A Very Big Machine

One of our favourite sites to visit locally is an old open cast mining site to the east of Leeds. It was originally a deep mine but was converted to open cast in the 1940’s. There was a disastrous breach of a protecting wall in March 1988 that allowed the River Aire to empty into the site from both directions. The mine workings were so deep it took four days for them to fill with water. The river ran dry. It’s not often that a river empties and the local archaeological society was able to study the remains of four boats that were mostly intact, many items of pottery and the evidence of river trade from the seventeenth century onward.  The flood was eventually drained and open cast mining continued until 2002. 

Oddball a very large dragline for open cast mining.
Oddball, was one of the largest machines in the world.

One of the legacies of its industrial past is still very much in evidence. Oddball, is one very very big machine.  It is a walking dragline machine and actually used to move along with a top speed of 0.2 miles an hour with a giant bucket at the front that can hold over 15,000 litres.  It is the size of 60 double-decker buses (a standard for comparison here in the UK) and is at least the height of a three storey building. In the photo you can see the single storey visitor centre to the right to give you an idea of scale.  It was built in the USA and brought over here in 1954 when it was one of the largest machines in the world. It was powered by mains electricity but at 60 Hz, the American standard rather than the UK 50 Hz. It was for this reason that it was named Oddball.  

The site is now a great reserve with diverse wildlife and lots of walks and trails for people, dogs and horses. We visit on a regular basis. Oddball, now has kestrels calling it home and visitors are allowed to look round and even sit in the cab on open days during the year. 


  1. Wow this is very interesting! At first you can’t appreciate just how big Oddball is, but then when you compare it to the houses closeby it really does seem enormous and 60 double-decker buses are hard to imagine.
    Last night I saw on an English programme ‘Espacios incréibles’ (Incredible Spaces, I think, with George Clarke) how they converted one of the old enormous cranes that has been lying disused on the East London Docks into a very large, green, environment-friendly ‘tree house’. It was huge, lofty and beautiful, perched up there like some gigantic stork’s nest. They had to build respecting strict guidelines as the crane forms part of the National Heritage. This might be an idea for Oddball. Perhaps George Clarke should cast his eye over it.

    The site sounds lovely — I used to work as a geologist in England so I love old mines, quarries, pits, slag heaps etc!


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