Big

Big Brutus. Big Barges. Big Storms. Big Fun. We’ve had it all this week – perhaps a case of trying to cram everything in the remaining days of this trip.

Big Brutus may have been a new high or maybe a new low in our camping experience. It certainly is among the oddest experiences. I’ve never really associated Kansas with coal mining – probably not many people do. But in the 1960s and 70s, coal was surface mined here, near West Mineral. Big Brutus was the shovel which scraped the top layers of dirt and rock which covered the coal seams 25-30 feet below the surface.20160506_135347When it was built in 1962, it was the second-largest electric shovel in the world – truly deserving of the name ‘Big’ moniker. Brutus could scoop up 90 yards of earth, swing around to dump it in a designated spot, and be ready to reload the bucket in a minute. It was assembled on site, then worked its way backwards across the top of the coal seam until it was retired in April 1974. It’s huge in every dimension – 16 stories tall,  11 million pounds, ballast tanks which held 1.7 millions pounds of water to keep the shovel from tipping. Check it out against an older steam shovel which is also on display.20160506_14363020160506_14424120160506_144241The pit now is a recreational area for fisherman, although it’s illegal to swim there – subject to an $80 ticket. 20160506_145404We camped on site (the only ones there), and it was an unusual experience, for sure. See us in the distance?20160506_145159 We could shower in the adjoining Mining Museum bathroom, as long as we were done by 4:30 when it closed. We set up camp, grilled dinner, and watched the sun set on Big Brutus. Big Brutus and the land on which it sits were donated by the P & M Coal Mining Company in 1984, and the Mining Museum opened in July 1985.

It was tough to find an act to follow Big Brutus, but we managed. How about camping right on the confluence of the Kaskaskia and Mississippi Rivers, watching the river traffic pass by all day long? Our campsite at the Kaskaskia River Project provided just that. We were just 200 yards from the Kaskaskia River locks, and 1000 yards from the Mississippi River.20160508_132813 We watched this tug maneuver 35 barges along the bend. It’s hard to see, but the tug is on the far left, and the front of the barges on the right.  Five barges across, seven deep!20160508_140040The Locks were fairly quiet when we were there for 1-1/2 days, but we did get to see traffic heading up the river (empty), and out to the Mississippi (loaded with coal). Interesting – my photos are not great – it was gray and gloomy on the full day were spent there.20160509_080951And boy – did it ever rain! For five or six hours at night it was like living under a waterfall. The rain just thundered down. After a brief respite in the morning, it picked right back up where it left off. I don’t think we have ever camped in such hard rain. We kept a nervous eye on our broken window, but the many layers of duct tape we’ve plied on in the past four months kept the water out. Whew!

The Big Fun part of this week is our current lodging at John’s brother’s house in Evansville. What a great spot to hang out for a few days – Evansville is a BIG small town – smaller in population than Grand Rapids, but twice the size in so many ways.20160511_101654This is the stopover with the 1500 count sheets, and towels so thick and heavy that it’s a workout to take a shower. More big storms are ripping through this area in the last two days – huge thunderstorms with a tornado or two thrown in for excitement. Poor Jezzy – she’s practically worn her Thundershirt out.

So, tomorrow (Friday) we head out for our last 10 days of camping. Hard to believe it’s that time already. Homeward bound.

8 thoughts on “Big

  1. I’d kind of like to see Big Brutus, since mechanical things have always interested me. I remember our dad taking us to see that big dragline crane at the corner of the East Beltline and Plainfield when it was all set-up and working.

    I wouldn’t mind spending a few days at the confluence of the Kaskaskia and Mississippi Rivers either, sounds like a very relaxing time. I’d have to have Dylan’s “Sit here watching the river flow” playing though.

    Evansville isn’t that far from home, are you headed this way, or do you have other stops to make?

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    • There were a couple of older dragline cranes at the Big Brutus site – one had a wooden housing. It’s very interesting to clamber around these giant machines, sit in the Operator’s seat, and survey the landscape. These weren’t easy jobs, and I have a lot of respect to the folks who did this work year after work, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

      I could happily sit and watch river badges for a few days, but we were plagued with biting gnats and mosquitoes – I have welts on my neck and ankles from all the bites. John? Nary a bite – he thought I was just dancing around slapping myself for fun.

      We are heading back into North Carolina for 10 days or so, primarily to camp with about 70 other folks with campers like ours. It’s great to meet like-minded souls, and to see how bothers camp in their small campers. This is the BRR – Blue Ridge Rally – that I’ve mentioned so often. Home by May 24 or so.

      Enjoy your own vacation – looking forward to seeing the fruits of your labors.

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    • Honestly, Susan, I can hardly remember what it’s like to be home. I’m so worried about what the state of my yard is. Lots of work ahead of me for sure.

      BRR will be great. We need a T@DA Happy about, dontcha think?

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  2. Big Brutus is amazing! Looks like you’re wrapping up a wonderful trip. Can’t wait to hear all about it. All good things must come to an end however, so get your tails home! Continued safe travels.

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