Final Take: Saving the silver spade

The last of the giant stripping shovels died near New Athens, Ohio, last April, spurring equipment buffs, historians and local officials to try and save the Silver Spade from being scrapped. Instead, the Silver Spade may be destined to become the focal point of a mining heritage park organized by the Harrison Coal and Reclamation Historical Park of Harrison County, Ohio. The park will have to be constructed around the Silver Spade, though, because at 14 million pounds, the shovel cannot be moved.

Manufactured by Bucyrus-Erie of South Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1965, the Silver Spade was erected on the jobsite in Ohio for the sole purpose of removing overburden – the earth and rock over the coal seam. Standing 200 feet taller than a 12-story building, the Silver Spade is about the height of the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, and is the width of an eight-lane highway. The length of the boom is 200 feet and the dipper has a capacity of 105 cubic yards. The shovel could dig 315,000 pounds of earth in a single bite. According to the HCRHP, the Silver Spade used enough power to light up a city of 15,000.

Bryan Coulson, president of the Ohio Valley chapter of the Historical Construction Equipment Association and a member of the board of directors for HCRHP, says the Silver Spade needs to be preserved for future generations. “The Silver Spade is the largest surviving shovel of its kind,” says Coulson. “It is the first of only two Bucyrus-Erie and the only surviving large shovel with a Marion Power Shovel knee-action crowd and boom design. It would be a sad loss if sold for scrap. Nothing of its type will ever be built again.”

Only one other super stripper shovel remains intact. Big Brutus, a Bucyrus-Erie 1850-B 90-cubic-yard bucket machine, has been in a successful equipment park in West Mineral, Kansas, since 1985. Smaller than the Silver Spade, Big Brutus attracts between 40,000 and 50,000 visitors each year.

The HCRHP, working with the Harrison County Commission and groups like the Historical Construction Equipment Association, is raising money to acquire the giant shovel, now owned by Consol Energy. Consol estimates the scrap value of the Silver Spade to be between $600,000 and $700,000. If enough money is raised to complete the purchase, the HCRHP will try to acquire the 200 acres surrounding the Silver Spade. Preliminary plans for the park include a visitor center and an equipment section with static displays as well as machines that can be operated.

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For more information on the “Save the Silver Spade” campaign, visit this site.

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