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The Tallest Building in Several Counties Isn't a Building at All


Sunflowers and a sea of wheat. That's what you'd expect to see in the flat Great Plains state of Kansas. Maybe even a tornado, like the one in the classic children's movie, The Wizard of Oz.

You certainly wouldn't expect to see Big Brutus.

Rearing like a colossal metal insect 16 stories above the east Kansas cornfields, there he is: Brutus – five million kilos of strip-mining shovel. Brutus, which once tore away 2.5 square kilometers of prairie each year, depositing the rock and dirt in trucks 50 meters away. So big and powerful was Brutus that when someone revved its engine, lights dimmed in the town of West Mineral, three kilometers away.

East Kansas, you see, is full of bituminous coal, just beneath the sod. And in the 1960s, a company there placed a $7 million order for the world's second-largest electric shovel. The largest rose 20 stories in Kentucky, but that's traditional coal country. When a superintendent saw what was looming on the Kansas horizon, he called it Brutus. It wasn't hard to figure where the Big part of the name came from.

For 11 years, 24 hours a day, every day, Brutus roared. But even this behemoth could not stand up to economics and government regulation. Demand for high-sulfur coal declined, Brutus developed a monumental oil leak, and controls on strip mining grew so tight that the company simply shut off the engine in 1974 and left Brutus to rust. Attempts to sell the mechanical dinosaur for scrap failed.

So volunteers went to work, welding broken parts, repainting Brutus his old bright-orange and black colors, and turning the monster into a tourist attraction. If you ever get to east Kansas, you won't need directions to find Big Brutus. Trust us: You can't miss him!

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