“He’s got quite a story,” Doug Bracken said of the man who used to own his business. “Ernest had a lot of tragedy in his life. But he knew how he wanted to do things, and he always did them just how he wanted.”
Ernest Wiemann grew up in Bramsche, Germany, where his father was a political figure at odds with Hitler’s rule. At 17, Wiemann’s parents sent him to live with family in Chicago to avoid the traumatic political fallout to come. Having already become a licensed journeyman machinist, Ernest quickly found work at Finkel’s Machine Shop in Chicago.
Wiemann moved to Tulsa in 1930 after marrying an Oklahoma native. As his custom gates, furniture, and garden ornaments became popular, he began to focus on them solely, opening Wiemann Ornamental Ironworks, now called Wiemann Metalcraft. The company’s work was featured in numerous national publications, including a gate Wiemann had designed for a home at 61st and Harvard that was featured on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. In other articles, Wiemann had earned the nickname “Tulsa’s Man of Iron.” He received custom orders from Napa Valley, New York City, Chicago, and other cities, but was most proud of his accomplishments in Tulsa, like the gates to the Philbrook Museum of Art or the gazebo at the Thomas Gilcrease home. Wiemann was given over 160 awards for his metal craftsmanship—more than anyone else in the country.
“He was known for quality work and always giving the customer more than what they expected,” Bracken said. “I didn’t come on the scene until the early ’90s, but even though he was older, he still stuck to his old-fashioned values and ways of doing business.”
Wiemann was 83 years old, still working six days a week and keeping to a strict code of old-school frugality.
“If he was walking through the shop and saw a stray washer on the floor, he would pick it up and say, ‘If this were a nickel, you’d stop and pick it up!’ ”
Over the next three years of working together full-time, Wiemann and Bracken became friends.
“He told me a lot about his past,” Bracken said. “He had lost a son to polio, and a brother-in-law who was also an employee. And way back when he was trying to get his citizenship, it was very difficult for him. They used to hold public hearings, and if even one person showed up to say something bad about you, that was it. Ernest had made some accidental enemies at a previous job, and they were always showing up to defame him. Eventually somebody with a lot of power—I think it was either Skelly or LaFortune Sr.—had to intervene, and he finally got his papers.”
Bracken eventually bought the ironworks company from Wiemann, who was remarried at 90 to a woman he met in the rain during Macy’s Christmas Parade in New York city. They moved to her home in Arkansas, but Wiemann still checked up on his old business.
“It took a lot for Ernest to give away his name,” he said. “Even after he left, he would still call me up and make sure his name was respected and we were handling everything well. He used to say in his thick german accent, ‘always protect your reputation, ’cause it’s one thing you can trade on.’ ”