Rest in Pieces

Silver Spade in on its way to a museum.

In the November, 2004 edition of OEM Off-Highway's "Off-Highway Heroes," I wrote about Harrison Coal and Reclamation Historical Park Inc.'s plans to save the Silver Spade, at the time the largest electric stripping shovel still doing what it was designed to do: removing the overburden covering eastern Ohio's coal seams.

The shovel, built by Bucyrus-Erie in the mid-'60s, was starting to show its age. The group was founded in 1992 to preserve antique mining machinery, with the main goal of being ready to provide the Spade a comfortable place to rest when it was taken off the payroll for good.

That time came when the 7,000-ton machine broke in April, 2006. It was no longer profitable to maintain the aging shovel and it was retired. The Harrison group swung into action, organizing pledge drives and other fund raisers that gained nationwide attention. The goal was the owner's $2.5 million price tag before the deadline, but in the end a third of the money was raised. The Spade's resting place was in a pit surrounded by high walls that would have required specialized reclamation work to meet state and federal regulations. This complicated a potential rescue. The heavy shovel was also retired at a time of record steel prices: part of the total price included the shovel's $700,000 scrap value.

According to the group's website (, "A salvage company began scrapping the Silver Spade in mid January. On February 9, the Spade's boom was dropped using explosives, ending any possible efforts to save the machine. By the first of March, large portions of the machine had been cut away, and a piece of history was vanishing from the eastern Ohio countryside." Now, it's gone.

The plan was to save the Silver Spade to use it as a museum centerpiece that would celebrate the history of coal mining, much like another large shovel, Big Brutus, has done in Kansas for over 20 years. A surface mining center is still in the works, where pieces of the Spade may be on display.

Now, a moment of silence...