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Father and son who lost limbs in Minnesota farming accidents share message of farm safety

Family members who lost limbs in auger accidents share message of farm safety
Family members who lost limbs in auger accidents share message of farm safety 03:39

LE SUEUR, Minn. — A Minnesota family is sharing their experience of tragedy to encourage fellow farmers to stay safe around large machines and technology.

"Farming is really unique in that in most cases you live where you work and work where you live," said Emily Krekelberg.

Krekelberg was raised on a farm near Le Sueur. She's now a farm safety educator for University of Minnesota Extension, but her experiences growing up are why she does what she does.

"I let people into my family's darkest days so they can kind of learn how to avoid that," Emily said.

She's talking about what happened to her father Dale and her brother Jake. Each lost a limb to a farm auger. Dale Krekelberg's accident happened in December of 1972, before his kids were even born.

"Just basically tore my leg off. So I was in the hospital. In a split-second, my life changed," Dale said.

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Nearly 50 years later, Jake Krekelberg suffered a similar fate.

"My son actually had just been born about a week before," Jake said. "It took me in and I knew almost instantly that it was, that I was going to lose my arm."

Both men talk of determination. Jake was back to feeding his steers just three days after his accident. Dale still climbs over cattle gates to do his chores.

"For the last 50 years, when I get up the morning, I put on my wool sock and my nylon, and I stick this piece of wood on my body, and I walk around with it all day," Dale said.

Despite their resiliency, both men would love to have a re-do on their fateful days. And they rely on Emily to help get that message across.

Jake and Dale Krekelberg WCCO

"This might be something you've done a hundred times or a thousand times, a million times. But it only takes one time," Emily said.

She says despite advancements in safety, many farmers can't afford upgrades and are still using equipment from the 70s and 80s. Oftentimes, they retrofit something, sacrificing safety to meet a deadline — but with deadly consequences.

"A lot of farmers still use older tractors that may not have a cab, or what we call a ROPS — a rollover protective structure," Emily said. "So a lot of fatalities we see in farming are due to tractor rollovers."

Power takeoffs and augers are notorious for being powerful and unforgiving. And the statistics surrounding children are alarming.

"It's worse for kids. Every three days, a child dies on a farm in the U.S.," Emily said.

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She says human error is often to blame, and her family would agree.

"You know you adapt to it because you have to," Dale said. "I can't even imagine what it's [like] to run. I remember having a memory of it ... it's just something that after 50 years especially is just kind of lost."

"I can't remember what it's like to have two arms," Jake said.  

With fall harvest ahead, the Krekelbergs hope others heed their warning. Bailers, combines, discs and grinders are part of farm life. Taking your time and treating those machines with respect can mean the difference between life and death.

"I always say it does not matter how big or fast or strong you think you are. Farm equipment is always going to be bigger, faster, and stronger. Always," Emily said.

Even though farmers are often in a hurry, Emily urges them to leave safety features intact when working on equipment. She also wants to remind people that the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers rebate programs to help with the purchase of safer equipment.

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