Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me There Was A Giant Walking Robot?

A few weeks ago Imran Ali tweeted a modest proposal that  Leeds’ Temple Works needs a giant robot. As a fan of Miyazaki’s Laputa, I thought this sounded quite cool.

What I didn’t realise until today is that Leeds already has a giant walking robot. If you’re in the area for one of its rare openings to the public I strongly recommend you go and see it.

Meet Oddball, a US-made Bucyrus Erie 1150, which worked the open cast coal mine at St Aidan’s, Swillington, near Leeds, until 1983.

Its sheer scale is impressive enough: the largest preserved walking dragline excavator in Western Europe, 1200 tons, the size of 60 double decker buses, apparently.

But the thing is, it walked, the whole thing, backwards, a metre per earth-shaking step, up to a maximum speed of half a mile per hour. Imagine that.

Imagine that stomping towards you across an open-cast collliery…

The machine has been saved and maintained by volunteers, the Friends of St Aidan’s BE1150 Dragline, who open it as part of the excellent Heritage Open Days series.

They’ll even let you sit in the driver’s seat…

… and have a look around the belly of the beast, which was powered by electricity…

… but also tea…

The strangest thing is the setting.

While Leeds and Bradford retain at least some of their mills and factory buildings, Yorkshire’s coal mining heritage has been almost entirely erased from the landscape. Where once the Bucyrus trod, ripping fossil fuel from the ground, we now see lakes, trees, wild flowers and grass.

Teletubbyland itself has appeared from far away, leaving the machine an alien in its own country. Its walking days are over, but it’s a joy to know that this robot won’t be left to rust.

More photos here.

The walking dragline is at St Aidan’s Open Cast Coal Site, Astley Lane, Swillington, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS26 8AL. It’s open to visit free on Heritage Open Days.

4 thoughts on “Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me There Was A Giant Walking Robot?

  1. Thanks Imran, That’s a gorgeous aerial view. I wonder if we’ll ever find “before” shots showing the original terrain and the open-cast mining at its height (or rather, depth?) ?

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