The Big Brutus Shovel: A Must-See Hidden Gem In Kansas

Big Brutus Shovel

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Last Updated on February 7, 2023 by Lori

If you love big machines, then you will love standing next to Big Brutus, the largest electric mining shovel in the world! Located in West Mineral, Kansas, the Big Brutus Museum & RV Park is the perfect place for kids and adults to learn about the days of coal mining in Kansas and to see real machines that did the work.

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See The Big Brutus Shovel – West Mineral Kansas

Front of Big Brutus
Big Brutus Shovel West Mineral, KS. Photo by L. Andrews

Although Brutus stopped operation in 1974, thanks to generous donors, you can see this huge shovel up close at the Big Brutus Museum & RV Park in Kansas. The Big Brutus Coal Shovel is so much a part of Kansas history that in 2018, Big Brutus was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

How Large Is The Big Brutus Shovel?

Brutus stands 16 stories high (160 ft tall) and weighs 11 million pounds!

Its boom is 150 feet long.

It’s hard to imagine something that big!

Here’s a photo of me standing next to Big Brutus!

Person Standing Next To Big Brutus
Here I am Standing Next To Big Brutus. Can You Spot Me?

History of Big Brutus – The Largest Shovel In The World

Big Brutus was built to recover thin seams of bituminous coal some 20 – 50 feet in the ground. When Brutus was in operation, it recovered nine million tons of coal for local electric power generation.

Parts to build Brutus (also known as the Bucyrus Erie Company Coal Shovel Model 1850-B) were commissioned by the Pittsburg and Midway Coal Mining Company in 1962.

Fabrication of the parts was completed in the Erie Milwaukee factory in Wisconsin. They were then shipped on 150 railroad cars to the P & M Coal Company’s – Mine 19 in Hallowell, Kansas.

Cost To Build Big Brutus

Big Brutus Boom and Shovel
Big Brutus Boom and Shovel. Photo by L. Andrews

Big Brutus cost around $6.5 million to build – and that was in 1962!

At one point, 52 men were working to build Brutus, and it took 11 months to complete.

The Superintendent of Mine-19, Emil Sandeen, began calling the machine Big Brutus, and that’s how Brutus got his name!

Believe it or not, when Brutus was first built, it was actually the second-largest shovel in the world.

The largest shovel was “Big Hog” at the Peabody Coal Co. in Kentucky. Big Hog stood 22 stories tall at the time. When Big Hog was decommissioned, it was buried instead of being torn down which made Big Brutus the largest shovel in the world.

When Big Brutus was finished being built, it still had to get from Mine-19 to the West Mineral Mine, which was 11.4 miles away.

They solved that problem by having Brutus dig his way from Hallowell to West Mineral.

How Many People Did It Take To Operate Big Brutus?

In its prime, Brutus ran 24 hours a day for eleven (11) years.

The operating crew consisted of:

(1) Operator – The Operator sat in the cabin and operated the controls.

(1) Oiler – The Oiler made sure all the moving parts were lubricated.

(1) Groundsman – The Groundsman worked with the Operator to move Brutus forward and backward.

Big Brutus Bucket
Big Brutus Bucket. Photo by L. Andrews

During operation, Brutus moved at speeds up to two-tenths of a mile per hour, and the bucket removed 90 cubic yards or 135 tons of earth with each scoop!

Big Brutus Death

It’s hard to believe that a machine built to operate for 25 years, was only in operation for eleven.

So, what exactly happened?

By 1974, coal in the area became depleted. Continuing to operate Brutus was considered uneconomical and Big Brutus shut down in April 1974.

Big Brutus Shovel West Mineral KS
Big Brutus Shovel – Mine 19, West Mineral, KS. Photo by L. Andrews

Big Brutus – West Mineral, Kansas

Big Brutus operated from 1963 to 1974
Big Brutus Shovel Operated From 1963 to 1974. Photo by L. Andrews

Instead of burying Brutus as they had Big Hog, the P & M Coal Mining Company donated the machine to a non-profit organization of area residents, who wanted to preserve Big Brutus.

On July 13, 1985, Big Brutus was dedicated as a “Museum and Memorial Dedicated to the Rich Coal Mining History in Southeast Kansas.”

In September 1987, The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) designated Big Brutus a Regional Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.

In 2018, Big Brutus was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Related Reading: Visit another Kansas Hidden Gems – The Davis Memorial In Hiawatha, KS

Big Brutus Visitors Center

Big Brutus Visitors Center
Big Brutus Visitors Center. Photo by L. Andrews

Big Brutus Museum and Visitors Center is open year-round (closed on Thanksgiving & Christmas).

As you’re driving towards Big Brutus, keep watch for it in the distance! It can’t be missed!

Soon you’ll see the sign to turn in – Big Brutus Museum & RV Park.

Big Brutus Museum and RV Park Entrance
Entrance To Big Brutus Museum. Photo by L. Andrews

There is plenty of parking at the Visitors Center, and if you are traveling in an RV or pulling a travel trailer, there are RV campsites with water/electric hook-ups and a dump station for your convenience!

The Visitors Center also has hot showers available for campers.

Inside the Visitors Center is a wealth of history about Kansas coal mining and the equipment used.

As we walked into the Visitors Center, we were greeted by a very knowledgeable staff member who told us all about Big Brutus and coal mining in the area. She was also more than happy to answer all my questions!

There is a small fee to see Big Brutus:
Senior Citizen (65 & up) or Military: $8.25
Adults (13-64): $8.75
Children (6-12): $5.50
Children 5 & under: FREE
*Fees subject to change

Be sure to take the time to visit the museum. We found the replicas of coal shovels and mines very interesting. The historic machines were donated by some of the owners and families of area coal miners.

Growing up in Northeast Kansas, I had no idea that coal mining was part of Kansas’s history. It was interesting to learn about the mines in Southeast Kansas.

Little Giant Shovel

“Little Giant” is the world’s smallest working replica of an early-day electric mining shovel. Built by a hobbyist in Kansas in the 1930s and 1940s, and purchased by the P & M Coal Mining Company in 1946.

The shovel is constructed with approximately 30,000 rivets and 2,000 bolts and weighs 700 pounds. It is said that the “Little Giant” is complete in every detail

The Little Giant has been displayed at state fairs and conventions all around the country to show how full-sized coal mining equipment functions.

The shovel is powered by five small motors and can be operated to demonstrate how the enormous machines, called draglines, scoop up millions and millions of tons of earth to expose rich coals seams below.

Watch The Film About Big Brutus

Another interesting part of the museum is the video about Big Brutus. We really enjoyed learning about the history of how Brutus was built and watching film clips of Brutus in action during its heyday!

The film also tells the story of how and why Brutus became obsolete and how Kansans pulled together to save Big Brutus from being torn apart.

After learning about Big Brutus, I couldn’t wait to get outside to see just how big it was!

On our way out of the museum, we stopped to sign the guest book and pin our hometown on the U.S. Map!

Visitors Mark Hometown on US Map at Big Brutus Museum
Visitor’s Map at Big Brutus Museum. Photo by L. Andrews

There’s so much more to see outside besides Brutus! The entire area was well-maintained. There is a paved walkway lined with mining equipment that was used during the coal mining days in Kansas.

It is a fairly long walk before you get to Brutus, but there are benches along the way to sit and rest.

But it wasn’t hard to spot Brutus. It is huge! It was even bigger than we ever imagined.

You can even climb up on Brutus and sit in the Operators chair. While I didn’t climb up there, I saw several other families that did! The kids were having a blast playing Operator!

Climb up to the Operators Chair on Big Brutus
You can climb on Brutus up to the Operator’s Chair. Photo by L. Andrews

The Markley Shovel

The Markley Shovel is a homemade machine built in 1928. it was a gift to the Big Brutus Museum by Jerry Henson. Mr. Henson’s wife’s Uncle was Perry Markley, who designed the shovel using railroad car wheels and a Studebaker car engine.

The Markley Shovel
The Markley Shovel On Display At the Big Brutus Museum. Photo by L. Andrews

It is said to be one of the first mining shovels equipped with a round dipper stick, which allowed the bucket to swivel.

This was used as a prototype for Big Brutus.

Why You Should Visit The Big Brutus Museum & RV Park

Big Brutus the Largest shovel in the world
The largest shovel in the world – Big Brutus. Photo by L. Andrews

Big Brutus had been on my dad’s Bucket List of things he wanted to see for a long time. So, we tentatively planned to stop on our way home from Branson, Mo.

However, I’ll admit that we hesitated when it was time to get off the main highway. It’s not one of those “easy on, easy off” attractions. In fact, you have to drive quite a ways off the highway to get there (or it seemed that way)!

But, don’t think twice about it! It is well worth the trip!

Take a detour off the highway, enjoy the scenery, and soon you’ll see the enormous shovel in the distance!

You’ll be glad you did!

Big Brutus seen in the distance
View of Big Brutus In The Distance From The Road. Photo by L. Andrews

Big Brutus Museum & RV Park Information

Address: 6509 NW 60th St., West Mineral, Kansas 66782
Open 7 Days a Week – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Closed Thanksgiving & Christmas)

For Reference:
Big Brutus Museum is located 6 Miles West of K7 & K102 Jct. and 1/4 Mile South near West Mineral, Kansas

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