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The Pretty Big Deal in West Mineral, Kansas

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
November 28, 2023 3:03 am

The Pretty Big Deal in West Mineral, Kansas

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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November 28, 2023 3:03 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Joe Manns tells the story of Big Brutus, an absolutely massive piece of mining equipment in West Mineral, Kansas.

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iHeart Radio app, Apple podcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. Brought to you by State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there. And we return to Our American Stories. Up next, a story from West Mineral, Kansas, about something that can best be described as a pretty big deal. Here's Joe Manns with a story. What's Orange weighs about 11 million pounds and is literally the biggest attraction in southeast Kansas. Well, if you guessed Big Brutus, you are exactly right. I'm Joe Manns, the general manager at Big Brutus. It is the most amazing job I've ever had. Obviously, I have the biggest boss, I think, that anybody has ever had.

So, let's talk a little bit about Big Brutus and how it came to be, but we're going to go back in time just a little bit. Mining in southeast Kansas actually dates back to the 1870s. What was done was below surface surface mining, and it required a lot of people. So, they hired people from all over the world. A lot of them were concentrated in the Balkans area of southeast Europe.

Now, the Balkans area, it's Italy, Austria, Germany, Yugoslavia, England, Wales, Scotland, France, and Belgium, just to name a few. So, they were brought here because the mining underground was pretty much a thankless dirty job, and it gave opportunities for the immigrants to come to the United States and make money. Below surface mining peaked in 1926. Kansas miners playing a key role in supplying lead, zinc, and of course, coal that were needed during World War I and II.

Above the surface was much safer, but to get to it, it was anywhere from 20 to 40 feet below surface to get to the coal. How did they get to it? Well, they needed bigger machinery, and there was a rather ingenious fella in West Mineral, Kansas, who invented his own machine in the late 1920s to help that happen. That little shovel is called the Markley Shovel, and it was an amazing piece of machinery considering there were no welding machines, barely any electricity, but the man designed this machine and of course fabricated it, and it went to work. Mr. Markley was a rather amazing man in that he had a fifth grade education, no formal engineering training, but he dreamt up the idea of there's got to be a better way to do this. When the machine was completed, it was actually operated by two Studebaker car engines. Bigger became better because, well, there's got to be a more efficient way.

How do you do that? You make a larger machine, and when they got ready to design Brutus, what came in mind was the Markley Shovel, which was literally operating about four or five miles northwest of where Brutus currently sits, and they went and talked to the family and wanted to know if they could maybe buy the design, and the family said, no, it's not for sale. Literally tried to buy the machine, and they said, no, it's not for sale. I literally offered the designer and builder a job to help design and build Big Brutus, and he said, no, not interested in that either because you don't really want me.

You want my machine, and it's not for sale. The engineers then went back to South Milwaukee, which was where Brutus was designed and fabricated and got to checking, and the design man that designed the Markley Shovel and builder had not got a patent on his machine. Unfortunately, that's the way it was, and in the early 1960s, they came back to West Mineral, Kansas, and sat across the section, literally from the little Markley Shovel, and sketched it all out, took it back to South Milwaukee, Bucyrus Erie, basically copied it and enlarged it, and voila, Big Brutus was born. Now, at the time it was born, it was literally the largest coal shovel of its size that was electric operated and, of course, the 90 cubic yard bucket. Now, Brutus's job was to take the overburden off of the top of the coal.

The overburden is the dirt and rock that lie on top of the coal. To cycle, which is to grab a scoop, turn, dump it, and come back, that is one cycle. It could complete a cycle in less than one minute, which is rather amazing considering you're picking up 150 tons of dirt. By the way, the equivalent of 150 tons is roughly 18 full-size African elephants.

I think that's kind of an amazing factoid in itself. Brutus itself is rather an amazing machine. Under peak operating conditions, you're talking about 15,000 horsepower. 15,000 horsepower would power a normal city of about 15,000 people. The primary operating crew for Big Brutus, an 11 million pound machine, was three men.

The three men to operate the machine were the groundman, the oiler, and the operator. So Brutus, in his career, dug about 11 square miles, which doesn't sound like a lot, but when you're digging 40 to 60 feet deep and piling the dirt beside you, you know, the equivalent of that. So if you could start out Brutus from where he's at now and say, okay, head east Brutus and just dig as far as you can dig. I want you to dig me a pit 40 feet deep and just keep going as long as what Brutus actually ran.

Where it would run you out is on the other side of the Mississippi River. Now, understand Brutus is about 30 miles from the Kansas-Missouri state line and imagine it going well past that all the way over to the Mississippi River. The Big Brutus Museum, which of course is where Brutus is located, he actually sits just behind the last pit that he dug. When they backed him up there, they knew that Brutus was going to get shut down. Brutus is a significant part of mining history in southeast Kansas.

A part of history which is all too easily forgotten because people, A, don't realize that it was here and actually a part of what went on. And B, it's such a behemoth machine that people need to know it's literally an engineering marvel in itself. We're very fortunate that we have a lot of the miners around that are still around that come out and share with people and when we have visitors they're just totally in awe of how big the machine is and just try to wrap their mind around what it took to operate the machine. And when you tell them it literally only took three people to operate the machine, they're just totally awestruck.

You cannot believe it with a machine this big. So it's very important for us to keep the mining history of Brutus alive because of what he did, but also we celebrate at the Big Brutus Museum the mining history for the men who toiled underground as well. The guys that had really really dangerous jobs because they're digging underneath they would have collapses and such as that and that's one of the primary reasons why above the surface coal mining became so important. So Brutus played an important part in preserving those folks as well.

And a special thanks to Faith Buchanan for the pre-production, Joe Manns for telling the story, Katrina Heine for collecting the audio, and Monty Montgomery for the post-production. And what a story we just heard about a massive machine that cranks out 15,000 horsepower. It's 11 million pounds in weight and yet only three men are needed to operate it. And by the way Big Brutus dug 11 square miles of territory and that's at 40 to 60 foot depths. It's staggering to think that one machine could do that much work. And by the way what it did was help power the industrialization of modern America. No small task.

The story of Big Brutus here on Our American Stories. Tis the season of making the perfect wish list and the perfect playlist with Bose Quiet Comfort ultra earbuds and headphones. Breakthrough immersive audio uses specialized sound to bring your fave holiday classics to life and world-class noise cancellation ensures a not so typical silent night and an epic holiday party of warmth. It's everything music should make you feel taken to new holiday highs.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-28 05:03:52 / 2023-11-28 05:08:33 / 5

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