Six hurt when milk machine explodes

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 31, 2003

A presentation on farming turned into a freak accident Wednesday morning at the Freeborn County Fair, as flying pieces of a milk-separating machine injured six people.

County Commissioner Dave Mullenbach and volunteer Roger Lonning were putting on a presentation on separating the cream from milk when the accident happened.

The two were demonstrating a historic machine that uses a crank-centrifuge mechanism to churn the milk. Lonning and Mullenbach began to turn the crank, and two audience members volunteered to help with the cranking. As they began helping, the crank was being turned faster and faster.

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The second volunteer was cranking when the machine exploded. Milk and pieces from the machine flew into the crowd gathered to see the show.

The engine that churned the milk included many small metal disks, which flew around in the explosion.

Many people were cut or bruised by the flying debris, including six who were taken to Albert Lea Medical Center for treatment. All of them were released by the end of the day.

Five of the six injured women were part of an Elderhostel tour visiting Albert Lea for the week to learn about farming and rural life. The group included people from all over the United States, many who had never seen a farm before.

&uot;This is supposed to be a fun day at the fair,&uot; said one participant moments after the accident.

The presentation started innocently, with joking between Mullenbach and Lonning. The machine seemed to be working fine.

&uot;They were just separating the cream from the milk and all of the sudden the centrifugal force got going and something got loose inside and it blew up,&uot; said Lynn Nelson, a member of the fair board, who witnessed the accident. &uot;I don’t really know why.&uot;

&uot;I think it just got going too fast,&uot; Nelson added.

They had used the machine the night before to do the same thing without any problems.

The injured were mostly elderly women. They had come from Pennsylvania, Indiana, Arizona, Illinois and Florida. Four of them left in ambulances with cuts on their arms and legs.

&uot;It’s really unfortunate that something like this had to happen to a group visiting the fair,&uot; Nelson said. &uot;They were just out to have fun, and something out of the ordinary happened. It just kind of turned sour.&uot;

(Contact Peter Cox at peter.cox or 379-3439.)