WEST MINERAL, Kan. — For about the past 20 years, those who formerly pursued coal from the strip mines in Southeast Kansas have been gathering in the shadow of an 11 million-pound electric shovel affectionately known as Big Brutus.
On Saturday, Calvin Beer, a former dragline operator and mechanic from Pittsburg, was front and center at the Miners Day Reunion at Big Brutus with his wife, Pam, and his 103-year-old mother-in law, DuReece Porr. The family members said they never miss a coal mining reunion.
“We always say the coal dust is flying when we get together,” Beer said. “It’s a lot of good people.”
Those people grilled food, shared stories and caught up with old friends under the pavilion near the giant shovel.
Pam Beer said that DuReece has been on hand for reunions for at least 10 years, where she likes to partake in the food, especially the fish.
“She’s not a stay-at-home person, either,” her daughter said. “We can’t leave her at home. She gets her shoes on as soon as she sees us getting ready.”
Calvin Beer worked for companies like Pittsburg & Midway Coal Mining Co. and Mackie-Clemens Coal Co., for which he operated a Marion Shovel. He said it was a great company to work for and that it was the people who made it great.
“It was a lot of fun,” Beer said. “Even the worst day in coal mining was better than anything I’ve seen since. It was mainly the people you worked with. It was good times.”
Louis “Ge Ge” Sachetta, 93, of Scammon, worked as a machine operator for P&M Coal Co. for 45 years, beginning in the mines at 17 years old. The company produced more than 600,000 tons of coal in Kansas in 1972, three years before the Bucyrus-Erie 1850B, known as Big Brutus, ceased operations.
“I started here in 1941,” Sachetta said. “I was in the service (Army) for three years, but when I came back, they gave me my job back. This was the only place that I’ve ever worked where I drew a paycheck — P&M Coal Company.”
Sachetta referred to the coal strip mining operations in the region as “sunshine coal mining,” since their work was on the surface. As a machine operator, he got to handle the heavy machinery like Big Brutus, which could hold up to 150 tons of coal in one bite with its 90-cubic-yard shovel.
“I operated all of the big machines they had here,” Sachetta said. “Basically, I loaded all of the coal on a coal loader. Anybody could operate a machine like Big Brutus, it just takes timing and coordination. After they shut this down, I went up to La Cygne, worked up there for 13 years where I ran loaders and draglines. The bucket on the dragline in La Cygne could hold up to 250 tons.”
Carmen Boccia, of Pittsburg, worked alongside Sachetta as an electrician for P&M from 1951 to 1974. Boccia said that he never got tired of watching Big Brutus dig, and the two men said that they loved their jobs so much, they never wanted to miss a day’s work.
“Every day it was a job, but it was like a hobby for us,” Boccia said. “You look forward to going to work. We were disappointed we didn’t get to work seven days a week."
About Big Brutus
In 1984, the Pittsburg & Midway Coal Mining Co. of Pittsburg donated Big Brutus, 16 acres of land and $100,000 for restoration work to the nonprofit agency Big Brutus Inc. A year later, the nonprofit created the Big Brutus Visitors Center and Museum, which draws approximately 30,000 visitors annually. Big Brutus was approved for the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year. It’s located at 6509 N. 60th St. in West Mineral, Kansas.