THE PROCHNAU FAMILY OF BRUDERHEIM - All of us know our fellow club member Elmer Prochnau. Elmer has been a fixture in our club since day one and is always at our tractor pull and show as a puller and with his father's Rumley tractor and threshing machine which bring history alive when we thresh our Bremner grain crop from the previous year. Here is some history on the Prochnau family and the farm where Elmer and his wife Marg still live.
Imagine a living museum that requires no such recreation. Imagine such a museum where family artifacts are still in use. Imagine a museum where buildings, machinery and equipment span generations, thereby continuing to impart meaning to their owners. Such a place is SVTA club member Elmer Prochnau’s Century Farm at NW 20-55-20 W4. Here, there are echoes that trace the family’s involvement in Strathcona County’s history since their arrival in 1894.
Tucked in between a shed and the Prochnau’s main house is a log summerhouse, the original house that Elmer’s grandfather, Samuel, built upon his arrival. Much later, one of Samuel’s sons, Ludwig, moved the log house and attached it to his frame house that he built after his marriage in 1920. Ludwig was only two years old when his father, Samuel, and his mother, Caroline, emigrated from Volhynia, Russia. They were one of 14 Moravian farm families who left in search of religious freedom and land they could call their own.
A mid-summer frost that turned the unbroken sod white must have been discouraging for the newly arrived Moravians, but the immigrants had little choice other than to buckle down to the hard work that is the lot of the pioneer. They were desperately poor. If it had not been for Andreas Lilge, their self-styled leader, they may not have survived. It was Lilge’s ties to the Mennonite community in Altona, Manitoba that gave the fledgling Moravian settlement its start when the Mennonites donated a carload of food and livestock. It is said that the lineage of some Strathcona County cattle can be traced back to these cattle.
Meanwhile, some Moravian families filed on homestead land recently surrendered by the Papachase Band where Edmonton’s Mill Woods subdivision is now located. Others, like Samuel Prochnau took land northeast of Edmonton. By the time Elmer took over his father’s (Ludwig) farm in the 1960s, his grandfather’s old log house was in poor condition. Rather than tear it down, Elmer decided to restore it, replacing sill logs and insulating the building so that his wife, Margaret, could use it as a summer kitchen. On cooler days, Elmer heats the summerhouse with the same wood stove that was in his father’s home.
Close to the summerhouse is a modern shed where a 1912 Rumley tractor sits, bought in Saskatoon in 1914 by Elmer’s grandfather. When he got it home, his son, Ludwig, discovered that it was not working very well. He lifted out the crankshaft so that he could scrape the bearings. After that, the old Rumley served him well until 1924 when he bought a new Oil Pull Rumley. By then, Ludwig had his own farm, the one where Elmer and his wife, Margaret, now reside. This quarter-section had been homesteaded in 1897 by a cousin, also named Samuel Prochnau, and had gone through several owners before Ludwig bought it in 1919. Today, Elmer proudly displays the tractors at parades and, as a member of Strathcona Vintage Tractor Association, at the tractor pulls held each year at the historic Bremner house.
Ludwig invested heavily in his farm in the early years, and made shrewd purchases of machinery and equipment that Elmer still keeps. For example, Elmer still planes logs using the portable sawmill that his father purchased prior to his marriage in 1920. After he purchased the farm in 1919 from a cousin, Ludwig used the sawmill to build a new house for his bride, and all his farm buildings. His sawmill must have been one of the few in the district, for he did a lot a custom work for other farmers. Ludwig didn’t mind; in fact, he enjoyed helping people. When he purchased a small flour mill in 1929 to grind grain for his own use, he did custom grinding for his neighbours as well. The flour mill, although not used by Elmer now, is still in working order, stored in a corner of one of his sheds. In addition to doing custom lumber planning and flour grinding, Ludwig also did custom threshing throughout the area, pulling his threshing machine from farm to farm to help his neighbours bring in the harvest. Ludwig's portable sawmill is still used by his son, Elmer, on his Century Farm in Strathcona County.
Although he had only a few years of formal education, obtained at Deep Creek School, Ludwig was a natural when it came to working with machinery. The 1930s were difficult years, and Ludwig had to struggle to keep the farm. He couldn’t afford to buy a new feed cutter. So, he invented one! He fabricated many of the moving parts and after perfecting the shape and design of the wooden components, Ludwig had Coutts Foundry in Edmonton make casts. In his wood- and coal-fired blacksmith, he drilled, filed and forged parts for this feed cutter. The feed cutter proved to be such a success that seven other farmers in the district persuaded Ludwig to build them one as well. Always a bit of a “lone wolf”, Ludwig did things his own way and paid little attention to formalities. As a consequence, it appears that he did not apply for a patent on his feed cutter. Today, Elmer not only has the feed cutter but he has also saved the wood patterns of the gears that his father made.
“Dad was somebody in my books. He was a great person." Elmer says with a grin, “If you couldn’t sing, you probably weren’t the best kind of Moravian." His parent’s home was always filled with music. His mother sang while kneading bread dough, and Ludwig played his violin. Their second boy, Clarence, born in 1928, grew to be a gifted musician who taught school, and Elmer still has the piano that his mother bought so that Clarence and a sister, Elsie, could learn and, later, teach piano. Both earned their ARTC (Associate of The Royal Conservatory) diploma in piano from the Toronto Conservatory of Music. Elmer and a younger sister, Jeanette, also took piano lessons. “That piano has a lot of miles on it!” After some training, Elmer dropped his piano lessons. But once his own children were grown, he returned to music and had the old piano rebuilt. Now, Elmer sits down every day at the family piano that he keeps in Ludwig’s 1920 home, and tickles the ivories. A love of music and old artifacts are evident as well in the old pump organ, also in Ludwig’s house, stored there on a friend’s behalf. Next to it is a 100-year-old traveling organ—“You can fold it up like a suitcase”— that Clarence adopted for use in his classroom when the school at Namao was about to toss it out. Later, Elmer made a bench for the traveling organ from the shell of what had been at one time another organ. Elmer’s love of music led him to sing in a quartet, and of course, in the church choir. “I liked singing something that was difficult.”
Like his father, Elmer has an interest in all things mechanical. He was hired at Sherritt Gordon in Fort Saskatchewan at the age of 18. After working shift for seven years, Elmer grasped the chance when Sherritt Gordon offered to apprentice him as a machinist, a job he kept for 38 years until his retirement in 1999. Meanwhile, “I was a moonlight farmer,” he chuckles, having bought his father’s farm in 1967. His father, Ludwig the entrepreneur farmer and inventor, had stopped modernizing his farm when his custom threshing business died with the introduction of combines in the 1950s. So, in addition to holding a job at Sherritt Gordon, Elmer bought new equipment and purchased the quarter-section east of the farm and rented other land. Today, the Prochnau Century Farm is strictly into grain. Elmer hires someone to seed his land, although he still takeoff the crop on the home quarter himself.
"The Bremner I Remember" by Lorna Davies – The following is a story written by Lorna Davies. Lorna is a long-time Strathcona County resident and wife of club member Lynn Davies. Lorna grew up in the Bremner area and has fond memories of her childhood days when she was Lorna Reynolds. We're sure you are going to enjoy this little piece of local history.
I grew up in Bremner and my memories are from the early 1940's through the 50's. My parents raised my three siblings and me on a small farm located on the quarter section on the northwest corner of the intersection of what is now the Hwy 16 / Hwy 21 interchange. My father, Martin L. Reynolds, owned and operated the Bremner Garage located with our home just up the rise and to the west of that corner. At the bottom, near Oldman Creek, was a skating rink and picnic grounds complete with a ball diamond (home field for the Bremner Seagulls). Across the road, south of 16, was Johnny Bertwell's general store and next to it, right on the corner was the United Church manse. North from the corner on what is now Highway 21 was the community hall on the right and on the left was the road leading to the grain elevator, railway station and post office.
I remember once having the great treat of going in to downtown Edmonton on the train with my mom. The little red brick United Church was just a little further south on 21. The Oldman Creek ran behind the manse and Bertwell's store, under Hwy 16 on through the picnic grounds and farm. I remember the water being clean, my brother building rafts and catching minnows in a jar. All these places were within easy walking distance of home and as a child, I didn't believe things could be better than that. It was a wonderful life for a youngster to grow up on this small farm where we had a couple of work horses, some cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and of course the cats and always a dog. We always had a large vegetable garden, raspberries and lots of wild saskatoons for the picking. There was a couple of bee hives for a supply of honey. We kept a supply of ice in the icehouse through the summer. Once needed for the icebox, the ice would be cut from the nearby lakes in the winter. A real summer treat was the homemade ice cream! Our home was heated with a coal furnace with the coal supply coming from the mine at Clover Bar.
My father, besides having the farm, service station and bulk fuel delivery, was a mechanic and electrician. A favourite expression of his was "I can fix anything but a broken heart." A bit of a local character, he was the self-proclaimed "mayor of Bremner" and once pulled off a hoax that he had been invited to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II by posting in the service station, for all to see, an official looking invitation he had carefully cut out of a magazine that stated "You are invited to view the coronation of Queen Elizabeth...". This rated a small item in the "Fort Record" with the heading: "Mayor of Bremner receives invitation to the Coronation"
Social life in Bremner centered around church and school functions, community picnics and ball games, summer CGIT camps at Elk Island and Cooking Lake and in the winter there was sledding and always the Saturday night skating at local rinks. Children in Bremner attended school at Clover Bar Center, a one room school situated a mile and a half west from the corner on Hwy 16. (Approximately where Walmart is now.). The building had no telephone or running water. One teacher had to cope with seven grades, often doubling as janitor as needed. Those teachers were amazing women. To say they had to multitask would be an understatement. My sister taught there the year I started school which often made for interesting discussions around the supper table when we got home. Christmas at the school was magical. That one room school was transformed into a theatre. My oldest brother and other locals would arrive with lumber and throw together a proper stage complete with curtains hanging across the front and costume change areas curtained on both sides at the back. The entire school would practice for weeks to provide the entertainment and of course Santa arrived just as we finished. A vivid memory for me was the night one of the local boys and I got into a disagreement backstage and accidentally brought down the entire curtain arrangement leaving us revealed as the culprits. We were in a bit of trouble but I still recall we got the biggest laugh of the show! As a child I could revel in these events but as I got a little older I began to understand the struggles of our lives. Public buildings with no running water, hard to keep warm through the winter, outhouses, wringer washing machines, clotheslines, etc. In spite of these hardships the community would manage the wonderful summer picnics with homemade pies cooked in old wood stoves under the trees and marvelous turkey suppers in the church basement.
On a hot summer day, I believe the year was 1945, there was an accident at my father's service station which resulted in the whole building burning to the ground. The black smoke could be seen for miles and a small army of neighbors arrived and set up a system to get water from the creek to save the bulk fuel warehouse and the family home. It took a long time before fire crews arrived from the city and by that time quite a crowd had gathered. Fortunately no one was injured and with plenty of help from friends and neighbors, the mess was cleared, a new service station was built in no time and life went on.
My mother was a beautiful, busy, kind woman who always managed to keep a tidy home and plenty of food ready for our family of six and usually a hired man and sometimes random folks who happened by because of car breakdowns and were in need of a place to warm up and enjoy a cup of tea. Tragically, when I was ten years old, she passed away after a short battle with cancer. We all were devastated. Again, the love and support of family and community helped us through.
Bremner, once named Hortonburg, has continuously evolved through the years. My memories are from a relatively short period of time but during that time all the community buildings disappeared; they were victims of progress as the new highway construction commenced in the 1960's. Residents moved on, children were bussed off to bigger schools. The churches amalgamated with half the community attending Ardrossan and others coming In to Sherwood Park. People of my generation moved on to lives elsewhere and the older generation passed on. Nothing I remember is left except for the front door to the family home which is on display in the Sherwood Park Museum.