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Jennings tells story of dad's entrapment

Calvin Jennings was trapped in this skid loader for two days with his foot caught in the tractor steps, which were stuck in the skid loader. His son Tim Jennings explained that the tractor steps got caught in the skid loader when Calvin accidentally backed over it. <i>Gretta Stark photos</i>

Eighty-one-year-old Calvin Jennings spent two days trapped in a skid loader with swarms of insects buzzing in the air, buzzards flying overhead, and the smell of the dead animal he'd just buried before he got stuck.

Jennings was trapped in the skid loader for two of the hottest days of the month on the Jennings farm, 8748 County Rd. F. The temperature was in the 90s both days. The animal Jennings buried had died of heat exhaustion while giving birth.

Calvin's son, Tim Jennings, now runs the farm that used to be his father's, but Calvin still does as much as he can, despite his age and health problems.

"My dad is fiercely independent," Tim said. "He just wants to be able to work. He wants to farm."

However, with his age catching up to him, Tim said Calvin's reflexes are just not what they used to be, nor is his flexibility, and it gets him into scrapes fairly often.

"I can't count the number of times I've pulled him from the jaws of death," said Tim.

Tim said this frustrates and worries him as much as it frustrates Calvin.

"He still thinks he's 40," said Tim, "and there's many days I wake up, I feel like I'm 80. So we should just change positions."

Tim was on vacation when Calvin got stuck in the skid steer, but he pieced together what happened from talking with his father and seeing the way the equipment was stuck.

Calvin was going to bury a pig that died of heat exhaustion and labor at a spot about a half-mile from both Calvin's and Tim's homes. Their houses are separated by the farm, and the pig burial ground is right between the two homes.

Calvin took the Bobcat skid loader out to bury the pig, buried the animal and was heading back when the skid loader got stuck.

Rather than bothering anyone by calling any of the neighbors whose phone numbers were on the refrigerator, Tim said Calvin walked back to the farm and got the tractor to free the skid loader.

Calvin then had two vehicles to get back to the farm. Rather than bother a neighbor or take two trips, Calvin decided to tow the skid loader with the tractor, said Tim.

But, Tim said, the skid loader got stuck and dragged enough to make the tractor's wheels spin and create foot-deep ruts in the mud.

The tractor, Tim said, was not stuck, but Calvin had to back up out of the ruts to go forward.

"I'm betting that his foot either slipped off the clutch," said Tim, "or when he came out of the hole his foot bounced a little and came off the clutch."

Letting the clutch out suddenly sent the tractor moving backwards, its back wheel going diagonally across the skid loader and landing behind it, leaving he skid loader "t-boned" directly underneath the tractor.

As it drove over the skid steer, the tractor's steps caught on the skid steer, and got stuck inside it.

Tim said at that point the two machines were well and truly stuck.

Calvin could not get the tractor off the skid loader. So, Tim said, Calvin crawled into the skid steer, thinking to get loose.

Tim said Calvin probably slipped going in or out of the skid loader and got his foot caught in the tractor steps, which were wedged sideways in the skid loader.

Because he isn't very flexible anymore, Calvin couldn't get his foot out of the steps.

He was trapped in the skid loader for two days not far from where he had buried the dead pig, which would have begun to smell, Tim said, while Calvin was stuck there.

A neighbor found Calvin.

Tim had asked his neighbor, Dan O'Leary, who was helping take care of the farm while Tim was on vacation, to check on Calvin.

When O'Leary couldn't find Calvin, and noticed the skid loader was gone, he told Tim over the telephone.

Tim said he asked O'Leary to look for Calvin, then called some other neighbors to help search.

O'Leary found Calvin, and called 9-1-1.

"If it wasn't for my neighbors," said Tim, "Dad probably wouldn't have made it."

O'Leary and the other neighbors guided the EMS team to Calvin so the rescue workers could get him out of the skid loader safely.

The injured man was taken to River Falls Area Hospital, stabilized and transferred to United Hospital in the Twin Cities.

Calvin's kidneys, which had not been functioning properly when he was found, Tim said, are on the mend.

Calvin also sustained pressure sores "like bedsores only five times worse," Tim said the doctor told him.

These have to be bandaged carefully, and Calvin's diabetes needs to be managed before he can be released.

Tim said he's glad his father is OK, but he wishes the incident hadn't happened at all.

"There's a lot of things I would've done different," Tim said, "I kick myself pretty hard...I thought I had it all taken care of, and I didn't."

Tim said it's difficult and frustrating trying to find a balance between keeping his father involved in the farm, and keeping his father safe.

Calvin doesn't have the reflexes or flexibility to handle much of the farm machinery anymore, but Tim said he can't tell his father not to help on the farm.

"If I take it all away from him," said Tim, "I might as well sign his death warrant."

Although he worries about his father's safety doing odd jobs around the farm, Tim said he won't keep his father from working.

"It's all he's ever known," said Tim. "It's what he loves. It's what he enjoys doing."

Calvin is now in the Sister Kenny unit of United Hospital and is expected to make a slow, but good, recovery.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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