In 1917, William Wilkinson started a deep mine a mile south of Fleming, Kansas. Mining was nothing new to William as he had started working in the mines in England since he was 10 years old. At the age of 20, William came to the United States after receiving a letter stating he would be able to find work. He and his wife, Mary, raised seven children: Raymond, Clifford, Morris, Cecil, Bernice, Bill, and Jack. The siblings and their spouses were active in the mining business during their lifetimes.
Due to economic conditions and the emergence of strip mining, the deep mine was closed in 1935. Coal had gotten so cheap at the time, the deep shaft mining couldn’t compete with strip mining, which had become much more profitable. The company purchased a Marion Model #37 Steam Shovel from the Joe Klaner Coal Company in Detroit and moved it to southeast Kansas. In 1938, brothers Jack and Bill, traveled to Louisiana to purchase a 222 Page Model Dragline. The dragline was so vast, it to be taken apart to load onto seven railroad cars to be shipped to back to Weir City. The Steam Shovel was in operation until 1953. A Walking 618 Page Dragline was purchased in 1953 in Ohio and shipped by rail to Weir City for strip mining. Mission Clay Company in Pittsburg would later use the dragline to mine for clay. John Page was the founder of draglines and started the Page Engineering Company in Illinois. The draglines, interesting enough, were not made for mines, but for low areas that flooded and needed canals, such as in Louisiana and Mississippi. It was the Marion Power Shovel Company who went to Mr. Page to see if his ideas could be used to make draglines for mining.
The Wilkinson Coal Company continued to mine coal in Cherokee County until 1979 when EPA regulations required blending Southeast Kansas coal, which had a higher sulfur content, with Wyoming coal for a cleaner blend. This made it no longer profitable to continue operation.
Thanks to the foresight of the Wilkinson family and McNally Company, in 1982, they restored and preserved the Marion Model #37 Steam Shovel and donated it to the Crawford County Historical Museum to create a permanent symbol of our Southeast Kansas coal mining heritage. The 222 Page Dragline was also restored and preserved and can be seen at Big Brutus. The Dragline Bucket is displayed at the Miners Memorial at Immigrant Park in Pittsburg.
Since 1982, locals and tourists have enjoyed stopping at the museum to take pictures in front of the steam shovel. Portraits of the steam shovel painted by various artists throughout the years are proudly displayed in the mining exhibit. However, 37 years of wear had taken its toll and the steam shovel was falling into a state of despair. Thanks to the generosity of the Wilkinson family, the Marion Model #37 Steam Shovel is currently restored, preserved, and standing proud once again on the grounds of the Crawford County Historical Museum. We want to acknowledge and thank, Broadway Lumber, Locke Supply, Sherwin Williams Paints, Shawn Brown, Jenna Spencer, Jim Jordan Construction – Todd Brageal and Walter Delp, for their time, talent and financial contribution to the project.
The restoration would have not been possible without the support of Wendell and Lynda Wilkinson. Their role in the preservation of the Wilkinson Coal Company Marion Steam Shovel will allow the steam shovel to continue to be a permanent symbol of our Southeast Kansas mining heritage for generations to know more about the time when coal was king.