In this article we’ll be looking at two monster draglines, Bigfoot and Brutus, at the Paintearth Coal Mine in central Alberta. The original plan to was to view them up close – boys, even 49 year old boys, love their big machines and I was eager to document these ones – but when the personal tour we worked for fell through (manpower shortages) we had to make other arrangements. We still wanted to see them if we could, we came here for that, but had to do so from afar, finding suitable roads and vantage points that allowed us a view but kept us off mine property. As it turned out, this arrangement worked well.
Seeing them close and in person would have been better though.
Beside the draglines we also saw a number of haul trucks used to transport the coal to a nearby power plant.
The Paintearth Mine is located south of Forestburg (or north of Halkirk if you please) and has been in operation for well over half a century. Some sources say, variously, that mining started in 1948, 1952 or 1954. It does not matter greatly for this article, since we’ll not be studying the mine so much as the two draglines.
Even before this coal mine, there were others in the area, most of them small underground affairs. This operation was one of the first large scale strip or open pit mines in the province and along with the Diplomat Mine across the Battle River, the first of its type in the area. At one time it was known as the Vesta Mine.
This is a captive operation meaning that all the coal is sent directly to a nearby power plant. At any one time two separate faces are being mined, hence the two draglines. In the past, coal was shipped out by rail too
The first leviathan seen is named Brutus, a Marion model 8200. As draglines go, it’s not in any way close to the largest ever made – this is considered a mid-size model! It was brought online in the early 1980s – given their size and complexity, it must take a couple years to fully construct one of these machines – and is one of perhaps thirty of this model made from the 1970s through to the 1990s. Its working weight is somewhere around 4500 tonnes! Each time it takes it bite it moves some 60 cubic metres of material. A lot!
This author, close to twenty years ago, took a photo of this same machine. See the post: “Diplomat Mine shovels and draglines – 1997“. Brutus today is several kilometres from where it was back then.
This machine does not mine the coal directly, Instead it strips off overburden, so smaller loaders (relatively speaking) can finish the work. Called walking draglines, they have movable pads, or feet. As is understandable given their huge size, they “walk” very slowly.
The Marion Company, officially the Marion Power Shovel Company, was one of only a handful of firms that made supersize walking draglines. Another was Bucyrus-Erie and the other dragline seen at the mine, a model 1570W built in the late 1970s, is from that company. It is one of about fifty of this model built in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s. Bucyrus, by the way, bought out Marion on the 1990s.
Bigfoot, as the second dragline is called, is slightly smaller then Brutus, weighing in at somewhere around 3600 tonnes. The bucket holds about 45 cubic metres. On this visit the machine was undergoing some maintenance and was not working. We were able to view it from across a pit it had dug recently. When built the machine worked for the Vesta Mine mentioned earlier. Note the pickup trucks nearby in the bottom picture. They look like toys.
Bucyrus-Erie or simply Bucyrus to many, has since sold out the the huge Caterpillar Company. Then as today, in addition to herculean draglines they also make large stripping and loading shovels, as did Marion at one time.
Both draglines run off electricity. A long “extension” cord is run from the nearby power plant, the Battle River Generating Station.
These machines are thirty plus years old but with proper maintenance they can made to last a long, long time. I understand the mine has a decade or two left in it, and no doubt the two draglines seen in this report will probably still be a work when the operation eventually closes down.
Also seen buzzing about, where a seines of haul trucks. These “Euclids” take a load from the mine face for dumping at the power plant. We watched them from public crossing and boy do they move!
We have so far not been able to determine the lineage of these machines, but will continue to work on this and will update as needed. We know they are R series models (R85s from the 1980s, I believe), and are former end dumps converted to haul trailers. This modification significantly increased their capacity.
At various times, some other draglines worked at this facility. Smaller models from Bucyrus, that have long since been retired.
Working the coal face area are a number of front end loaders, shovels and end dumps. Once the coal is mined out, they put all the overburden back and the land reverts to farming.
We hope to return to check out all these beasties in person, and to document other aspects of this fascinating operation. We’re working on that as we speak. A shout out to Tim Swaren, a former employee, who accompanied us on this adventure. Thanks for trying to get us in the mine and then directing us to roads that allowed us a public view of the operation, when the original plans fell apart.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: July, 2014.
Location: Near Forestburg AB.