The Nederland Mining Museum tells the story of the people who migrated to the Wild West during the late 19th-century hard rock mining boom. It’s packed with various artifacts, giving visitors an up-close look at the lives of the men who descended deep down into the mountains. Minerals plucked from the earth and tools like helmets, bells, trams, and rare mining claim maps give a fascinating glimpse of this period of Colorado history.
Yet perhaps strangely, the museum’s crown jewel hails from far away. An enormous steam shovel stands outside, coated with years of grime and dirt and accompanied by a scaled-down version of itself. In its prime, it was one of the largest steam-powered shovels in the world.
Its size was necessary, as this particular machine was tasked with helping complete one of the early 20th-century’s most daunting endeavors. The shovel, along with roughly 20 others, allowed the United States to make progress on the Panama Canal. It scooped up bucket after bucket of dirt and helped workers construct bridges, roads, and drains near the waterway.
The machine is also one of the few surviving steam shovels from the project. Most of the others were scrapped in Panama after the canal’s completion. But fortunately, this one was allowed to make the journey back home to California. It later arrived in Denver, then wound up in Nederland in 2005, though it does occasionally take to the road to visit other exhibits.