Leaving a Bridge Building Legacy
Miller won against an incumbent who'd held the position for 12 years. And, finally, he married.
As surveyor, Miller's job was to take care of the county's 1,200 miles of ditches. Two years later Roosevelt swept the county and the county commissioners gave Miller the highway superintendent's job, an appointive position. In 1938 he ran for surveyor again, and not only won, but also volunteered to work both jobs for one salary, which he did for the next 28 years, for a total of 30 years of service to Noble County.
During that time he earned his professional engineer's license (in 1940) and rebuilt all but 40 of the 400 miles of township roads, widened existing bridges and blacktopped them, and built 13 new bridges. Nine of those bridges either span the Elkhart River or cross a north or south branch of it. Most of them went up in the early 1960s. Using his Tri-State education, he insisted that the contractors utilize a pre-stress concrete box beam design on all but one of the 13.
"And when I finished we had some of the best roads and bridges in the state," Miller says. "When you build a road you have to set the grades, stake fence lines and know how to do concrete bridges. I built the first river bridge in Noble County that wasn't engineered by an outside firm. It was in downtown Ligonier with a pier in the middle of the river."
When commissioners found out he knew how to build bridges, they asked if he was aware that the federal government would help finance them, but only if he hired an
outside agent. "But I answered, 'I can do it cheaper this way'-and I did."
Today the state has a list of bridges in need of repair in every county, including six in Noble County that need replacing. But, according to Keith Lytton, Noble County engineer, the bridges that Miller built are in overall, good quality condition. He doesn't know Miller personally. "But if he's the one responsible for what I've seen, he did a pretty good job," Lytton says. "A good bridge does take a good design and supervision. We have several bridges from the early '60s that are still in service, and the things in most need of repair are the end bents, which are made of wood, and are expected to wear out."
Richard Gardner, professional engineer for WTH Engineering, which does bridge inspections for the state, says Noble County's average sufficiency rating-which mathematically judges the stability of the state's bridges-is 78.99. "And I'd say that's pretty good, especially for the age they are. All but one of the bridges is of the same concrete design," Gardner adds. "The load ratings are all still good, too."
For Miller, who just celebrated his 94th birthday, his secret to success is one he enjoys sharing: "Work hard and be honest," he says. "If you want to live to be 100, you have to work hard. And, if you're not honest, you won't hold a job.
"The thing about Tri-State is we had a good education. We learned how to rebar the concrete, something not everybody was doing at that time. And, as far as I know the bridges I built like that, they've never had any problem with. That's what I'm proudest of."
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