Editor's note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared Sept. 8, 2007.
WORTHINGTON — Someone is remodeling and enlarging the little bungalow at 1627 Okabena St. where Ed and Mabel Miller made their home for many years. Ed Miller was a railroad man through the last days of the steam engines. At about 1:30 every afternoon, Ed would walk from his house to Second Avenue and then continue down Second Avenue to the depot. He wore blue denim overalls, a blue denim jacket and a blue denim railroader’s cap. He carried a black metal lunch pail.
You almost never saw Ed walking alone. Mabel was beside him. She would walk to the depot and then back home. Mabel dressed stylishly in a modest way. In the winter she would wear a hat and a good wool coat with a ring of fur around the collar. She would wear hose and low heels. The daily walk was Mabel’s way of getting exercise.
There is another factor in this mix. Ed and Mabel had no children. They were with one another as often and as long as possible. In the summer they kept a large, weed-free garden together, with rows in straight lines. They didn’t care if some late summer afternoon you pulled a carrot.
Maybe it’s surprising how people have come to recall Ed Miller lately. Ed was a fireman and then an engineer.
Dr. David A. Nealy of California, who grew up at Adrian, wrote a reminiscence for the current issue of Classic Trains magazine. He recalls in part:
“… I got to know most of those Worthington-based crews and especially a wonderful grandfatherly engineer named Ed Miller who occasionally invited me into the cab of those seemingly awesome 10-wheelers while the way freight did its local grain elevator switching duties. I must also note that those wondrous cab rides were offered by the engine crews over the objections of the depot agent who (quite properly) took the position that the C&NW railroad yards were off limits to 10-year-old kids.
“However, to my delight, the engine crews maintained that the locomotive cabs were their domain rather than the depot agent’s and simply suggested that I exit the cab on the opposite side of the depot when they left town! By the time the departing rattler cleared the depot, I had hightailed it to a location well out of sight of the agent …”
Dr. Nealy’s reminiscence stirred memories for George McKinney of Rockford, Ill., now a retired railroader who grew up in the Worthington railyards. George’s mother and father operated the depot cafe.
George remembers, “Ed was the fireman on the 2:30 p.m. yard engine. I would ride around on the rear of the fireman’s seat many a summer day with Ed. My favorite was going up the (elevated) coal shed on the east end of town …
“Once he even stopped the engine en route to have me climb on the footboard to ride with him to the switch leading to the shed. I was only 8 or 9 years old. The engine would climb up the slanted track to couple onto the three empty gondolas up there. It was spooky looking down into those bins of coal, and it was dark up there.
“About 1942 I operated (a steam locomotive) up and down Track 3 in the Worthington yard. Ed stood beside me, and I was in the engineer’s seat. I was 10 years old. That memory is vivid.”
I had a bit of that same experience — all the kids in the neighborhood did. Roland Anderson. Marion Cashel. Tom Flynn and Jerry Flynn. The time I remember best, Altman Sietsema was engineer and Ed Miller was fireman. I too stood behind Ed as we rode up that long incline to the coal chutes, to that dark place where you looked down into the black coal bins.
It is a sad irony. Ed was on his last run before retirement.
Dr. Nealy writes:
“ … Ed Miller died of a heart attack trying to extricate his local freight from a typical southwestern Minnesota snowdrift on the Omaha’s Heron Lake-Pipestone branch. I’m sure I was the only non-family 14-year-old with tears in his eyes at Ed’s funeral that day in Worthington — but surely Ed knew why.
“Thank you Ed Miller for the joy you brought to my life.”