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Big Brutus

One of the world's largest electric shovels

Courtesy ASME*

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With 7,000 electric horsepower, regenerative braking and the ability to lift 135 tons in its enormous bucket, everything about Big Brutus was huge. But despite having a design life of 25 years, Big Brutus worked for only 11 years...

The design and fabrication of Bucyrus Erie Company Coal Shovel Model 1850-B was commissioned by the Pittsburg and Midway Coal Mining Company in 1962. Shop fabrication of the shovel was completed in the Bucyrus Erie Milwaukee factory. The cost of the shovel was $6.5 million.

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The coal shovel was shipped in 150 railroad cars to Hallowell, Kansas; subsequent field assembly occupied 52 Pittsburg and Midway employees for 11 months, finishing in 1962. A small mountain of cribbing timbers was used during construction. Individual pieces of the machine weighed as much as 120 tons.

When the shovel began operation in Pittsburg and Midway Mine 19 in May 1963, it was the second largest operating coal shovel in the world. Emil Sandeen, then superintendent of Mine 19, called the machine “Big Brutus,” and the name stuck.

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Big Brutus was designed to make possible the recovery of relatively thin seams of bituminous coal at depths varying from 20 to a design maximum of 69 feet.

The machine travelled at a top speed of just over 0.2 miles per hour and could remove overburden from approximately 1 square mile of surface per year. As overburden removal was completed, other smaller scale equipment was employed to extract the coal. This rare picture shows Big Brutus at work in Mine 19. The overburden that Big Brutus had removed was then reshaped and revegetated, and the land was reclaimed.

Big Brutus was used to recover two coal seams, 18 and 24 inches thick. The coal was used locally for electrical power generation. During its 1963 to 1974 operating period, Big Brutus removed overburden from approximately 9,000,000 tons of coal.

Big Brutus´ design life was 25 years, but it remained in operation for only 11 years. By 1974, continued operation of the machine was considered uneconomical, and in April of that year, Big Brutus was shut down. The machine was simply too large to relocate intact; dismantling, transport, and reassembly were also considered to be too costly.

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In 1983, the Pittsburg and Midway Coal Mining Company donated the machine to Big Brutus, Incorporated, a non-profit organization of area residents interested in preservation of Big Brutus. Thousands of hours of weekend labour were required to bring the machine to its present condition.


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Big Brutus´ motive power was provided by two 3,500 horsepower electric motors. Power for the machine was provided from an Empire District Electric Company substation. Energy efficiency was achieved through the use of regenerative braking during the downward movement of the bucket. The bucket capacity is 90 cubic yards or about 135 tons.

The enormous size of Big Brutus can be seen by the arrowed person in this pic.

The operating crew consisted of an operator who controlled the scoop from a control station on the right front corner of the machine, a groundsman who guided the shovel´s four sets of treads, and an oiler. Operation was essentially continuous, three shifts per day, seven days per week.


Model number 1850-B

Number produced 1

Weight, lb 11,000,000

Height, ft 160

Bucket capacity

Cubic yards 90

Tons 135

Bucket support Four 3.5 inch cables

Shovel cycle time, seconds 50

Power requirements

Voltage 7,200

Maximum amp 1,200

Main drive motors

Horsepower (each) 3,500

Type Synchronous

Bucket lift motor-generators 8

Horsepower (each) 500

Type Synchronous

Leveling system 4 hydraulic jacks

Maximum speed, Miles per hour 0.2

Crew 3

*Big Brutus is an American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) International Historic Engineering Landmark. The text of this story appears by agreement of the ASME. Go to for more on this Landmark.

More information on Big Brutus can also be found at

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