By Dawson White
November 6, 2018 - Big Brutus now has a new neighbor: the historic Markley Shovel.
If you take a scenic drive through Southeast Kansas it’s impossible to ignore the region’s rich history, steeped in the coal mining of the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries. Strip pits, made by large electric mining shovels, are now filled with water and visible through treed berms on county roads and look more like lakes than mined land. Fifty years ago, it was a much different sight. These pits were dry, displaying their colossal depth and breadth, and bustling with busy miners and electric mining shovels like the beloved Big Brutus.
The Markley shovel is moved into location in its new home at the Big Brutus museum.
Photo courtesy of Crawford County, Kansas Convention and Visitor's Bureau
Big Brutus, built in the early 1960s and the second-largest of its kind in the world, is the progeny of another shovel. The Markley Shovel, built from scrap metal in 1928 by Perry Markley of McCune, is said to be the first of its kind and the father of electric mining shovels.
As of Oct. 31st, this prototypical Markley Shovel now sits near Big Brutus at the Visitors’ Center in West Mineral.
“The reason it’s important to Big Brutus is because Perry was the first to come up with the round stick on the bucket, itself,” Big Brutus, Inc., board member Jim Lovell said. “This meant the bucket could swivel.”
It’s said that Bucyrus, the company that manufactured Big Brutus, stole the design for the round stick from Markley. “People from Bucyrus came down and sat on the bank and drew a picture of it,” said Lovell. “They went back and drew up blueprints, got it patented, and that’s why Big Brutus looks they way it does today.”
The Markley Shovel sat on the Markley Farm in rural McCune for over 70 years until the family decided to donate the shovel to Big Brutus, Inc. Moving the shovel proved no easy feat.
“Trees had grown up in the bucket and through the tracks,” Lovell said. “We had to clear out a lot of trees. The shovel was probably 500 yards back into the timber.”
The Markley Shovel’s relocation was also hindered by the early-autumn rain. “Inclement weather made the move take about three weeks. Normally it would have taken about four to five days.” Lovell said.
Though it was made from scrap metal Markley found at a family member’s junkyard and sat unused for the better part of a century, Lovell says the shovel is in great condition. “It is really sturdy,” he said.
The entire shovel is still intact, save for the original engine which had been removed. While they don’t plan to operate the shovel, Big Brutus, Inc. located another engine identical to the original and plan to have it installed.
Big Brutus, Inc., is planning a dedication ceremony for the Markley family sometime this spring, but Lovell says visitors don’t need to wait to meet the Markley Shovel. “It’s now sitting right up on the hill from Big Brutus,” he said. “Anyone can come see it.
“We’re very lucky to have it,” he continued. “It’s quite an asset and a real piece of local history.”
The Markley Shovel can be seen alongside Big Brutus at the West Mineral Visitors’ Center, 6509 NW 60th St. in West Mineral. The Visitors’ Center is open all year, but hours vary by season. Visitors are advised to call 620-827-6177 for hours.