Three Southeast Kansas men who combined spent more than 100 years working on coal shovels worked Monday to unload and install a replica shovel at the Franklin Miners Hall Museum.
It will be on display there for a six-week Smithsonian Institution exhibit, “The Way We Worked,” which is set to open Saturday.
The fully operational, 6-foot-tall, 1,200-pound model is close to its origins in that area. Albert Malle built it at his nearby Mulberry home over a span of 11 years in the 1930s and ’40s. He patterned it after a Marion electric shovel that was used by Mackie-Clemons Coal Mining Co., for which he worked.
“The best I can remember, years later he was going to auction it off and sold $1 chances,” recalled Carmen Boccia, a retired coal miner who was joined by longtime friends and fellow coal miners Ge Ge Sachetta and Jim Lovell in maneuvering the model off a trailer and into the museum.
Pittsburg & Midway Coal Mining Co. — better known as P&M — won ownership of the model. In 1985, it was used during the company’s 100th anniversary celebrations.
“We completely restored it and painted it P&M orange,” said Boccia, who in 1963 had begun working for P&M on a much larger and much more iconic orange shovel: Big Brutus, at one time the second largest electric shovel in the world.
Built in 1962, Brutus was 16 stories tall, weighed 11 million pounds and had a dipper capacity large enough to fill three railroad cars. It took 150 railroad cars to bring in all the parts from the fabricating plant to Hallowell, in Cherokee County, where it was built by 52 men.
Boccia and Lovell both signed on with P&M as electricians, and Sachetta signed on as a machine operator.
“It uncovered coal by digging a pit 120 feet wide,” Boccia said of Brutus. “Whatever lease we had from a farmer, we’d dig 120 feet wide and then turn around and dig back the other way. We’d throw the overburden in the previous pit, and we’d just continue like that back and forth, back and forth.”
The shovel wound up in West Mineral, about a dozen miles from where it started.
“But we traveled a lot more miles than that because we went back and forth for 11 years,” Boccia said. “We probably traveled several hundred miles.”
In 1974, P&M shut down operations, including Brutus. It remained in place — what does one do with an 11 million-pound coal shovel, after all? A group of history buffs from the West Mineral and Pittsburg area didn’t want to see it scrapped for parts, opting instead to preserve it as a symbol of the region’s mining history.
Since then, the mammoth shovel and museum complex, which includes the 1,200-pound model, has attracted tens of thousands of visitors at West Mineral. Lovell, whose sons also were coal miners, and Boccia, whose grandfather was an immigrant coal miner, both serve as members of the board of directors. Sachetta, whose father was an immigrant coal miner, is an active supporter.
“We really like that people are still interested in this part of our history,” Boccia said. “We want to keep it going, get more members, preserve it for future generations.
“It’s important to preserve. We wonder who’s going to carry it on.”
While Brutus hasn’t moved since April 1974, the men have toured with the smaller coal shovel plenty: It has been displayed at events in several other states, including a coal mining convention in Colorado.
“But this is where it belongs — Kansas,” Boccia said. “This is its rightful place.”
MUSEUM TECHNICIANS on Monday afternoon began unloading and opening the 26 crates of exhibit components for the Smithsonian Institution. The museum will remain closed to the public this week until a VIP preview Friday night by invitation only. The grand opening will be at 10 a.m. Saturday.