Where Is Big Red now?

Little girls were fascinated with the big coal machines too.  Especially those of us who grew up in coal mine country.   I read the enduring story of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel more than once at the school library and bookmobile.  Random facts on this timeless classic:   it was written in 1939,  has become a board game, a children’s movie and even a computer game. 

This photo was taken sometime around 1942 or 1943.  My friend, Kaye Walker, shared it with me.  It is of her mother, Phyllis Thompson, as a little girl standing in front of the coal shovel bucket.  Phyllis’s father worked at the mines, but we do not know which one this was.  Phyllis’s parents were Orvan and Mary Davis Thompson.  It’s hard not to appreciate this photo with it’s contrast of the dirty coal mine shovel and the sweetly smiling little girl in front of it.

Phyllis Thompson, 1942 or 1943

Phyllis Thompson, 1942 or 1943

My pops worked at Whirlpool until around 1966 when he broke his back at work.  He could no longer get hired at any of the local plants because of his back injury.  He didn’t sue.  He just worked at what he could on his own.  He started tearing down all of the old coal mine tipples around for the scrap metal and equipment he could sell.  He started pulling up railroad rail from the unused tracks that ran from the old mines to sell for scrap.   We grew up playing around the old mines.  We knew how to be careful of the dangers too.  Old shafts and rattlesnakes are just a few that come to mind.   

One of the few remaining old tipples in Coe, Old Ben.

One of the few remaining old tipples in Coe, Old Ben.

My dad always liked to pile us all up in the car and go for a drive.  One of our driving trips would be to the State Forest and then out of the State Forest from the fire tower to Highway 64.  This was all old strip mine.  Along it was an old highwall of sandstone that had numerous names and initials carved into it.   My dad’s older brother, Billy Joe Lynn, was killed in a car accident in 1969 at the age of twenty nine.  Billy Joe had carved his name in the highwall and dad always stopped there to look at it.  If I remember correctly, it was pretty large letters and must have taken quite some time to do.  Right up the road from this highwall, back in the spoil banks sat an old derelict steam shovel.  It had wooden sides and had been replaced years prior with something much more modern and left to rot.  My dad cut it up for scrap around 1970.  We climbed all over that thing.  We searched the spoil banks for fossils.  This photo of an old steam shovel my Pappa Evan’s had is similar to what that shovel looked like.  These photos were probably taken at Ingle #4 or #8.  Pappa worked at both.  The next photo Pappa had is of a more modern shovel from when the Electric Shovel Company took over.

Wooden Steam Shovel at Ingle #4 or #8

Wooden Steam Shovel at Ingle #4 or #8

Electric Shovel Company digger

Electric Shovel Company digger

I was always so thrilled when we were kids and we would drive out on Cato Road to watch Big Red work.  My obsession with Big Red continued for decades.  She was huge!  Her boom length was 200 feet.    She was put to work in 1961-62. 

Big Red Working in the Early 60s

Big Red working in the early 60s

I can remember in high school during the mid 70s when Big Red crossed over Highway 61 in Campbelltown to work on the other side of the highway.  They worked for months building a road for her to walk on.  My friends and I even skipped school that day to watch it.  And we weren’t the only ones!

Big Red in the background at Old Ben:Indiana Historical Society

Big Red in the background at Old Ben: Indiana Historical Society

I remember a few years ago taking the Senior Citizens out to watch the dragline go back across Highway 61 on the Petersburg side of the beltline.  I don’t think they shared my enthusiasm but they were always up for an outing.

What ever happened to Big Red?  Is she still at work out there in the middle of no where?  Did she get sold?  Did she finally use up her usefulness and is now recycled steel some where?  Where is Big Red now?

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13 comments on “Where Is Big Red now?

  1. indiana storyteller says:

    It’s official. Big Red was scrapped. She is all around us now.

  2. damon says:

    Sorry to say, Big Red died at the hands of the junk man’s torch. She was scrapped about 1/2 mile from where I live.

  3. rose says:

    I imagine that took a little time to cut up Big Red. Kind of sad.

  4. tom says:

    pretty sure she went to florida. might ask dave adams. he is in phone book . i think she went to the phosphuras mines down by tampa

  5. Jeff Wolven says:

    I remember going to my Grand parents in Petersburg and always going out to see Big Red. We have some pictures from the early to mid 60’s with our car parked near the bucket. That thing was huge. People just don’t know about Indiana coal mining. Thanks for the posts.RIP Big Red. You served us well.
    Jeff Wolven. Fullerton California.

  6. Steve Chambers says:

    I have 8mm home movies as Big Red was being built in the early 60’s, my father had worked at the mine or knew someone who did. I too have had a crush on the giant machine. My father started working at Old Ben 2 around 1975, I was about 12 at the time but I got the chance to ride on her many times and will never forget those experiences. In the 1990’s when my daughter was about 5 to 6 year old I found the machine idle with some vandalism and such but mostly in tact. She was in awe as we walked around the mighty giant, just as I was every time I was near her. About 1 year later on another visit found her being scraped, a sad day but the memories will never be lost. Thanks for the post…

  7. HW Davis says:

    I did lot of work on Big Red. It was parked in Petersburg field when that field stopped coal production. Kindle Mining tried to re-start that field again but someone had stripped all copper while it set unprotected for years. That doomed Big Red because cost of re-wiring such a machine was prohibitive.

  8. Anonymous says:

    my Father Moe Nixon help build a few of those Big Machines when he worked for RL Shubbert Construction. Went on to retire from Old Ben #1after 30 years.

  9. Kathy Hart Williams says:

    My father started at eons coal mine around 1915, he was 17 he worked for old Ben coal co until 1965 when he retired. I too was very young and remember the excitement of big red, and the water houses the metal water coolers with the triangular paper cups. Daddy ( Earl Hart) fell from big red in1963 which led to his retirement.He received 50yr pin, watch, etc. For yrs of service. UMWA local 5179

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