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The World's Biggest Land Vehicle
Robert Malone, 03.12.07, 5:22 PM ET

Built by Krupp (now ThyssenKrupp) of Germany, the Bagger 288 excavator is the world's largest land vehicle. It is now owned and operated by RWE AG, a large utility company.

If you want to get the dirt out, or move a mountain, this is absolutely the right machine. The RWE Bagger 288 earth digger stands 311 feet tall, is 705 feet long and weighs 45,500 tons (the weight of the Titanic was 46,328 tons) and by its scale alone is quite intimidating. Technically it is a bucket wheel excavator. In appearance it seems to be a giant's version of an Erector Set project that got out of hand.

And when it comes to moving mountains, it has no peers. Indeed, moving mountains is exactly what may happen in Rosio Montana in Romania. The plan is to use similar machines to get at a wealth of gold. The Canadian company Rosio Montana Gold intends to accomplish this.

In Pictures: World's Biggest Land Vehicle

"All five mountains will simply be mined out," says Andrej Grubacic, a historian from the region.

After all as Stuart L. Udall once said, "Mining is like a search and destroy mission."

The RWE Bagger 288 excavator was designed to work in open-pit coal mines in Germany. That's where it is now digging in and loading up. However, for all its mass, it may have a short life. The German Republic has mandated a shutdown of all German coal mining by 2018. Clearly this mandate is open to some modification in the interim.

Being big, the Bagger 288 can only go one-third of a mile an hour on three rows of caterpillar track assembles. If it crosses a highway, as it has done on rare occasions, the roadway must be fully rebuilt as the sheer weight crushes the cement and anything else in its path.

It has also crossed rivers, after careful preparation. Any move requires at least 70 men to prepare the way and the last time cost some $10 million to complete. The machines does not need the kind of mobility provided by treads while it is mining, but it was considered less expensive to move the vehicle on caterpillar treads rather than disassembling it and reassembling it at its destination.

It cost $100 million to build, took five years to design and manufacture, and five years to assemble. When it was completed, the Bagger 288 passed NASA's Crawler-Transporter, used to move the space shuttle and Apollo space craft as the world's largest land vehicle.

It takes five people to operate it, and little wonder, as it has a 70-foot diameter bucket wheel. Each of its 20 huge buckets can scoop up over 530 cubic feet of material. It moves on 12 crawlers with tank-like treads. After all it is German. One of the buckets once picked up a large bulldozer by mistake.

The machine can process 100,000 cubic yards of material, hopefully coal, and that amounts to up to 2,500 truck loads a day that can make for a good deal of wear and tear on the local environment. That's the equivalent of a football field dug to 100 feet deep each day.

In Pictures: World's Biggest Land Vehicle

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