The Big Muskie was the world’s largest dragline. It was built by the Central Ohio Coal Co. near Zanesville in 1969. It took two years to complete this gigantic project. It had the world’s largest dragline bucket, 220 cubic yards. For a publicity stunt, the coal company once parked a D-9 Caterpillar inside of its bucket. On another occasion, they parked five large pickup trucks side by side inside of its bucket. Ohio State’s 105 member marching band, along with all of their instruments, had their pictures taken together inside of this huge bucket. The Big Muskie removed two times the amount of dirt than was taken from digging the Panama Canal!
The Big Muskie was as tall as a six-story building — 222 feet high. It weighed 13,500 tons and it was 150 feet wide. It cost $31 million to construct at a cost of about $1 per pound. That seemed like a lot of money back in 1969. Her boom was 310 feet long. It rotated on a 90-foot diameter tub, which was 10 feet high. Her two walking shoes were 131 feet long — big shoes for a big lady, right? The Big Muskie was shut down in 1991 because of the Clean Air Act. It made a lot of money for the coal mine during those 22 years, and provided a lot of fat paychecks for a lot of grateful coal miners. It was dismantled in 1999 because of the EPA’s misguided beliefs. It provided enough steel to make 9,000 automobiles. Her bucket was taken to a state park near McConnelsville where it remains today. A plaque was placed beside her rusty, worn bucket, listing the names of all the workers who helped build her. The names of the Big Muskie crew members were also listed, along with the history of the Big Muskie and all of her statistics.
The operator sat in its cab, which was about the size of a jail cell (not that I would know that). There was nothing special about the brown leather chair he sat in while operating the world’s largest dragline. The control console was pretty ordinary looking, also: Just a few gauges, the drag control lever, the hoist control lever, the left and right swing pedals (which were on the floor) and the emergency shutdown button (the panic button). Completing the cab’s furnishings were a two-way radio, a loud air warning horn, a walkie-talkie radio to communicate with the crew, a good heating and air conditioning unit and an AM/?FM radio. The Big Muskie did not have a steering wheel.
The Big Muskie operator’s six-man crew consisted of two bulldozer men, one electrician, an oiler, a welder and a laborer. The operator sat alone inside of his cab most of the time. Members of his crew would pop in to chat and pass along information during his shift, but most of the time he was alone. His job was to load up a bucket of dirt by dragging in the bucket to fill it up, to hoist it up 100 feet out of the pit, swinging the loaded bucket 90 degrees to the right and dumping it onto the spoil pile and then swinging it back and lowering it again to the bottom of the pit. The whole cycle took less than a minute. He repeated the cycle all day long until 100 feet of dirt had been removed from the top of the coal seam. He then walked the machine 300 or so feet to the left or the right and started stripping the dirt off the top of the coal seam once more.
It took a special kind of man to be a dragline operator and a very special kind of man to operate the Big Muskie. The operator only left his seat once during his eight-hour shift and that was for the half hour needed to eat his sack lunch. His oiler took over for him at that time by sliding into his seat from the left side as the operator slid out from the right side. This synchronized movement was so smooth that not one second was lost in the digging cycle and it was impossible to detect that exchange from any place except the operator’s cab. The Big Muskie operated three shifts daily, 364 days per year. The operators also used the "synchronized switch" at the beginning and the end of every shift change. The few seconds they saved by using that maneuver added up to thousands of dollars for the company each year.
While ordinary draglines use dozer-like crawlers to move around on, the Big Muskie was too big and too heavy to be supported and moved by these dozer-like crawlers. A new system had to be invented to move that huge dragline. The manufacturer of the Big Muskie, Bucyrus Erie, hired the Vickers Hydraulic Co. to design a walking system for the world’s largest dragline, a project that never before had attempted to move something that large and that heavy. Vickers used four giant hydraulic cylinders to lift the dragline off of the ground. Then, they used two giant hydraulic cylinders to push the machine horizontally for 12 feet along the skids at the top of her two 131-foot-long walking shoes. The Big Muskie could then take 12-foot-long steps and plod along at 0.1 mph. What a sight this was to see! Just imagine seeing a six-story building rambling along at 0.1 mph in the coal mining country of Ohio. That was what the hundreds of tourists saw who always came out to marvel at the "eighth wonder of the world!" Draglines always walk backward with the boom bouncing along behind it, with the bucket bobbing up and down like a fish hook on a fishing pole.
Breakdowns, power failures, digging time lost due to having to stop and wait while the coal was being hauled out of the pit, or the digging time wasted while walking the dragline over to a new bed of coal were all very costly events. Those nonproductive times caused much stress, much blame and much finger pointing. When the machine went down, the operator became the captain. He was in charge of his ship. He would call the supervisor of each department on his radio and ask for welders, electricians, mechanics, laborers and supplies that he needed to get his machine back to work as soon as possible. I remember one legendary downtime that lasted 10 months. The 90-foot diameter tub had to be pulled out from under the jacked up dragline by six D-9 bulldozers, then welded up and reinforced. The United Mine Workers worked 10-hour shifts, seven days a week during those long 10 months. There were no days off. All hours over 40 were paid time-and-half. Sunday hours were double time, holiday hours were triple time. The miners rejoiced over this welcome "windfall" and referred to the Big Muskie’s long downtime as the "mortgage lifter." A lot of homes were paid off in Noble, Morgan, Guernsey and Muskingum counties during that time.
The Big Muskie was erected in Muskingum County and that was how it got her name. Her 50th birthday is coming up this year and I am sure a lot of old timers still have fond memories of her. Readers can watch the Big Muskie videos on YouTube.