Leaving a bridge building legacy
Written by Cindy Bevington
Sixty-one bridges span the rivers and tributaries of Noble County, Indiana, some of them dating back almost 100 years when the railroad was coming through and the only entity building bridges in any substantive form was the railroad, for the railroad. After the railroad was done, however, the business of constructing bridges fell to county politicos who left their personal stamps on the bridges' designs as the century-and bridge blueprints-evolved. From 1938 to 1968, Warren Miller, BSCE' 32, built 13 bridges that still stand so strong today that the only parts needing serious repair are their timber piles. It is a legacy that Miller attributes to his Tri-State training.
"Originally, I went to Tri-State because I wanted to be a doctor," Miller says. "At that time they got all their professors from Michigan University-it was not Michigan State then-and if you got a B or better at Tri-State, you were automatically in the medical school at Michigan. I had wanted to go to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but it was 1929, the start of the Depression, when I was making up my mind, and things were tough. Tri-State was closer and cheaper than MIT."
Always at the top of his class, Miller never worried about the B average requirement. Financing his education was another matter. His father was a Pennsylvania Dutchman who was from the old European school of thought that the entirety of an inheritance goes to a man's firstborn son-and Miller was the second-born.
"My father never got past second grade, so when he got me through eighth grade, he said that was it," Miller says. "I said I wanted to go to high school. But he said, 'You don't need it.'"
When Miller argued, his dad relented, but with a caveat: he would furnish a place to live and food to eat, but that was all. "I was 14," he says. "And I knew right then if I ever got to college it would be tough, so I said every dollar I earn is going in the bank."
He enrolled in Kendallville High School, in Noble County, Ind., four miles from his father's farm. "And I worked from age 14, on, and started my first bank account the next day," he says. The deposit totaled $5.13-income derived from the sale of a skunk and two muskrats.
For two years, before his family moved into town, he rode a bike or hitched a ride to school. In the summer, he hauled yard gravel for the township trustee, whose job it was to take care of the county roads. He picked strawberries, too, and raspberries. He graduated in 1929 and worked a year at Atz Furniture Company and, finally, with $1,200 in the bank, he enrolled in Tri-State.
"That was a lot of money back then," he says. "But even so, I knew I had only so muchmoney I could spend a week. Tuition was $12.50 a semester for each course, and I knew I couldn't vary the budget much, or I'd go hungry. It usually cost me $50 to sign up, more for extra subjects, which I took."
He brought a sack of apples from home every Monday morning to help him last the week. A dime a day bought him a glass of milk and an egg sandwich. If he didn't need to buy supplies, such as protractors and mechanical drawing kits, sometimes he could spend a quarter-two glasses of milk and three eggs.
"I took regular courses until I got my B average, and then Professor (George) Niehous let me take anything I wanted," Miller says. "He was a wonderful man who took me under his wing, although I never had him in an actual class. He was a good engineer, a real mathematician, and one of the smartest men I ever met.
"I ended up getting my degree in civil engineering-I knew by then I couldn't go on and be a doctor. In those days you had to pay $10 for your sheepskin. And that was like $1,000 now, so not a lot of kids got anything more than a piece of paper saying they'd taken the courses. But I had an aunt who paid the $10, so I have mine."
After graduation, it was 1932 and the country was in the depths of the Great Depression. Miller had a degree. But he didn't have a job and he still lived at home. He had a sweetheart, but he didn't feel it was fair to marry her with no income. Then, in the spring of '34, all that changed: his mother and the Republican county chairman decided to put him on the ticket for county surveyor-and the rest is history.
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