The need to replace a banged-up, rusty mining truck on the Iron Range has turned into one of the largest and most unusual kinds of breast cancer awareness ads in the nation.

This week, state police from Wyoming and Minnesota escorted a massive 83,000-pound, hot pink truck box across the country and onto the Iron Range, where Hibbing Taconite Co. will officially unveil the beast during a parade on Saturday.

The pink mining wonder stretches 44 feet long and will nestle inside a 240-ton mining truck that will haul iron ore. It took $200,000 and 30 gallons of pink paint donated by Sherwin-Williams to turn an ambitious idea into reality.

“We’re pretty sure this is the only pink mining truck in America,” said Sandy Karnowski, spokeswoman for Cliffs Natural Resources, whose Minnesota operations include Hibbing ­Taconite in Hibbing, United Taconite in Eveleth and North Shore Mining in Silver Bay.

But why pink? Especially on the rugged Iron Range.

“We needed a new truck box. So we called our vendor to replace the box. And they asked ‘What color do you want?’ We thought, ‘Color? Oh, this is a great opportunity,’ ” she said. “What better way to make a statement about a devastating illness than to put bright pink on a 240-ton production truck that will be seen by the thousands of people who visit Hibbing every year?’ ”

The unusual show of support has won fans and excitement across the Iron Range, including mining employees, members of the local Chambers of Commerce, medical officials, cancer patients and even the staff of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.

Hibbing Taconite’s pink truck joins an ocean of products designed to call attention to the deadly illness. Professional sports teams have worn pink gear in honor of breast cancer awareness. And pink ribbons and products abound during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

But Hibbing Taconite isn’t waiting until then.

The massive mining box will be revealed to the public Saturday in Hibbing at a parade by 60 Hibbing Taconite miners decked out in pink safety gear.

Then on July 17, the 22-foot-tall pink box will be taken to the Hibbing mine and mated with its truck during a ­cere­mony for Cliffs employees and the community. Hibbing Taconite officials will present a check for cancer research to Fairview Range Medical ­Center in Hibbing.

“We were very excited when Cliffs Natural Resources approached us about this opportunity,” said Jackie Haigh, cancer services manager for Fairview Range. “It is wonderful to see other industries, aside from health care, showing an interest in the health of our community. We hope women will make the most of this opportunity to be proactive regarding their health.”

In response to Hibbing Taconite’s cancer awareness campaign, Fairview’s clinic at 750 E. 34th St. in Hibbing will offer the public free breast and skin cancer screenings between 5 and 7 p.m. next Thursday. It also will have physicians, surgeons, ­dietitians, ­lactation specialists and massage ­therapists available to answer questions and see patients.

Despite the initial splashy introduction, the pink mining box will be no slouch, Cliffs officials insisted.

Starting next Thursday it will be put to work in Hibbing Taconite’s expansive open-air mining pit. It will be used to haul 12,000 loads of iron ore rock each year for the next three years. By then, the box will be so banged up that it will need to be replaced.

Each box typically lasts about three years. By contrast, the rest of the $4.2 million mining truck typically lasts about 10 years, said Karnowski.

The sprawling Hibbing mine is surrounded by overlook outposts that allow visitors to gawk at the giant iron mining trucks scurrying along vast terrain.

To keep the campaign fresh in the minds of visitors, the company has ordered 200 pink safety vests and hats for miners in the field to wear each day.