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HCRHP’s Battle to Salvage the Silver Spade in Ohio Lost

Wed March 14, 2007 - Midwest Edition
Linda J. Hutchinson



In Cadiz, Ohio, the fight to save the last and largest super excavating shovel left in the world is over. Scrapping of the Silver Spade began Jan. 29 by owner CONSOL Energy Inc., of Pittsburgh, Pa.

The Harrison Coal and Reclamation Historical Park Inc. and its supporters’ efforts were unable to raise CONSOL’s asking price of $2.5 million to purchase the super shovel and to do the reclamation surrounding it.

CONSOL’s asking price included $700,000 for the salvage value and an additional $1.6 million to do the specialized reclamation in the area surrounding the Spade where it rested after breaking down last April. The HCRHP had raised approximately one-third of the funds in the form of donations, pledges, and the promise of a loan using the Spade as collateral. They were not able to raise the remainder of the money.

“We could have raised the money, had we had enough people who cared to save this piece of our coal heritage. It didn’t happen and now The Silver Spade is joining The Mountaineer, The GEM of Egypt, the Big Muskee and all the other super machines of the past, as a memory of what man’s ingenuity could create,” said Claren Blackburn, president of HCRHP. “I would like to think that had the Spade made it up and out of the pit, there would be a different ending to this story.”

One of only three of the largest stripping “super” shovels ever put into production, the Silver Spade began work for Harrison Coal in November 1965 and was retired when it experienced major mechanical failure in April 2006.

High walls stand around the pit where the Spade now sits in a coalfield just south of Cadiz, near New Athens, Ohio, presenting the problem of removing them, and doing specialized reclaiming work around it to meet state and federal standards.

Cadiz, former home to famous sons General George A. Custer and later, Clark Gable, has a proud heritage. In the early 1800’s, the town was a transportation hub, then becoming a banking and marketing center for agricultural industry. Later, it was the center of a rich coal mining industry that kept the community prosperous into the 1970’s.

Declining markets for high-sulfur coal in the 1980’s have renewed interest in developing Cadiz into a cultural center where mining history won’t be forgotten.

“The Spade is as wide as an 8 lane highway and taller than a twelve story building,” Blackburn said. “It weighs 7000 tons, has a 200 ft. boom and a 105 cubic yard bucket. The entire shovel operates with 2 hand levers and 2 foot pedals. It digs 315,000 pounds of dirt in a single bite, and can swing 180 degrees and deposit the load 390 feet away.”

The Silver Spade was the first BE1060, a Bucyrus-Erie 1950-B stripping shovel, and one of only two machines to ever have the Marion Shovel Co. manufactured “Knee Action Crowd” and a Marion design boom. Prior to the Spade, all Bucyrus machines used a straight dipper, which ran through a saddle mounted midway up the boom.

“The specs laid out by the coal company insisted that the machine be equipped with a knee action dipper. Since this was a patented Marion feature, the two companies worked out a trade. In return for the use of Bucyrus’s “cable crowd” (as opposed to their own rack and pinion crowd), Marion allowed Bucyrus to use the knee action dipper which allowed more cutting force to be applied to the bucket without putting a lot of stress on the boom,” according to an HCRHP press release.

By cooperating, Hanna (Harrison Coal) got the machine they wanted, Bucyrus completed the sale, and “Marion gained the use of the cable crowd which was used for years afterward on many different Marion shovels.”

The result of these competitor’s cooperation resulted in The Silver Spade, which until last year, remained in operation.

Hanna/Consolidation Coal Co. introduced only three “Super Shovels.” The first was the “Mountaineer”, followed by “The Silver Spade” and the “GEM of Egypt.” The Mountaineer and the GEM have been scrapped. The Silver Spade was the last of this class and size left in the world.

“Over 2.2 billion tons of coal have been surface mined in Ohio. We’d like to preserve this last of the machines that helped make this possible. Our mining heritage would have a home in which to tell its story,” Blackburn said.

Efforts by the HCRHP began in 1992 to save the Silver Spade and to develop a historical park and museum where the massive equipment used to strip coal from the hills and fields in and around Cadiz could be renovated, restored and preserved.

The goal of HCRHP was to obtain The Silver Spade and other mining equipment and to build a park where they could hold expositions to ensure the history and importance of these massive machines.

Bryan Coulson, Board of Directors of HCRHP, and Marilyn Monzula, who manages the Visitor’s Center and HCRHP’s business office, have been dedicated volunteers for the preservation of the Spade since the inception of HCRHP in 1992.

Coulson explained that the purpose and goals of the volunteer group were two-fold: to convince CONSOL to help HCRHP and the county of Harrison to acquire the gigantic machine as a tourist attraction; and to establish a park where HCRHP could collect and display reclamation and mining equipment used in the surface mining areas of Ohio. Both goals were designed to preserve the area’s rich mining history.

If acquisition of the Spade had been completed, the plan was to build “one of the most unique parks and one of the largest Tourist Destinations and Heritage Centers in Eastern Ohio.” They had hoped to acquire the land where the Spade now sits. “Moving the Spade would be cost-prohibitive,” Monzula said.

Other mining equipment donated to and being restored by HCRHP sits on private land just outside of Cadiz. The HCRHP will continue its work on preservation. CONSOL Energy already has donated components of the Silver Spade, such as a bucket, hand and foot controls from the cab, and pieces of the electric cable.

“We thank them for working with us on this,” Blackburn said. “We have asked CONSOL to see that we have some land on which to build our Surface Mining Center.”

The park currently has 30 pieces of machinery, some of it in operating condition. Future plans include reassembling a Marion 7200 Dragline that was brought to the park last year, and building a museum/visitor center, miner’s memorial, to have an area for demonstrating reclamation and land management techniques first introduced here in the Ohio Valley, a machinery park and demonstration area, and enough parking area available to host steam shows and other events.

Many trade and professional associations connected to mining, engineering, and heavy equipment construction, had committed to support this project. The Spade was considered a mechanical and engineering marvel.

“Had this project been successful, the Spade would have belonged to Harrison County and we thank Harrison Co. Commissioner Chairman, Dennis Watson and commissioners Phil Madzia, and Bill Host for their hard work in trying to save the Silver Spade. Also a big thank you goes to CIC Director Chris Copeland, for without the county’s involvement, there was never any hope at all of acquiring the Spade,” said Blackburn.

The Silver Spade worked for 40 years, removing the overburden to uncover the coal, providing jobs and income to Harrison County and the Ohio Valley, according to Blackburn.

“Those interested in helping HCRHP to build the tourist park and to preserve and keep alive the area’s coal heritage are invited to join “the 501 C-3 non profit organization by sending in contributions, or by volunteering time and expertise to work on our equipment to get it in working order,” said Blackburn.

To support the HCRHP, donations are accepted at P.O. Box 403, Cadiz, Ohio 43907. To join the organization and to help build the Surface Mining Center, annual dues are $10 per individual, $15 for a family, and $50 for businesses or corporations. Lifetime memberships are $200 — single, $250 — family, and $500 for businesses or corporations, according to Blackburn.

For more information, call 740/937-2460 or 740/942-1102 or visit www.hcrhp.org.