Hatteberg's People - Larry Panning

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On Hatteberg’s People, it was 50 years ago that an incident changed Larry Pannings life. It was a sinkhole nearly five acres on his families property that is still a problem today. For the past five decades, Larry has documented it in still pictures that show not only the sinkhole’s creation, but the fact that today…it is still growing.

With his aging Kodachrome slides telling the story, Larry Panning remembers the day this sinkhole formed in his family’s field.

“Well my dad and I happened to be in the farmstead yard the time it fell in and we noticed a column of dirt flying up in the air which looked just like ‘Old Faithful’.

It was the result of an oil well drilling operation gone bad.

“And so we drove out to the site and it blew off dirt again and blew it around my dad and I and we decided it was close enough ….we left.”

Today, at first glance, the crater East of Ellinwood looks like a small lake complete with trees and wildlife.

“I told my family this is going to be an albatross around my kids’ neck when they inherit this.”

“This black and white is the first one I took from the air. As you can see the sinkhole is nice and level, nice black ground. Oil derricks are in the background, with the city of Ellinwood up here.”

Back at the sinkhole today, it is a place of calm and quiet at least on the surface.

“It’s just a nice little farm pond to go fishing in. But when you know the history and how this thing was created, and the potential of recreating an additional cave-in, then yes that is the danger part.”

The danger part is still there….look at these fences that were installed years ago…now they too are sinking…as the underground salt deposits are dissolved away…little by little the sinkhole continues to widen and grow. 17 years ago the Soil Conservation Service measured what was happening. They did it again last month.

“In those 17 years, the northeast corner of the fence had dropped an additional four and half feet.”

But the lake it created has been a magnet for wildlife. Larry has documented Eagles and other wildlife as they enjoy the lake….dismissive of its origin or its future.

“Knowing that it caved in so fast without any warning, who is to say that it cannot happen again.”

Years ago, that enlarging sinkhole forced Larry to move his family out of this rural home and into town. Now with five children, 12 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren he says he’s fortunate because they are all healthy.

“And makes me a lucky man.”

“I don’t know what will happen in the future?”

“And that is what scares me.”


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