounts of power to run this electric shovel.

BECKER: And they plugged it in just like you plug in an electric lamp or something.

BLOCK: Betty Becker's father drove a coal truck at the mine, hauling coal from the pit to the cleaning plant.

BECKER: He passed away on the job. So he was at work, and we got a call to come to the hospital, and he was gone. So anyway, but that was...

BLOCK: Oh my gosh. I'm so sorry.

BECKER: ...That was in 1966. That was a long time ago. So...

BLOCK: Betty tells me when the mine shut down in the '70s, it was devastating for this community.

BECKER: West Mineral got quite a bit smaller because people had to go other places for, you know, work. And then we lost our school, and just how little towns are gone - they're not as popular anymore. But Big Brutus will be here forever. So...

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: And after all this time, she's grown awfully fond of the monster machine.

BECKER: Yeah, it's like part of my family (laughter) - a big part.

BLOCK: A very big part.

BECKER: A very big part (laughter), yes.

BLOCK: Betty Becker, thanks so much for showing us around Big Brutus - 16 stories tall, the world's largest electric shovel in West Mineral, Kan.

BECKER: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAETANO VELOSO SONG, "POR QUEM?")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's our colleague Melissa Block. She's on a reporting road trip we're calling Our Land.

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