Historic coal mining shovel to be moved to Kansas exhibit
WEST MINERAL, Kan. (AP) – A historic coal mining shovel that sat concealed on a Cherokee County farm for more than 70 years will soon be moved to its new home next to its famous successor, Big Brutus.
Strip mining in southeast Kansas began in the 1880s and became the most favored method by the 1930s, according to the Kansas Historical Society. The Markley shovel was built in the late 1920s.
The homemade machine is said to have been one of the first mining shovels equipped with a round dipper stick, which allowed the bucket to swivel. The design was later used to construct other shovels over the next several decades.
In 1946, the shovel was parked on the Markley family property that spans over 200 acres in rural McCune, a few miles from West Mineral. The machine sat for 72 years in a field where it became overgrown with trees and brush, the Joplin Globe reported.
A member of the Markley family recently decided it was time for the shovel to be moved and donated it to Big Brutus Inc., the nonprofit that manages the museum and the 11 million-pound orange giant known as Big Brutus.
Retired coal miners Carmen Boccia and Jim Lovell, who both sit on the Big Brutus board, decided to take on the project of moving the Markley shovel and placing it on a gravel plot adjacent to Big Brutus. The antique will be transported to its new location by a specialty mover out of Carthage in the coming days, weather permitting.
“We’ve cleared quite a bit of brush to get back into it,” said Lovell, chairman of the nonprofit board. “That bucket had trees growing up in it. We’re waiting for the weather to cooperate.”
Boccia and Lovell said they’ve heard the story of the Markley family for years.
Coal mine operator Perry Markley, of rural McCune, had constructed the shovel with the help of his father, Samuel, and older brother, Ben. Samuel was called an “eccentric man” and a genius with machinery by his neighbors, according to a 1930 article published in Mechanix Illustrated.
The shovel, powered by a Studebaker car engine, was mainly built with recycled parts from Ben’s junkyard in Joplin. The equipment was derived anywhere from an old boiler to railroad car wheels, the article said.
“He had two Studebaker engines and found out that he had enough power from just one,” Lovell said.
Merle Markley, of Pittsburg, said his father, Perry, had built the shovel in 1928. He described his father as an innovator, noting that shovel was the second one he had devised.
Unfortunately, Perry Markley never patented the round dipper stick design, which was later used by Bucyrus-Erie to construct Big Brutus, which operated from 1963 to 1974.
“He built it, and it was running before 1929,” Merle Markley said. “I don’t know where he got the idea. Then Bucyrus-Erie sent engineers who took some pictures. … He had several things he was trying to get patents for, but every time, they would just want more money, and he finally gave up on all of them.”
Merle Markley said he’s looking forward to his father’s shovel being moved to the Big Brutus site.
Perry Markley’s niece, Betty, inherited the land that has been in the family since the 1890s. She died last January.
Her husband, Jerry Henson, donated the shovel to Big Brutus Inc. on behalf of his late wife.
“She would’ve liked me to do something with it instead of letting it sit,” Henson said recently. “Perry junked it and got a bigger shovel. John, Betty’s dad, bought it for junk and kept it all of these years. It’s history.”
Henson, who said the shovel was nicknamed the “junkyard shovel,” noted Perry Markley had founded Markley Coal Co. and used the shovel for coal mining in the area for many years.
Boccia and Lovell have big plans for the machine. They plan on hosting a special dedication ceremony and hope to have it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Big Brutus was added to the register in January.
“It’s still in pretty good shape,” Lovell said of the Markley shovel. “The only thing they took out was the Studebaker engine.”
The organization hopes to have the Markley shovel relocated by the end of the month.
“It will be a big benefit to Brutus,” Boccia said. “Anybody who doubts the Markley story, they can come to Brutus and see them there – the alpha and the omega.”