Remember when you were a kid and all you needed were some toys and your imagination to produce a preposterous machine that was just out of this world? Well, sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, kid.
That’s because real-life mammoth vehicles are a necessity in some lines of work, where it really does take a really, really big machine to get the job done. Let’s take, for example, coal mining.
Some coal seams are very close to the surface and easy to get to. But as mankind’s need to consume more coal increases and supplies diminish, we’re forced to dig ever deeper – and, as a result, get creative in how we do it.
For example, back in the 1970s there were known to be massive coal deposits at Hambach in western Germany. However, they were hidden beneath millions of cubic feet of rocks and soil.
But where most people might have seen a mountain, engineers from a German firm called ThyssenKrupp saw a molehill. So they spent a decade conceiving of and constructing a behemoth to take it down.
The Bagger 288 was the result – and what a result. It became the largest land vehicle on Earth, superseding “Big Muskie” – another coal-mining machine, which was built and operated in Ohio.
And while the Bagger 228’s purpose may be concerned with moving earth, its proportions are out of this world. Indeed, it stands an astonishing 300 feet tall, measures up at 700 feet long and weighs in at 13,500 tons. Its job was to basically clean out the mountain at the Hambach strip mine, moving 820 million cubic feet of soil per day.
To put into context how big this beast really is – Big Ben, the most iconic landmark in London, England, is 310 feet tall. The Statue of Liberty, meanwhile, stands just five feet taller than the digger.
Furthermore, Bagger 288 is as long as two football fields; and if you were to somehow prop it up on its side, it would count as a skyscraper in New York City. Plus, it weighs as much as the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.
The specs on how to run it, moreover, are just as impressive. It needs more than 16.5 megawatts of electricity to operate – and that’s potentially enough to power up to around 14,000 homes.
The mean-looking rotating “razor” you can see in the photos, meanwhile, is the excavating head. On it there are 18 giant buckets, each of which can carry 230 cubic feet of soil.
For more than 20 years, the Bagger 288 plied its trade at the Hambach mine. But in 2001 its work there was finally complete. Yes, the coal seam had been totally exposed, so it was time for the machine to move.
Consequently, the machine was to be transported to the nearby Garzweiler strip mine, just 14 miles away. However, because of Bagger 288’s immense weight and size, there were a variety of logistical hurdles to overcome.
For one, the River Erft needed to be forded with thick steel pipes. Any roads the Bagger 288 used, moreover, had to be reinforced so that the sheer weight of the vehicle would not destroy them.
In the end, this short journey cost the equivalent of more than $25 million in today’s money. Nevertheless, it was estimated that this would still be cheaper than the cost of disassembling it.
Now based at Garzweiler, the Bagger 288 is certainly pulling its considerable weight when it comes to keeping up with Germany’s demand for coal. Indeed, the machine helps facilitate the unearthing of enough coal to meet 15 percent of the country’s electricity demands.
It’s not always been smooth sailing, of course. Some pictures from one of the work sites show a relatively tiny earth mover getting caught up in the extractor – and it’s kind of chilling.
What’s more, the Bagger 288 boasts some similarly gargantuan brethren. Indeed, it has a whole family of super-sized brothers and sisters, such as the 255 (pictured), 281 and 285, while the 1995-made Bagger 293 actually outweighs the 288.
The Baggar clan might not have long left, however. That’s because the German government wants to stop all coal-mining operations in the country by 2018 – and without a mountain to mine, what good is a 700-foot mining machine?
We can think of a couple of things, perhaps. How about the world’s most epic jungle gym, for example? Or a job as an extra in the next Mad Max movie? Wherever the Bagger 288 goes, though, one thing’s for sure: it’s going to leave a large hole.