Our Power

Building a legacy

Minnkota's power production partner BNI coal commissioned the world's newest 757 dragline in Center, North Dakota.


Emily Windjue


December 20, 2022

Piece by piece, 11 million pounds of earthmoving equipment has risen up over the prairie this year outside of Center, N.D. The assembled parts make up the newest 757 dragline excavator in the world, but to the employees at BNI Coal, it represents much more – a Legacy. In fact, that’s the name of the new machine that will help ensure coal is efficiently mined to fuel the Minnkota-operated Milton R. Young Station.

“From a capital standpoint, I’m really excited that the mine is, with this purchase, infinitely better positioned to service the long-term needs of the Young Station,” said Mike Heger, general manager of BNI Coal.

Legacy’s boom extends 310 feet in the air and is used to support the bucket as its scoops and releases dirt and overburden, exposing the layers of coal underneath. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)

Before BNI considered the purchase of a new dragline, the company evaluated how much it would cost to make repairs to the oldest 757 dragline in their fleet, Big Jake, which had clocked over 340,000 hours of operation over the last 50 years. They soon discovered the amount of money it would take to make the necessary repairs was comparable to the price tag on a state-of-the-art dragline.

Legacy originally operated in England before it was purchased by Mississippi Power. Following BNI’s acquisition of the dragline in 2020, the equipment was disassembled and transported across the country in pieces so BNI could reassemble the massive machine on site in North Dakota.

The dragline will be used to efficiently move 375,000 pounds of dirt and rock, exposing the layers of coal hidden beneath. A 75-cubic-yard bucket scoops the earth in one fluid motion while rotating. As easily as it was scooped up, the dragline operator releases the earth to finish out a complete 360-degree rotation. All land disturbed in the mining process is returned to original condition or better than original condition through stringent reclamation requirements.

Legacy is equipped with state-of-the art AC motors with about 1,990 horsepower. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)
What is a legacy?

After months of work, the Legacy dragline was named by a 30-year BNI employee and commissioned on Aug. 8, 2022. Alongside draglines Liberty and Big Sandy, Legacy will help ensure the successful operation at the Young Station well into the future.

“Our partnership with Minnkota as our sole customer is essentially everything to BNI. We are extremely appreciative of the way that we’ve been able to work together in the past and are looking forward to the future,” Heger said.

For Brac Mettler, the term Legacy has more to do with family. The dragline maintenance planner and Legacy project manager just celebrated his 20th work anniversary at BNI, and his dad worked at the nearby Young Station for almost 37 years as a control room operator.

“Growing up in Center, everyone in town either worked at a coal mine or a power plant. And I really wanted to play in the big sandbox,” Mettler said with a smile. Starting as a utility worker for BNI, Mettler worked his way up at the company, serving as a full-time mechanic and shop foreman before landing his current position in 2014.

Brac Mettler points to some of the inner workings of the dragline. Mettler has been involved in two other dragline acquisitions and builds during his career. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)

Mettler is just one example of someone who embodies the legacy for which this powerful machine was named. The dragline itself is a symbol of hope for the mining industry as it demonstrates BNI and Minnkota’s continuous dedication to providing reliable energy to North Dakota and Minnesota for the coming decades.

“I love my job,” said Mettler. “It seems like everyone else is tearing down and scrapping draglines, and I get to build one. I’m pretty pumped about that.”

Main image: The metal tub, which provides a base for the dragline to sit on, was repurposed from BNI’s existing Big Jake dragline. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)


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