Mining history in a bucket

We drove into Caldwell, OH, just before sunset.  I was hunting down the Thorla-McKee oil well (the First Oil Well in North America), when I saw a sign that read, “Big Muskie’s Bucket.”  It was eleven miles away, in the opposite direction of the well.  I wondered how on earth a fish’s bucket (I mean, seriously, does Ohio even have muskilunge in its waters?  Okay, yes.  It does.  But I didn’t know that until I looked it up.) could possibly be enough of an attraction to warrant a sign… particularly when the First Oil Well had nothing to direct a person to it.

Well, being naturally curious and having the time as well as the technology, I looked up “Big Muskie” in the Roadside America app on my smartphone.

Turns out the bucket has nothing to do with fish – which kind of disappointed Jerry.  It’s the last remaining piece of the world’s largest dragline earth mover.  Now, I don’t have any personal or family connection with mining, and when I was in gradeschool I was taught that strip mining and open pit mining were the next thing to evil because of the “irreparable” damage it did to the landscape and local ecology.  But I looked at the entry and thought, why not?

Tip #1 – EXPLORE!  For the love of all that’s adventurous and therefore full of excitement and growth as well as uncertainty and sometimes frustration, every once in a while just pick out something interesting on a map and follow where the road takes you.

Because boy, howdy!  The road was twisty, turny and narrow.  There were places where it reminded me of a roller-coaster at the moment when you see only the tops of a series of dips in the track up ahead!

(I do apologize for the quality of the pictures; I was driving and Jerry isn’t comfortable with my camera, so he was using his – which is a nice little camera but works a lot better during full daylight.)  Still, these can give a bit of an idea of what we were seeing!  Though through not knowing the road, we missed some of the best shots; hairpin turns, abrupt ups and downs – it was a blast to drive.  Riding the road on the motorcycle would have been even better!

T’any rate, between the occasional signs and the maps link on Roadside America and my own navigational ability, I drove right past the turnoff and only then realized what it was the corner of my eye had seen.  So I halted the truck and backed up, right there on the State Road 78.

(And no, I do NOT, EVER, recommend ignoring the rules of the road in order to reach a destination.)

The park was closed for the season, but be damned if I was going to get myself darned near lost and not at least go take a look at the Great Big Bucket.  So I got out of the nice warm truck into subfreezing cold with camera and tripod and took some pictures.

And I learned how important mining had been to Ohio at one point, and how (rightfully) proud they of their mining heritage.  I learned about the ingenuity of designers and engineers, trying to meet the demand of a newly-industrial, coal-crazed nation by creating larger and larger mining equipment.  Looking up Big Muskie later prepping for the actual article, I sorrowed to learn of Big Muskie’s ignominious end of being sold for scrap, all but the bucket.  I learned that the nearby Wilds, a safari park, is built on reclaimed land that Big Muskie once mined.  I learned that Ohio roads are really fun to drive, even with a very large and cumbersome pickup.

I learned that my little 8-megapixel camera takes really nice slow exposures when using the tripod and release cable… okay, I already knew that one.

The point – and Tip #2 –  is simply, Keep your mind open as well as your eyes.  What you see as a possibly-uninteresting curiosity might unlock the door to an amazing adventure, a new hobby, a deeper and more thorough understanding of a period in history that we were taught to view with a jaundiced eye.

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