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Suit seeks restoration of giant steam shovel in Fayette County

| Tuesday, July 1, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Evan Sanders | Tribune-Review
The partial dismantling of a rare, 90-ton Koehring steam shovel that has sat along Rt. 51 for decades, has spawned a lawsuit by its owner who wants it put back together.
Evan Sanders | Tribune-Review
The partial dismantling of a rare, 90-ton Koehring steam shovel that has sat along Rt. 51 for decades, has spawned a lawsuit by its owner who wants it put back together.
Evan Sanders | Tribune-Review
The partial dismantling of a rare, 90-ton Koehring steam shovel that has sat along Rt. 51 for decades, has spawned a lawsuit by its owner who wants it put back together.

The historic 90-ton Koehring steam shovel that has been a landmark along Route 51 in Fayette County for more than 60 years was going to be Larry Massung's “gimmick” for the sandwich shop he wants to open there.

Its huge boom and bucket would mark the entrance to the “Shovel Shack” he planned to operate when he retired as a carpenter. Massung's plans were put on hold almost seven months ago when the towering arm of the graffiti-ridden behemoth was cut off under order of the former owner, who said he forgot about selling it.

The metal was going to be sold for scrap, although the Koehring model 1005 that has been on the property for decades is probably one of the last of its kind in the country, experts said.

“People are mad because it's a landmark,” Massung said. “They're asking, ‘Why did I go and cut it up?' I didn't do it.”

He filed a lawsuit on Monday in Fayette County against those who allegedly did.

“I don't want blood money; I just want it returned to the way it was,” said Massung, 52, of Belle Vernon, who purchased the 28-acre property and the steam shovel for $75,000 in 2005.

The former owner, Ron Piccolomini, 83, of Connellsville, said he had forgotten that he sold the steam shovel when he told his cousin, Donald Stash, to start cutting it up in December. Stash did not return calls seeking comment.

Piccolomini said that he knew the lawsuit was coming. “The memory is not what it used to be,” he said.

“I feel bad. ... It's hard to say it was an innocent mistake, but it was,” Piccolomini dsof. “I forgot all about that.”

Massung's sales agreement includes a hand-written notation by Piccolomini's attorney, Carmine Molinaro, that the sale included the Koehring, the suit says. When contacted, Molinaro said he knew nothing about the steam shovel and referred calls to his client.

When Massung saw the dismantling in progress, he contacted state police and Fayette County District Attorney Jack Heneks Jr., but no charges were filed, he said.

Heneks spokesman Ryan Clark had no comment, saying the office wouldn't be involved in a civil lawsuit.

The suit, filed by attorney Marc T. Valentine against Piccolomini, Stash and the estate of William Piccolomini, alleges Stash trespassed on the property and damaged the steam shovel while dismantling it. It seeks restoration of the shovel and unspecified damages.

Produced during the 1950s and '60s, that model of steam shovel has been discontinued for many years, said Thomas Berry, archivist at the Historical Construction Equipment Association in Bowling Green, Ohio.

“It's a pretty unusual machine,” he said.

It was used to remove the earth above the coal in strip mining, said Lou McMaster, 86, of Hickory, Washington County, an expert on construction equipment at the National Pike Steam, Gas and Horse Association near Brownsville.

“There are some in collections, but that one was a little different because it was so big,” he said.

To some, it's worth nothing; to others, it's priceless.

“I don't know where you could find another one,” said Bob Kelly, 72, of McDonald, a director of the association, who has been collecting construction equipment since 1959.

“It's part of the history around Uniontown,” he said. “I think every kid in that area had to write their name on it.”

Although records are sketchy, the most commonly held belief is that the steam shovel was left on the property by a coal company decades ago to avoid forfeiting a reclamation bond the state required when it received a mining permit. The thinking was that as long as a piece of equipment was there, the coal company didn't have to forfeit its bond, which could be several million dollars.

But the state Department of Environmental Protection said the location of the steam shovel has nothing to do with reclaiming the land or a bond issue.

“It predates that part of Route 51,” DEP spokesman John Poister said. “It's not preventing anything. ... It has no effect on the property.”

The steam shovel has drawn the attention of an international audience.

Visitors to the vintage equipment shows held twice a year by the National Pike Steam, Gas and Horse Association come from as far away New Zealand, Australia and England.

“They all know about it,” Kelly said.

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or csmith@tribweb.com.

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