A Child Sees through the Storm

By Beth Anne Bruhn

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    It was the winter of 1925. Fred Bruhn would never have considered traveling with his young family over the mountain pass from Panguitch to Parowan at that time of year had it not been for Eleanor’s great love for her grandmother. The family was celebrating her birthday with a special family gathering.

    As a young man, Fred Bruhn had come west from Iowa to Utah and met Eleanor Guyman. He promptly fell in love with her, but she was a teacher and would-be actress, and he had courted her seven long years before she agreed to marry him. After a period of homesteading in southwestern Utah, they had moved east, over the mountains, to the little town of Panguitch, in close proximity to Bryce and Zion National Parks. Here they had opened a cafe and settled down to raise their family. My father, Arthur, was ten years old in 1925; the younger children were Beth, Vee, and Bill, the baby.

    The morning dawned crisp and clear that winter day as Fred bundled his three older children into the back of the pickup truck. Eleanor held the baby. Parowan was fifty miles away, a short trip in summer, though the twisting Bear Valley road was considered dangerous even then.

    Halfway across the valley snow began to fall heavily. Though Fred was concerned, he reassured Eleanor that they could reach Parowan easily before the full impact of the storm reached them. Then the truck threw a rod and came to a shuddering halt. Fred fought to keep it from sliding off the wet road. The snow was falling faster now, whipped by the wind around the stranded family.

    The children huddled deeper into their covers, snuggling together for warmth. Eleanor, terribly afraid, held her baby tightly against her and began to cry. Only the week before, in the East, a family had frozen to death under similar circumstances.

    A cold dread crept through Fred as he raised the hood of the truck. The storm would continue for some time, and if he didn’t find more adequate shelter, his family would perish. He remembered an old farmhouse in the area, not far from the road. But how was he to find it when he couldn’t see more than a few feet ahead? Arthur climbed off the truck and found him.

    “Pa, I’m going to pray. The Lord will help us.” He dropped to his knees beside the truck.

    “All right, son,” Fred replied, though he probably felt it was useless. His mind had begun to numb itself to the fact that they would freeze, buried by the ever-mounting snow, if they didn’t find shelter soon.

    Arthur rose, looking through the snow. “Pa,” he said, “the old farmhouse is just ahead in the middle of the next field.”

    Looking in the direction his son pointed, Fred could see nothing but the snow falling, getting deeper every precious minute they waited. However, Arthur seemed so sure that Fred decided to take a chance and see if he couldn’t find the house.

    “All right, son. I’m going down to the farmhouse. Stay here with your Ma and the other youngsters until I come to fetch you.” Fred set off blindly into the storm. Arthur watched him. He was going too far left. He would miss the house.

    “Pa,” he shouted, “to the right.”

    Fred corrected his way several times until he could no longer hear Arthur through the storm. There was now only the silence of the snow and the wet chill that had begun to creep through his body. But no farmhouse. He had been foolish to leave his family for so long, trusting in a child. He turned back toward the road.

    Arthur, watching his father, could see the farmhouse in the distance. Tears welled up in his eyes when he realized Pa was turning back. He had been within feet of the farmhouse. Arthur ran forward.

    “Pa, you were there! You were there, Pa.”

    “I’m sorry, son. I couldn’t see anything.” Fred tried to fight his anger and panic.

    “But Pa, you were there,” persisted the boy. “If you had only gone a little farther! Pa!” Arthur’s voice dropped to a hushed whisper. “We’re going to die if we stay here.”

    “I know that, son.”

    “Pa, let me go ahead. I’ll show you the way. I’ll light fires to show you which way to follow. The house is there, Pa, I can see it. It’s so close. God will help us. Please, Pa, I don’t want to die.”

    Fred looked at his son’s earnest face. He pondered the alternatives. If they stayed with the truck, his family would freeze before help could reach them. At the farmhouse they had a good chance of survival. And perhaps, with God’s help, Arthur could see something he couldn’t.

    “All right, son, show us the way.”

    Fred reached into the truck for the matches and paper they always carried for emergencies. He watched his son’s intense, lean body disappear into the storm, then turned to the task of quieting Eleanor and getting the family ready to leave the truck.

    Alone, Arthur trudged through the snow, bending against the wind and heading down the slope toward the farmhouse. The walking was tedious; in places the snow was above his knees. His feet were already numb, and icy fingers of pain raced through them, though he scarcely noticed. He looked back toward the truck. Time to build a fire. He knelt in the snow, and again he prayed.

    The brush was too hard to break, so he crumbled the paper, blocking the storm with his body, and set it ablaze. Once the fire was blazing he moved on toward the farmhouse. Several times he knelt in prayer, then built another fire, warmed himself, and moved on.

    Convincing Eleanor that they must have faith in their oldest son, Fred improvised a rope to lash the family together. Using Arthur’s fires to guide them, they stumbled through the snow, depending upon the unwavering faith of a ten-year-old boy.

    Even when they arrived at the yard of the farmhouse they still could not see it, as Arthur led them to the door. Caked with snow, numb with cold and fear, the family clustered around him, unable to speak.

    “There’s wood here, Pa, and a stove. We’re safe now. I knew God would show us the way.”

    After prayers of thanksgiving, Arthur and little Vee helped their father tear boards from the inside of the house to burn for warmth and signal fires. Eleanor melted snow so that she could get some warm liquid into her family. Then she attended to Arthur’s feet, which were badly frostbitten.

    Rescue teams began to form even as the family was settling down to spend the cold night. When the storm reached Panguitch, concerned neighbors had called Parowan to make sure the family had arrived safely. Finding they were long overdue, friends and neighbors began to equip themselves with skis, snowshoes, and emergency supplies, as they waited for the storm to end. It was dawn before they could leave, and their hearts were heavy with the certain fear of what they would find. When they did find the buried truck abandoned, their dread mounted.

    It was Ben Cameron who spotted the smoke snaking from the farmhouse chimney. A mountain of a man in a bearskin coat, he led the way, praying he would find the family alive and well.

    As Fred and Eleanor told the rescuers of their miracle and Arthur’s faith, Ben took off his coat, wrapped Arthur tenderly in it, and snowshoed back across the field to the waiting trucks.

    The rest is history. Arthur F. Bruhn grew up with the courage of his convictions. Always a man of foresight and faith, in 1955 he became president of Dixie Junior College at St. George, Utah, when hopes were dim for that institution and it had an enrollment of 135 students. President Bruhn was working on his doctorate when he died in 1964 at the age of 47, but enrollment at the junior college was 383 and mushrooming, and under his leadership it had moved to a new and larger campus.

    Show References

    • Sister Bruhn is an elementary school teacher, the mother of two children, and a member of Liberty Ward in Salt Lake City.