Remembering Bob Miller
About twenty years ago, I moved to Granite Falls from the suburb of Machias, and made friends with Bob Miller while talking about antique cars. On Monday, Jan 9, 2012, Bob died after a multi-year battle with cancer.
Bob had spent his formative years in Granite. His grandparents Austin and Laura Miller had come to Granite about 1902, with Austin's sister and her husband Hugh Sharp. Austin named his own son Hugh, honoring his brother-in-law.
Hugh Miller married Belle and in 1925, their son Bob was born.
Bob was born into a family of self-sufficient men and women. His great-uncle Hugh owned and operated one of the successful taverns in Granite. Hugh's wife was an early milliner in Granite. They lived in the house that is today the Historical Museum.
Bob's grandad Austin had worked in the mining business, then operated heavy steam equipment (steam donkeys and locomotives) in the logging industry. Bob's dad also worked in the logging industry, as an engineer on heavy Climax and Shay logging locomotives, both on the Peninsula and in the Puget Sound area. It was almost pre-ordained that Bob would spend a career as a railroad engineer, after an early stint in the Navy. And as the saying goes, "You can take the boy out of the train, but you can't take the train out of the boy." For years he presented lectures and slide shows on northwest railroad history. Bob set up the railroad display in the Museum a few years ago, and provided countless stories and artifacts for visitor enjoyment. Bob loved old cars and old trains . . . heck, he loved all old equipment, and respected the men who knew how to operate and maintain it.
That love of "how things work" drove Bob to life-long learning in virtually all things mechanical and electrical. He had a compulsion to "experiment". And he had a personal bias that said, "If you can't fix it yourself, you probably shouldn't own it.". So, we spent hours talking about antique engines, cars, crank telephones, magneto ignitions, telegraph keys, and early radios.
But what really fascinated me about Bob was his love of animals and his sense of humor.
In the 1930s, Bob's dog had his own "handout" route in town. Bob was never without a dog, and even a few years ago, when Bob's old dog died and Bob found out he himself had an early cancer, his biggest concern was that he couldn't get another dog because he wouldn't be around long enough to raise it. Fortunately, his doctor said, "Miller, something else will kill you long before this does, so get a dog and make it (and you) happy." Tonight, I'm sure four-legged Lucy misses her best friend Bob, but she's known for months that he hasn't been well, and they enriched all lives they touched for the last six years.
I can see Bob's eyes twinkle with his lips set straight, as he spins a yarn for an unsuspecting listener. His amazing understanding of "how stuff works" seemed to compell him to create fanciful variations of the truth for the gullible - the more gullible the listener, the more fanciful the explanation. Bob could spin some pretty wild yarns before finally letting his catch off the hook. It was a cross between a sport and pure entertainment - Let the listener beware!
Bob came home from boot camp to visit family and Skipper. - Contributed Photo
Bob loved animals, he loved "heavy rusty guy stuff", he loved teasing unsuspecting innocent listeners, but most of all he loved his family and an angel he called his wife Rosie. He could tease her, too, then in the next breath say something like "You know, without Rosie, I likely would never survived my mistakes, and if I had, I'd probably be behind bars anyway. She's kept me straight all these years, and still puts up with my nonsense. We know at least one person in this family is going to heaven."
Bob's gone, and the sense of loss cannot be expressed. But his memory makes me smile, as he did when helping to install the cast iron belt-driven fans in the Museum. Bob was tightening bolts while I was supporting one fan, when one of the wives walked in and started to say something about being careful. Bob, 82, on a ladder and a lift about 20 feet off the floor muttered something akin to, "At this point, advice is not likely to increase the margin of safety." Gee, I miss him.