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
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.
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
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
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
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?