Big Brutus – Weird Roadside Attraction

Big Brutus

“Wow!” are the first words you utter when Big Brutus comes into view. “That is one big truck!” The excitement, laughter, and exclamations of “OMG, that is huge!” are what you can expect when you visit the second-largest mining shovel in the world. This massive, weird roadside attraction in Southeast Kansas is retired now and is a museum showcasing the Kansas coal mining industry.

Big Brutus
Big Brutus sign
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Big Brutus peeking out above the trees

Brutus is in West Mineral, Kansas, which is in the Southeast Kansas area.​ This monster machine is about 135 miles southeast of Wichita and 26 miles northwest of Joplin, Missouri.​​ It is easy to find, as you can see him popping up above the trees before you arrive. Drive six miles west of the intersection of Highway 7 and Highway 102, then drive a half-mile south. Big Brutus is at 6509 NW 60th St in West Mineral.


From 1963 to 1974, Big Brutus, the nickname of the Bucyrus-Erie model 1850-B electric shovel, was the machine that moved the earth in Southeast Kansas. Big Brutus is 16 stories high and weighs a whopping 11 million pounds. This huge shovel belonged to the Pittsburg & Midway Coal Co. When it operated, it worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week, going back and forth, scooping out dirt and rocks up to 70 feet deep to find shallow coal seams. After 11 years, Big Brutus stopped when mining no longer made economic sense and is still resting where he shut down.

Replica of Underground Coal Mine Tipple

Before seeing Big Brutus, you must go through the museum. When it stopped working, locals championed having him saved, got it declared a Kansas landmark, and turned it into a museum, which worked. Opening in 1985, the museum is filled with vintage machinery, photos (even one of Brooke Shields), and memorabilia celebrating the rich coal mining history in Southeast Kansas, Big Brutus, and the miners. The replicas of the Kansas coal mines are impressive, and there is even a six-foot tall, 1,200-pound working shovel model that took 11 years to build in the 1930s. You can also hear workers’ testimonials and stories that give you insights into their day working on Big Brutus through QR codes throughout Big Brutus and the museum. Don’t forget to stop into the gift shop to pick up your Big Brutus souvenirs.

Big Brutus received designation as a Historical Landmark from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1987, and in 2018, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Pathway of Construction relics - lined with Big Brutus' hoist cable

Exiting the museum, you walk on a pathway lined with vintage mining equipment and Brutus’ hoist cables. These hoist cables were used to lift the bucket. The cables weigh 25 pounds per foot, and there were 800 feet of them. The cables went through such rigor that they would break after six months of use. The museum does a great job leading to a suspenseful unveiling of Big Brutus. You can’t even see it through the trees until you look up at it.

Cross-section of the Hoist Cable used in Big Brutus
Cross-section of the Hoist Cable used in Big Brutus

My neck kept stretching upward as I walked closer, and when I walked up to the crawler/treads, they were even taller than me. Each one of the 256 metal pads on the treads is 5.5 ft. long and weighs a ton. The parts came on over 150 train cars when they put Big Brutus together. When you stand next to it, you can see why. The treads enabled the shovel to move along the pit floor as it dug. Another interesting fact is that it operated smoothly and quietly despite its huge size, although the inside was anything but quiet.

Underneath Big Brutus

Yes, you can climb Big Brutus. Guests can climb stars and duck their heads while navigating through the innards of Brutus. The entrance is underneath the machine.

Inside Big Brutus

Exploring inside Brutus is a lesson in size, as is how small you are. Throughout the self-guided tour, numbered signs help you navigate and learn more about this massive shovel. The main open cavern is where two 3500-HP electric A.C. motors were mounted in the center, which operated 13 D.C. generators, which in turn operated 13 D.C. motors that moved the winch, swing & crowd. A 250-HP electric motor powered each crawler, and each gearbox held 2220 gallons of oil. The noise was deafening inside, with all the motors, generators, and gearboxes running. One of the signs inside states that his last monthly electric bill was $27,000. Ouch!

It is astonishing that after seeing how huge this machine is, I discovered that it only takes three men to operate Big Brutus. An operator controlled the digging operation from an air-conditioned glass-enclosed office; the groundman moved the shovel by operating the crawlers and an oiler.

Heather sitting in the driver's seat

The photo above shows me sitting in the driver’s seat in the operator’s control room. The operator controlled the bucket and swung the house. He also instructed the groundman to move Brutus forward or back by notifying him with a horn signal.

Heather in Big Brutus' bucket

Giving you perspective on the size of the bucket, you can see me standing in the middle of it. The bucket/dipper has a capacity of 90 cubic yards, which is almost 135 tons of dirt and rock that could fill three train cars. The entire process of scoping the dirt and dumping it took 55 seconds.

View of Big Brutus' path

Big Brutus’ final resting place has it looking at the last strip pit he completed. Its depth is 50 feet, and it is two miles long. The surrounding land, including the pit, is part of a 15,000-acre mined land wildlife area maintained by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. Today, you can hunt, fish, and enjoy the public land they stock with fish. Nature had reclaimed this piece of Southeast Kansas. You can also enjoy a picnic in the pavilion on-site and grab a snack from the Mine Pit snack bar.

You’ll love this place if you enjoy taking road trips around the country and making random stops to explore weird roadside attractions. Big Brutus is a superb tribute to the Southeast Kansas coal mining industry and to miners across the nation who work to support their families. When you come to visit, you’ll be part of the 20,000-25,000 worldwide visitors visiting Big Brutus every year.​​

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Further Reading

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  • Vanessa 5January2024 at 12:25 PM Reply

    Glad you made it to my home state! People used to be able to climb Brutus to the very top – can you imagine? I went about as far as a the driver’s seat for the view.

    • Heather 5January2024 at 2:32 PM Reply

      I heard about that. I’m bummed that I didn’t get to go to the top, however, it was still a lot of fun.

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