It was my assumption that pretty much any walking dragline once operating in the United States had been shuttered or scraped in the face of falling coal prices and changes in open pit mining. Gone for good were the days of giants like the Silver Spade and Big Muskie tearing the earth apart in wide swatches. Yesterday while scrolling through a facebook feed full of political rants and weather complaints I came across an interesting story about a Bucyrus Erie 1570W walking dragline by the name of Mr. Tom. In a brief description it stated that Mr. Tom had been reconditioned by its owners after 21 years of rusting away in the Alabama woods and would soon return to digging coal.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of these massive machines returning back to work but I felt there was more to the story. With a 78 yard bucket, a 20 story boom and final weight of nearly 8 million pounds Mr. Tom is a big boy but falls somewhere in the middle of the pack (size wise) of B-E machines built in the 1970’s back when coal was king. In 2013 the metallurgical coal (used for steel production) market saw a price explosion due to a variety of factors. Hoping to cash in on the hot market Drummond Coal completely restored the 1570W to working condition and moved it 17 miles to a new mine. The undertaking was massive and well documented by this excellent EquipmentWorld.com article. Many at the time wondered if such a move was necessary and worried at the environmental harm posed by such a power machine. A very well done article highliting the history of this machine (along with more photos and videos) can be found at AL.com by clicking here.
Unfortunately for Drummond and Mr. Tom the metallurgical coal market corrected itself and prices returned to a much lower level effectively shuttering the dragline once again. This time however the beast is in the right location and physical shape should the market rebound. With incoming President Elect Trump singing a favorable tune to domestic coal and steel industries that time might be sooner than later.
Below, a video of Mr. Tom making one of the many crossings of local roads to its new home. An army of heavy equipment would start each day building earthen ramps across each road and then remove them before sunset with many observers struggle to find evidence that such a massive machine had ever being present.