Once the World’s Largest Earth Moving Machine, “Big Muskie” could move 39 million pounds of earth and rock every hour. The enormous dragline machine, now disassembled with only the bucket surviving, is remembered through a display overlooking the beautiful valley it once mined. Although many have taken the winding 16-mile detour off I-77 to snap a picture or stand inside the giant bucket, few can imagine the full scale and power of the behemoth machine in its prime.

Northeast of McConnelsville, OH, Big Muskie’s Bucket is the highlight of the Miner’s Memorial Park which sits inside the Jesse Owens State Park and Wildlife Area, part of American Electric Power’s 52,000-acre reclamation project known as ReCreation Land.  While the bucket itself is an impressive sight, it is only a small part of the story.

Big Muskie was a coal mining model 4250-W Bucyrus-Eric walking dragline excavator owned by the Central Ohio Coal Company, formerly a division of American Electric Power (AEP). The machine weighed more than 13,000 tons and stood nearly 22 stories tall, operating from 1969 to 1991. The only one of its kind ever built, it was the largest single-bucket digging machine ever created and one of the world’s largest earth-moving machines. Its job was to remove overburden of dirt, shale, clay, and sandstone from the top coal seams lying near the surface of the Muskingum Mine in Southeastern Ohio – from where it drew its nickname of “Big Muskie.”

While in operation, Big Muskie used the equivalent of the power for 27,500 homes, costing tens of thousands of dollars per hour in electricity alone. Once it had stripped overburden in one area, it would walk on its hydraulic feet taking one giant step at a time, reaching a top speed of 1/10 mile per hour. The massive machine could stand up, scoot back, and sit down.

Photo from Mining Mayhem

Throughout its 22 years of service, Big Muskie removed more than 600 million cubic yards of overburden from the region (twice the amount of earth moved to construct the Panama Canal) and uncovered more than 20 million tons of coal.  Due to increased EPA regulations, low demand for high sulfur coal, and increased electricity costs, the machine was determined to be too costly to maintain and was removed from service in 1991.

Some of my best memories with my father were when he would take us to the strip mines on Saturdays and let us crawl and climb all over the Muskie.

To many residents of Southeastern Ohio, Big Muskie was more than a mega-machine – it was part of daily life. “It was a central part of my childhood,” said Shannon Markin, whose father was a lead mechanic on Big Muskie for more than four years. “Some of my best memories with my father were when he would take us to the strip mines on Saturdays and let us crawl and climb all over the Muskie.”

Big Muskie’s Bucket in action, photo from Mining Mayhem

“One memory I’ll never forget was Christmas Eve. It was after dark, probably around 8:00 at night when my dad got a call asking if he could come out to repair a hydraulic line,” Shannon said. “He asked me and my brother if we wanted to go. When we got out to the site, the guys had Christmas lights hanging on the boom and bucket and had their children with them as well. They took turns letting us up in the cab that night to feel it walk a few feet as a surprise. Then they had a guy dressed as Santa Claus in the bucket when it was lowered with a bag of gifts for all of us kids.”

Shannon’s father worked with the Muskie for a total of seven years. “My father spent 50 hours a week, 51 weeks a year with the beast. He knew ever bolt and line on it.” Big Muskie was operated by four crews, with only a handful of men on each crew. “The average shift had two operators, one engineer, a mechanic, and four stand-bys,” said Shannon.

Shannon’s father was promoted to another position nine months before it was decommissioned. “He missed it up until he passed away in 2015. He would always talk about his days in the coal fields and the Big Muskie,” she said. “I think what he missed the most were the guys he worked with.”

The guys were family and treated all of us like family.

When Shannon described the crew, she talked of family, referring to the men her father worked with as uncles: “The guys were family and treated all of us like family.” While there were less than fifty men working on the Muskie at a time, many residents in the region had an affinity for the great machine and were sad to see it reduced to scrap.

After sitting dormant for eight years and despite a collaborative effort to relocate Big Muskie and turn it into a museum, the machine was broken down in 1999 and sold for scrap to the Mayer-Pollock Steel Corporation. Those who witnessed the destruction say you could hear the machine cry out in pain.

“The day it was dismantled, we were on hand to watch the boom get blown off. It was one of the very few times I saw a tear in my father’s eye,” said Shannon.

Today, Big Muskie’s legacy as one of the seven engineering wonders of the world lives on at the Miner’s Memorial Park, where residents and tourists alike can marvel at the size of her bucket and learn more about the largest machine to ever walk on the face of the earth. Informative displays share the history of mining in the region and photos of the machine in her prime. One photo shows the entire Morgan High School band in formation inside the bucket during the 1969 dedication ceremony. (Morgan County CVB Director Wendy Waite pointed to herself in the front row, “That’s me!”)  Last month, the Morgan High School band recreated the famous scene from the original ceremony, fifty years later – a sign that Big Muskie is still very much a part of the community.

Although her bucket is all that remains, Big Muskie still looms large in the memories and stories shared by those who remember her hulking size and dazzling lights. Shannon is thankful to have Big Muskie as part of her family’s history. “The people that were blessed with the ability to see it operating, I say we are lucky. I feel lucky.”