By Kyle Whitmire
BROOKWOOD, Ala. (AP) – The scale of the thing is such that, when you see it in person, your mind at first refuses to believe what your eyes insist is true. It looks less like a machine than a monster movie robot, towering out of place above the Tuscaloosa County woods as it trudges eastward toward Jefferson County.
Its path is nearly as wide as a football field, and it packs the ground behind it into a dense, red clay crust.
It carries behind it a single claw – a 78-cubic-yard bucket big enough to park a truck in, which it uses to tear down mountains and pull tons of coal at a time from the ground. Its arm, a 300-plus foot boom, is so tall that, on a wet December morning, the top disappears into the low-hanging clouds.
The beast is a dragline crane, a breed of machine among the largest mechanical marvels in the world.
This one even has a name.
They call it Mr. Tom.
And it’s moving.
Mr. Tom had been asleep in the woods near Brookwood, Ala., where it last tore at the earth for the Drummond Co. in 1995. When the steel industry receded from Birmingham, and the value of metallurgical coal plummeted decades ago, many of the mining apparatuses such as Mr. Tom went into hibernation or were seemingly abandoned. In the hills of Tuscaloosa, Jefferson and Walker counties, draglines stood as rusty ruins – artifacts from an industry many thought had gone away for good.
For the last 17 years, Mr. Tom has sat still and quiet, its paint flaked away and its exposed metal rusted.
John Wathen has watched the machine slowly deteriorate Wathen monitors the watershed for the Friends of Hurricane Creek, and he is a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, a national network of environmentalists. He has no love for Mr. Tom and is glad to see it go.
“We thought it would be dismantled and shipped off to Colombia on barges, but there was some kind of unrest down there and it didn’t go through,” Wathen said. “For years you could see it – that boom sticking up like a big third finger – anywhere you were in that part of the county.”1 2 3 4 5 next >>