Big Joe’s leaving town

Crowds gathered to watch ‘him’ work


By Debbie Wachter Bonnie

New Castle News

Potos by Daniel Kostelan.


Big Joe has landed a new job in Colorado after spending six years in Lawrence County.


He’ll take his leave sometime in the next year. He has been a popular stop for tour buses driving along U.S. 19 in Washington Township, en route to the heart of the area’s Amish land.

His picture is certain to be found in the photograph albums of many people who paid him a visit. A day doesn’t pass without at least a dozen motorists and some Amish buggies stopping to gape at his mammoth size and get a closer look at him.

William Perry, the oiler of Big Joe, turns his back to the biting,winter wind as he greases some of the machinery that makes the dragline run.

He is so big that there are various high points in the county where one can see him from miles away.

Last summer, when Big Joe was working close to the edge of the highway, he attracted such a crowd of spectators that traffic became congested and the onlookers were asked to move because he could probably hurt someone who got too close.

Big Joe wears big shoes. When he walks, he takes six foot strides, which takes about a minute and ten seconds each to complete. If someone would get in his way, it’s doubtful he would be able to dodge them in time. He weighs 3,500 tons.

The mamoth dragline's shovel dumps a load of dirt onto a pile, sending clouds of dust into the air.

Big Joe, who is 425 feet long, 100 feet wide and 65 feet tall, is the largest operating dragline in Pennsylvania, according to Dave Carr, project foreman on the site.

The machine was purchased for $22 million six years ago by Adobe Mining Co. for a coal stripping operation at the Leesburg Mine, a 1000 acre tract owned by several people.

Now, the dragline is being decommissioned because it’s job is finished.

Big Joe has been sold to a coal company in Colorado. Adobe will advertise for bids to have it taken apart. After it is dismantled, it will be shipped out west where it will be re-assembled for another mining job. The process will take about a year and a half.

The dragline was about 6 years old and in storage in Terre Hatue, Ind., when Adobe bought it. The company had Big Joe’s shoes lengthened to 75 feet and it’s body widened by about 8 feet. It was christened after Adobe’s chief executive officer, Joe Pevehouse.

Tom Bovard, seated,controls the shovel of Big Joe as it scoops up dirt to uncover a vein of coal. To his left is William Perry, the dragline oiler.

Carr, who has been with Adobe for 13 years and on the same site as Big Joe for 2 ½ years, explained that a dragline of it’s size needs acreage without a lot of houses in the area in order to operate.

There is not enough coal remaining at the Washington Township site for the company to use that large a machine, Carr explained, nor does Adobe have enough space to use a machine that size on any of its other mining sites.

The company has used Big Joe to mine close to 1 ½ million tons of coal, or an average of 1,500 to 2,000 tons per day, at the Leesburg Mine. Most of what was mined there was sold to power plants in Canada and some went to the Pennsylvania Power Co.

Some of the coal being mined by Adobe at the Leesburg Mine.

The dragline operates at 7,200 volts at 480 amperes of electricity, which is fed to it from a 9,000-foot-long cable, 5 inches in diameter. The cable connects to a substation on U.S. 19. The electricity is supplied by Penn Power.

Big Joe’s cabin is three stories high and includes a ground floor, a revolving frame and a machinery deck. A computer room contains all the electronics used to regulate controls and transport information.

"You wont find a cleaner drag line anywhere in the United States," Carr pointed out. "The guys on board here are good housekeepers."

The operator sits in what looks like a driver’s seat in the cab at the front of the main deck. The cab has a large windows where one can look down into a 70-foot-deep pit to see from where Big Joe gulped his last shovel of dirt.

The operator rests his hand on the control as he watches the shovel scoop dirt.

The dragline has been in diligent operation every day, including holidays, and almost 24 hours a day.

Big Joe’s job has been to dig up the vast amount of earth that covered a three-foot-deep coal seam. The coal is extracted by smaller machinery.

"That’s actually quite thin, but the quality of coal is excellent." Carr explained, meaning it is low in sulphur and readily marketable without much treatment.

The giant dragline will be replaced at the site with a smaller one, and mining will continue there "for two or three more years, we hope," Carr said. He estimated 400,000 tons are still left in the ground.

Another seam of about 100 feet lies beneath the seam mined by Big Joe, but it is not economical for the company to remove that coal, Carr said.

"Coal mining in general everywhere is facing some strife," he said. "You can’t get the money you need for the coal and the DER (state Department of Environmental Resources) is imposing strict regulations."

Adobe Mining Co., a national firm based in Midland, Texas, is holding it’s own financially. Because of hard times in the mining industry, in 1990 the firm implemented a company-wide 10 percent pay cut and laid off 18 percent of its work force, Carr said. "Luckily, that’s the only cut we’ve had to take."

Adobe is coal stripping in four other western Pennsylvania counties and is operating an active deep mine in Kittanning. The company has a local office in Barkeyville and employs about 70 people in the Lawrence and Butler county areas.

A full length view shows Big Joe in operation. The machinery at left looks almost microscopic next to the giant dragline.