It was huge then, suddenly, it was gone - well, kind of.

Standing nearly 22 stories tall and weighing as much as 10,000 Miatas, this is the story of Big Muskie, the biggest, most-badass walking dragline ever made. So keep reading to find out how it was made, how much power it needed in order to operate - hint: it was A LOT - and how ultimately it disappeared from the face of the Earth. Except one part, that is.

Ok, so the year is 1966, and there’s a new project brewing at the Central Ohio Coal Company. The company’s mine property extended over 110,000 acres of hilly terrain, and it needed something big enough to excavate the ground and get coal out of there. So the factories of the Bucyrus Erie Company started working on the engineering and building of the components that would be part of Big Muskie, a truly jaw-dropping immense machine.

Three years later, in 1969, this absolute monster was ready for work. It took 340 rail cars and 260 trucks to ship every single component to the mine site, and then 200,000 man hours to build. In other words, if it was a single man doing all the work, it would have taken him almost 23 years to finish. But it wasn’t just one man, obviously. Instead, it was built in about two years with an impressive workforce, and it cost 25 Million dollars in 1969, which is the equivalent of about 174 million dollars in today’s money.

The Story of Big Muskie - The Largest Walking Dragline Ever Made
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Big Muskie’s bucket had a capacity of 220 cubic yards, or 170 cubic meters, which basically means it could fit two full-sized Greyhound buses side by side. And that’s just one load. It’s been reported that in 1976, the immense machine removed 8,000 yards of overburden for the coal company PER OPERATING HOUR, and in its whole service time, it removed twice the amount of earth moved during the original construction of the Panama Canal.

As you can imagine, this gargantuan thing needed A LOT of power to operate. As much power as a whole town, to be exact. 13,800 volts were provided to the dragline via a trailing cable that fed eighteen, 1,000 horsepower and ten, 625 horsepower DC electric motors. That’s the equivalent of about 27,000 homes, which made it impossibly expensive to operate, at tens of thousands of dollars per hour in electricity alone, which also meant that the mining company had to have special agreements with local Ohio power companies to accomodate for the extra load.

The Story of Big Muskie - The Largest Walking Dragline Ever Made
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The machine, which had a crew of five, worked around the clock, with night time being the most cost-effective period, because the rate per kilowatt-hour was much cheaper than during the day. And here comes the coolest part of the whole thing: it could move! Well, barely, but it could move on its own. Using its massive hydraulic walker feet, it could basically “walk” - usually less than a mile between digging positions - at a whopping 0.1 miles per hour. Not to mention it was a huge deal preparing the road for the move. Because it weighed over 12,000 tons, the path had to be carefully graded and covered with heavy wooden beams to avoid sinking or, worse - tipping over.

Imagine trying to rescue a 20-story building that’s stuck in the mud! Good luck with that!

Big Muskie served for 22 years and removed over 600 million cubic yards or 460 million cubic meters of overburden, uncovering over 20 million tonnes of good old Ohio brown coal. The massive machine was retired in 1991, after yearly increases in electricity costs and growing opposition to strip mining operations in Ohio. The record-breaking dragline became unprofitable to operate, so the search for a new owner began.

The Story of Big Muskie - The Largest Walking Dragline Ever Made
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But, as you can imagine, it found little interest due to the gargantuan costs associated with dismantling, transporting and reassembling it. More to the point, the only remaining large-scale open-pit brown coal operations that might have been a good match were in Germany, at the Garzweiler mine, where more efficient giant bucket wheel excavators were already used.

So Big Muskie sat for eight years doing nothing, until 1999, when the state of Ohio began enforcing the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, which required all equipment be removed from former strip mines so the sites could be environmentally remediated. And despite calls from fans, enthusiasts and historians saying that Big Muskie should have been turned into a museum, the machine was eventually dismantled on-site and sold for scrap. So much scrap metal in fact, that it was worth 700,000 dollars.

The Story of Big Muskie - The Largest Walking Dragline Ever Made
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Only the massive bucket survived, and it’s on display at Miners’ Memorial Park in Bristol, Ohio. The place where Big Muskie used to operate was partially turned into a wildlife park called The Wilds, which opened in 1994 and is home to many species of African, Asian and North American species. With record-setting stats and such a niche use-case, this monstrous machine had its days numbered from the beginning. But with sheer will and a seemingly infinite budget, it came to fruition so it could dig deeper and deeper into the ground for coal.

Now it’s just a record of the past, and a testimony to the fact that people can create some awe-inspiring things. And that’s it! Let me know in the comments below what you think of Big Muskie - should it have been turned into a museum or are we better off without it, seeing how the world is trying to shift towards greener energy solutions?

Iulian Dnistran
Loves cars since he was a toddler. Learned how to drive when he was 6. Born and raised in a small Romanian mountain town, he had a radio show with two buddies when he was 14, and continued his love affair with radio until the end of high school. Got a Master's degree in journalism in 2013 and started to write about cars the same year, when he got a job at the largest motoring website in Romania. Since 2016, he's a videographer and photographer and sometimes he still gets the chance to drive cool cars and write about them.  Read full bio
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