Swillington’s loveable ‘Oddball’ Landmark

In last months magazine we featured Rothwell’s lost hospitals and touched upon the fact that though the hospitals might no longer be with us, the skyline of Rothwell is still dominated by the St George’s Clock Tower. This month we have an article with a similar theme, a lost local industry that has left a landmark on our landscape.

The Bucyrus Erie 1150b walking dragline excavator, or ‘Oddball’ as its affectionately known is preserved at the St. Aidan’s former Opencast site in Swillington.

Oddball has been preserved due to a group of dedicated volunteers known as ‘Friends of St.  Aidan’s BE 1150 Walking Dragline’ who, since 1997 have helped raise money for and given time to its preservation.

Mary McNulty of the group was able to tell us a little bit more about Oddball and the group who love to look after this iconic piece of machinery.

“Our Dragline, originally named Clinchfield, was made in America in 1948. After working in America she came to Britain, along with two other Draglines, in 1954, as part of the “Lease Lend Scheme” whereby America helped Britain to get back on her feet following World War II. She began her work in Wales, followed by a move to Cannock in 1964, finally moving to St. Aidan’s in 1974. Here she worked alongside another Dragline, a Rapier W2000 named Big Bob. By this time, the 1150B had been given the name Oddball. This was because she had General Electric workings, which were not suited to the British power supply, this caused her to make unusual sounds, which some people described as “Oddball” and eventually, the name stuck. As the other two Draglines had Westinghouse workings, they did not have this problem.

On the 19th of March, 1988, there was a disastrous flood at St. Aidan’s. One of the Draglines was already at the top having some maintenance work done, and the other one had enough time to walk out of the mine before the area was filled with water. Coal extraction was able to recommence in 1998 after a considerable amount of pumping out and remedial work. Unfortunately, due to our Dragline being the older one, and having been standing for so long, her condition had deteriorated, and it was not practical for her to return to work. Big Bob continued alone, and was then offered for sale as a working machine. Sadly, no buyer was forthcoming, so Big Bob was cut up for the metal. This could quite easily have happened to our Dragline, by then the only example of a large Walking Dragline Excavator remaining in the country.

However, many people felt that as the last one, she should be preserved, and a lot of hard work was put in to organise this. The late Richard John Budge, of RJB Mining, who owned the machine, said that he would donate her instead of having her cut up for the scrap value. Also involved were various Mining people, including the late Dr Ivor John Brown, and the nearby Leeds City Council. Several firms were involved, including one who got power back in to the Dragline so that she could walk to where she now stands. A notice in our Compound lists those who gave assistance. Two groups were set up. The St. Aidan’s Trust, a branch of Leeds City Council, who took over ownership of the Dragline, and the Friends of the Dragline, who are all volunteers and who carry out general site maintenance, in addition to holding four free Open Days for the public each year.

In addition to being preserved as a unique piece of historic mining equipment, the Dragline is the National “Landmark” or Memorial, to Sunshine Miners, as Opencast Miners were known. Opencast Mining was particularly important after World War II, as coal was needed in huge quantities to help rebuild Britain. Also, Britain had lost many men of working age on active service. Opencast Mining enabled a smaller number of Miners to extract coal in the amounts required.

Our Open Days this year are Saturday, the 13th of April, Saturday, the 15th of June, Saturday & Sunday, the 14th & 15th of September, 2019. We are open from 1pm to 4pm on all of those days, and hope that you will be able to visit us”.

If you are interested in any of the open days or further information about the ‘Friends of St.  Aidan’s BE 1150 Walking Dragline’, please email Mary via contactus@walkingdragline.org and she will be pleased to help you. You can also visit their website, www.walkingdragline.org which has further information, news, events and a section where you can share your memories of Oddball or any other Walking Draglines regardless of your connection with them, or with any aspect of Surface Mining.