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Giant coal shovels continue to fascinate

By CATHRYN STANLEY GateHouse Ohio Media Published: May 17, 2017 12:00 AM
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Although it has been decades since the giant earth moving coal shovels -- the GEM of Egypt, Silver Spade, Big Muskie, and Mountaineer -- were used to mine the area for coal, they continue to fascinate people, many of whom worked with the machines or remembered marveling at them as children.

GEM OF EGYPT -- The GEM of Egypt was a power shovel used for strip mining. Built in 1966,, the machine had worked in the Egypt Valley coalfield (where it obtained part of its name), the GEM part being an acronym standing for Giant Earth Mover or Giant Excavating Machine. It was one of only two Bucyrus-Erie 1950-B shovels built and one of two to use the knee action crowd, licensed from Marion Power Shovel in exchange to Marion's use of BE's cable crowd patent.

The GEM had a 170 foot boom and a 130 cubic yard bucket. The machine was put into service in January of 1967, first for Hanna Coal, and was later purchased by Consolidated Coal (CONSOL) in "Little Egypt Valley" near Barnesville. The machine was parked in 1988 and finally scrapped in 1991 off Ohio SR9 between New Athens and Fairpoint. Parts of the shovel were used to keep its twin, The Silver Spade, operating until it too, was retired.

THE SILVER SPADE -- The GEMS's "twin," the Silver Spade was a giant power shovel used for strip mining in southeastern Ohio. Manufactured by Bucyrus-Erie, South Milwaukee, Wisconsin, its sole function was to remove the earth and rock overburden from the coal seam. It was revealed to the public with a two-day open house in November of 1965, attracting between 15,000-16,000 visitors. The total cost of erecting the Spade was $8 million. It was dubbed "Silver" because it was put into use during Hannah Coal's 25th anniversary.

It weighed in excess of 14,000, 000 pounds and burned approximately 1,500, 000 kilowatt hours of electricity per month. It could dig and hoist 300,000 pounds of earth in one bite and had the ability to deposit it at a maximum distance of 400 feet in less than one minute. The main body, known as the "house" was the size of a three-story, six family apartment building.

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In the spring of 2006, the ring circle at the base of the shovel developed a crack and could not be repaired. Attempts to purchase and preserve the shovel from Consol for $2.6 million fell short, and the shovel was scrapped in February 2007. A salvage company from Hudson, Ohio dismantled the shovel, with the operator's cab, the bucket, and other pieces of the Spade going to the Harrison Coal & Reclamation Historical Park for display.

THE BIG MUSKIE -- The Big Muskie was the world's largest dragline and one of the seven engineering wonders of the world. The bucket weighs 460,000 pounds empty and when loaded carried an additional 640,000 pounds. Its volume is equal to that of a 12 car garage and and its bucket could hold two Greyhound buses side by side. It cost $25 million to construct using over 200,000 man hours over a period of about two years.

During its 22 years of service from 1969 to 1991, the Big Muskie removed more than 608,000,000 cubic yards of overburden, twice the amount of earth moved during the construction of the Panama Canal. It could move 39 million pounds of earth and rock every hour, revealing rich coal seams 100-150 feet below the surface in Southeastern Ohio.

For several years after it was idled, visitors could tour the innards. With the passage of the Surface Mining Reclamation Act, removal of the Big Muskie was required by the late 1990s. Despite efforts to save it through the "Save Big Muskie" campaign which included pledges from The Wilds (opened in 1994 and created from 10,000 acres of the reclaimed land previously stripped by Big Muskie), the millions needed were not raised and salvage began in March of 1999.

The bucket now serves as cornerstone to the Miner's Memorial Park in McConnelsville, west of Caldwell and sits atop a hill within the AEP ReCreation Land as a reminder of the history and significance of surface mining in southeast Ohio. The AEP ReCreation Land, Ohio's largest privately owned recreation area, is over 30,000 acres of reclaimed surface mined land, now available for use by the public for hunting, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, birding, horse back riding and a variety of other outdoor recreational pursuits.

An event schedule is available at www.aep.com.

THE MOUNTAINEER -- The Mountaineer was the largest mobile land machine ever produced. It was the first of the "super strippers" to work in coal fields around Cadiz. The Mountaineer was assembled in 1955 and worked in the area from 1956 until 1979.

Officially designated the "Marion 5760", the Mountaineer was assembled in the mid-1950's, and was put into use in January 1956. Perhaps the most significant feature of the mountaineer was an internal elevator that allowed personnel to travel from the stationary lower platform to the revolving upper structure without stopping the machine.

Locally popular, the machine gained regional and national attention in 1973, when after completing work in one coalfield, it was moved across I-70. After permission was granted by the state of Ohio, coal company employees covered the interstate with about 30 feet of dirt, walked the Mountaineer across and then cleaned up the highway, all in a single night!

After being parked in 1979, the Mountaineer sat idle for nearly 10 years before the decision was made to dismantle it.


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