2012 Colorado Ride - Day Three (May 22nd)

Springfield, MO to Russell, KS

Day three took me from Springfield, Missouri to Russell, Kansas, with sightseeing stops in West Mineral, Kansas and Hutchinson, Kansas.  The day’s ride was not as ambitious as the previous day, from a mileage perspective, but was quite long because of the stops.

I left Springfield before 7:00 a.m., to beat the morning commuter traffic.  The temperatures were a brisk 46 degrees.  After clearing Springfield, I rode through some more beautiful farm land.  I soon discovered that the roads I was following was part of the famous Route 66 route from Chicago to California.

After traveling approximately an hour and half from Springfield, I turned onto some back country roads.  The roads alternated between fields and wooded areas where I found myself riding through a tunnel of green.

 My ride soon led me to the site of Big Brutus – the world’s largest electric shovel.  Even before I arrived at the site, I was able to see the boom towering over the trees.

I soon arrived at the visitor’s center, which was still closed, but opened shortly after my arrival.  After my admission fee, I chatting with a staff member for a few minutes, browsed the museum’s indoor exhibits, and watched a video of original assembly footage of Big Brutus.  Then it was time to head outside and see the real thing.

It was a short walk from the visitor’s center to the site where Big Brutus now resides.  For lack of a better word, Bug Brutus is --- immense.  From the crawler tracks to the top of the boom, the shovel is 15 stories tall.  When the shovel was in operation, it weighed about 11,000,000 pounds and was able to move 90 cubic yards (enough to fill three railroad cars!).

The interior of the shovel is open for tours, but the boom is no longer open to the public – the boom was closed in 2004 due to insurance company concerns with liability.  The interior is huge.

The shovel operated for 11 years, around the clock, until ceasing operation in 1974.
There were many other interesting antique machines on display around the museum’s grounds.

After spending almost two hours there, I decided it was time to move on to Hutchinson to see the Kansas Salt Museum.  The ride from West Mineral to Hutchinson was approximately 200 miles (about three hours).  The ride first took me west on US Highway 400 to Wichita, then west and northwest to Hutchinson.  By this time, the temperatures were climbing into the mid 70s and the famous  Kansas winds were beginning to blow.  Through the remainder of the day, the winds were blowing a steady 25 to 30 mph, making for a fatiguing ride.

The Kansas Salt Museum is part of a still operational salt mine and is the only salt mine in the western hemisphere that is open for public tours.

After purchasing my ticket, I had to wait about one half hour for the next tour to start.  After watching a short safety video, we were issued a hard hat and an emergency survival breather kit, in case of a accident.  If needed, the breather kit would convert carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide.  Mining regulations required that we have the breather kits with us and that we wear hard hats will in the mine.  The it was time to load the elevator for the ride down 650 feet into the mine.

The ride down took and one and half minutes, and during the ride, you could feel the pressure change occur in your ears.  Once in the mine, we were told that the salt vein in the area begins at a depth of 400 feet and extends to approximately 70 feet below us (remember, we were at 650 feet).  Above the salt was a layer referred to as mud – basically shale rock.

After a short orientation talk, we were released for a self guided tour through a gallery area.  The gallery had ceilings nine feet high, and extended hundreds of feet in front of us.  We could see more of the museum area about 300 feet down the gallery.

Touring the galleries, you could see mock-ups of how salt mining operations are conducted, the equipment used, and some of the old vehicles that have been used in the mines over the decades.

One area included displays of a number of Hollywood film props.  Many Hollywood films and props are stored in this mine because of the environmental conditions – a constant 68 degrees and 40 percent humidity.

A company has a 100 year lease for space in the mine for archival storage facilities.  They 218 galleries, similar in size to the one we were touring, for storage of records, films, and other things.  Those areas are not open to the public.

I also took both a tram ride and a train ride back into other areas of the mine that show how it was left by miners over 60 years ago.

After more than two hours in the mine, I decided it was time to head back to the surface.  I still had another two hours of travel to reach my final destination for the day – Russell, Kansas.  When I returned outside the museum, the winds were still blowing as strong as earlier in the day, and the winds made for a brutal and very tiring ride.  I finally rolled into Russell a little after 7:00 p.m.  It had been a long day, but well worth it seeing both Big Brutus and the Salt Museum.

More pictures from the day’s ride are available in my Picasa webalbum.