PSU students aid in preserving SEK mining history at Big Brutus

Special to the Morning Sun / news@morningsun.net
PSU students pose for a photo in the mammoth scoop of Big Brutus.

The stories of coal miners who worked for Big Brutus — now one of the top tourist attractions in Kansas — have been preserved and made available to the public by Pittsburg State University students, PSU announced this week.

Guests and visitors can now scan QR codes posted throughout the exhibit to listen and hear first-person narratives of crew members responsible for the behemoth coal shovel’s operations 50 to 60 years ago.  

“We wanted to provide our guests and visitors with a more interactive experience,” said Joe Manns, general manager of the historic site. “Miners from across the Southeast Kansas region and greater Midwest have so many rich stories and memories to share.” 

Manns reached out to the PSU Department of Communication for help with the “Museum Alive” initiative and received support from students enrolled in a senior capstone course called Strategic Communication.  

A team consisting of Sumner Mackey (project lead, research) and his members, which include Abigail Kranker (publicity), Sadie Mallory (writing/print production), Devonne Morrissey (client relations) made several site visits over several months — first for a client meeting to learn the aims and scope of the project, followed by secondary visits for a live video shoot, and finally a public feedback session. 

From left: Sumner Mackey, senior in communication and political science, and Devonne Morissey, Sadie Mallory, 
and Abigail Kranker, seniors in communication.

“This group of gentlemen opened my eyes to what mining is really about,” Morrissey said. “The bonds between these men were admirable and the hard work they truly put into P&M."

Similar sentiments were expressed by other group members. 

“It was a very heartwarming experience and I’m glad I was able to be part of it,” Kranker said. “I didn’t know much about Big Brutus before this project, but I have learned that mining was such a big part of their lives, or as some said, it was their lives.”

In total, students captured several hours of interview footage to use in creating 16 short informational videos featuring Big Brutus operators, electricians, foremen, and machinists. 

Additionally, they aided in logo design and branding, provided samples of press materials, tabletop displays, and other communication materials to support the initiative moving forward. 

The students said they learned a great deal from this applied experience.  

“I learned a lot about time management and working with a client to make sure we go above and beyond the needs of a client to make sure that we are doing everything we can to make the client happy,” Mackey said.  

Mallory said she learned “every aspect of what goes into this process.”

“I'm looking forward to using what I learned in this course in any future career I will have," she said. 

Early feedback has been positive: A small group of students toured the site to evaluate the QR codes for visibility, placement, video quality, and other characteristics, and nearly 90 percent said they would recommend visiting the Big Brutus attraction to others, and 100 percent agreed the video content added valuable information about the exhibit.  

“It’s a dream come true for us, and these miners,” Manns said. “Their voices are preserved for ours and future generations, for our guests, and their families.” 

In 2018 Brutus was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and remains the top attraction for travelers from East to West between Wichita and Branson. It is open daily.