“Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark” is not the sexiest way to describe Big Brutus. Neither is “The World’s Largest Electric Shovel.” But if you tell the kids they’ll get to sit in the driver’s seat of a giant machine that can eat 150 tons in a single bite, they just might perk up a bit.
I was born and raised in Kansas and I had heard of Big Brutus growing up, but it was far away from where I lived, and I didn’t quite understand what it was. I saw it on the news a few times as one of the “must see” wonders of Kansas, but I never got to see it before moving to Tennessee.
I love to soothe the soul with new experiences. And in an effort to also be more spontaneous and fun over the summer, I hit the road with the kids (ages 3 and 8) on a two week road trip from Tennessee to Kansas. I planned the route, but I didn’t plan activities along the way. I wanted to just wing it and see what we might run into.
Where Is Big Brutus?
I saw signs for “The World’s Largest Electric Shovel” along the road near Mineral, KS and asked the boys if they wanted to stop and see it. I was met with mumbles and indifference. But I wanted to see it, so I promised we would just stop by for a few minutes.
It wasn’t long before we could see the bright orange machine with giant, jet black arms above the corn stalks. Then I heard “Whoa!! Cool!! Can we go inside it?!” I didn’t think we could go inside, but said we should definitely get some pictures of it.
After parking the car in a shaded spot in the large parking lot, we headed into the air-conditioned visitor center, which was entirely welcome in the middle of July in Kansas.
What is Big Brutus?
After paying the small admission fee, we learned that Big Brutus is the main attraction on the property. There is also mining museum dedicated to the mining heritage of Southeast Kansas. Big Brutus cost $6.5 million to build in 1962, and was used in coal strip mining operations.
Big Brutus weighs 11 million pounds and stands 16 stories high. There is a full grown man standing underneath it in this picture to give you an idea for scale.
Big Brutus no longer functions and you can indeed go inside on a self-guided tour. The boys were so excited to hear this and couldn’t wait to see it.
The Tour Inside Big Brutus
We zipped through the small museum in the Visitors Center. They couldn’t wait to head outside, so I agreed that we would come back through the museum on the way out. We were given a paper that numbered the many points of the tour and described each stop. My oldest and I took turns reading the signs at each stop.
The tour starts at the front of Big Brutus where the Bucket is located. We called it the “scoop.” This is where it “eats” or can dig 150 tons (135 metric tons) of material in a single load. The kids loved standing inside the bucket and trying to stay steady where it sloped.
Another favorite point of the tour was sitting in the operator’s chair. We got to push buttons and levers and had a spectacular view of the bucket, boom and the surrounding land from up high. We spent a lot of time in here!
Much of the inside reminded me of the boiler room scenes from the movie Titanic. It has a very industrial no-nonsense feel that gives you a picture of what the working conditions must have been like back then. I gained immediate respect for anyone that worked in or around Big Brutus.
What You Should Know
1. Wear comfortable, secure shoes that cover your feet.
There is a lot of walking and climbing steel stairs involved. It’s best to wear shoes that are securely attached and cover your feet to avoid scratches or tripping. I almost wore flip flops because of the weather, but I’m so glad I didn’t.
2. Wear comfortable clothing that you are okay with getting dirty.
Though Big Brutus no longer functions, it is still industrial machinery. There are open doors to let the air in, but it does get hot inside in the summer (and cold in the winter) so you’ll want to dress comfortably. In the end we came away with a few small grease spots on a few arms, legs and shirts. That’s just par for the course for me when I take the boys anywhere, but just an fyi.
3. Watch Your Step, Watch Your Head.
There are a few places where you’ll need to climb steep stairs and lower your head as you navigate through. I am 5’1 and it was a little tight for me in a few places, but I handled it just fine, as did my 3 year old. There are signs to guide you and it is well worth the effort.
4. Bring Water.
With the stairs, walking and summer heat, we needed water along the way. If you don’t already have some on hand, they do sell it along with other light refreshments in the visitor center.
5. Children Must Be Attended To At All Times.
In no way, shape or form will you want to let younger children run free while touring Big Brutus. Though there are guard rails and signs to guide you, there are a lot of potential points for falls and serious injury. Love Big Brutus, explore Big Brutus, and above all else, respect Big Brutus.
What Else Is There To See?
A Boom Tour is available. For an extra fee, you can go all the way up to the top of the arms of Big Brutus. It was thankfully closed the day we were there. My oldest wanted to go up, but there was no way I would go that high with them. But it’s a good option for daredevils that aren’t afraid of heights!
There are several other mining implements on the grounds and the museum has a lot of neat stuff to see. They also have shelters available to host large groups, bathrooms on site with showers, and RV hookups.
We went back through the air-conditioned museum and picked up a few things from the souvenir shop before making our way home. They couldn’t wait to tell their dad about what they saw, and on the first day of preschool a few weeks later, my youngest told his teacher, “We saw Big Boo-tis!”
So “stopping by for a few minutes” to see Big Brutus turned into a few hours, but it was an experience we’ll never forget and I earned cool mom bonus points!
Big Brutus is open year round, but hours may vary by season. See their website for details.