Handcrafted around 1950 by John Mayza of Schuylkill County for his nephew Dan Canavan, this toy dragline excavator is constructed from materials normally found at an anthracite coal colliery.
Currently on exhibit at the Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum, the toy sports the name Hercules painted across the cab section. Interestingly, the name predates the artifact, appearing on the dynamite box from which the cab was constructed. The cab is mounted on rubber treads and the attached long boom holds a dragline bucket.
Mayza designed the toy to resemble a mechanized dragline, a surface mining machine that casts a cable-hung bucket a considerable distance, excavating materials such as coal. With the aid of a second cable, the dragline elevates the bucket and dumps the material. Such machines are still in use mining anthracite coal in the southern counties of northeastern Pennsylvania.
An excellent example of both folk art and craftsmanship in model building, the toy may have been designed to scoop up small bits of coal by a child operator utilizing “boy power.” Playing with his toy dragline likely afforded young Dan Canavan the feeling of accomplishment and a glimpse into Pennsylvania’s mining industry. Canavan donated his Hercules to the museum.
This Pennsylvania Treasure was written by Richard Stanislaus, curator at the Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum.
About Pennsylvania Treasures:
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission houses artifacts hailing from all eras of the commonwealth’s past. These objects represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. PHMC curators continue to research the stories behind many of these rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.