A Big Brutus State-of-mind


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A Big Brutus State-of-mind
By Bobby Neal Winters

I had been avoiding it for fifteen years. Fear had kept me away, fear that life would never be the same afterwards, fear that I would be forever changed into someone my loved ones would no longer know.

I am speaking about the trip to Big Brutus, the second largest electric coal shovel in the world, of course.

It could be that some of you are like I was and haven't experienced it or don't know what kind of person, place, or thing Big Brutus is. Well, I not sure Big Brutus can be encapsulated by such narrow grammatical concepts as these. It's not a person, and to call it a "thing" seems almost sacrilegious (we pronounce that sack-religious, where I come from). And though it is located in a fixed place, it also transcends that place. It is not something that could ever really belong to any particular person or any particular locale, because, in reality, Big Brutus is a state of mind.

As I said, Big Brutus is the second largest electric coal shovel in the world, and it is located right in our backyard down in West Mineral, Kansas. I was lucky enough to visit it the other evening with my family and a group of Methodists from Topeka. Being there with people of faith was appropriate because it was truly a religious experience. As if to emphasize this, at one point, we all stood in the bucket and sang a spiritual. (The acoustics are great by the way.)

I suppose the reason I had avoided it for so long could have something to do with the movie National Lampoon's Vacation. As those of you who have seen it know, this was not a movie sponsored by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. One of the sights the Griswolds were planning to see on the way to visit their backward, inbred, incestuous Kansas cousins was the world's largest mud house. This was a clear attempt at slurring all the unique vistas we have in our state like the world's largest hand-dug well, the world's largest ball of twine, and so forth.

For some reason, the smart-aleck Hollywood elite who made this film felt the need to make fun of Kansas, and in my opinion, that reason can be stated in one word: Jealousy. We live in a place we are proud of, we support each other, and we make the best of things, and that is something those yea-hoos out on the Left Coast just can't appreciate. (It's at this point in the litany that we Okies start speaking fondly of an earthquake that would carry California into the sea, but I think I've made my point.)

To my shame, I let this anti-Kansas propaganda keep me away from Big Brutus for fifteen years, but now I've seen it, so let me share my impressions.

It's big.

You can have people tell you that it's big, you can visit the museum and see the comparative photographs, you can sit and watch the special video there in the visitor's center where they drive a bulldozer into the bucket, but you just don't know how big it is until you experience it for yourself.

In ancient Hebrew, they had what they called the plural of majesty to describe things so big or holy they could be described no other way. It's a pity we don't have that construction in English because we could use it for Big Brutus. Big Brutus is a behemoth, for sure.

As you can tell, I still have the Big Brutus state of mind. Those of you who have been to visit the USS Batfish, which is a WW II submarine they have down in Muskogee, might understand this state of mind. Muskogee, as wonderful as it is, is just a little more special for having the Batfish. What other city in America that is a hard day's drive from the ocean has a submarine in it? I can't think of any. Big Brutus is like that for all of Southeast Kansas.

This state of mind that we have is what makes every Oklahoman in the world say, "Did you know he was from Oklahoma?" whenever he hears the name Will Rogers, Woody Guthrie, Tony Hillerman, or James Garner.

Well, here in Southeast Kansas, we've got Big Brutus, and odds are you've never seen its like before, and for $5 a head, you can crawl around on it.