Kansas is a state filled with odd quirks and interesting history. Part of that includes a rich legacy of mining in the Southeast region of the state. And while mining in Southeast Kansas is no longer an industry, many of the relics remain. Both in the landscape, and in old mining equipment, like Big Brutus.
What is Big Brutus?
Big Brutus, located near West Mineral, KS is the world’s largest electric shovel. Operating from 1962 to 1974, Big Brutus worked 24 hours a day, moving massive amounts of earth. The shovel stands at 160 feet, or 16 stories, and weighs 11 million pounds. And each bucket load of dirt and rock could fill three railroad cars, allowing access to coal.
When mining operations ceased, it was too expensive to dismantle Big Brutus. So, Big Brutus was simply parked, and it’s been in the same spot ever since.
From Mining Legend to Museum
In 1985, through the hard work of many people, Big Brutus was dedicated as “a Museum and Memorial Dedicated to the Rich Coal Mining History in Southeast Kansas.” And seeing this testament to Kansas history is something that is worthy of consideration.
From the Kansas City area, Big Brutus is roughly a two hour drive. But you will see Big Brutus miles before you arrive, because this machine towers over the plains. The bright orange paint job doesn’t hurt visibility either.
Before you get to Big Brutus itself, you will enter the museum. The building is filled with information, old equipment and exciting pieces of Kansas mining history. As of this posting, masks are required along with social distancing protocol.
Once you check out the museum, you can go outside where you will find Big Brutus and other large mining equipment. This area is self-guided, with plenty of signage explaining different machinery. On a nice day, you could easily spend a few hours exploring everything.
If you’re like me, you prefer to save the best for last. I walk the park, looking for any new equipment that may have been added, before I climb the stairs into Big Brutus. That’s right, visitors are allowed to explore the massive interior of Brutus to experience what it may have been like when the world’s largest electric shovel was fully operational.
Wandering the inside of Big Brutus is truly an awing experience. Everything is on such a large scale, you may find yourself wondering how everything worked. Plaques are located throughout, which give detailed insight into the various jobs that needed to be completed in order to keep Big Brutus functional.
Camping is allowed at the site, with prior reservations. And while it is primitive, I would recommend it. There are a number of other interesting attractions in the area. Including Erie Dinosaur Park, located just about 40 minutes away from Big Brutus in Erie, KS. Plus, how often can you camp with a giant, orange electric shovel nearby?
In addition to the Erie Dinosaur Park, Southeast Kansas is known for fried chicken. And while you’re in the region, I suggest placing an order at Barto’s Idle Hour, some of the best fried chicken in the Pittsburg area.
So, looking to experience a new part of Kansas? A trip to Big Brutus makes for an ideal weekend getaway. When you visit, not only will you get to see an awesome piece of machinery, but you will learn about an era of Kansas history shaped by hard-working individuals and families.