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Passionate engineer saved Duquesne Incline Dies

By Karen Zapf
Monday, June 9, 2008 

For David Miller, an unexpected drive to work from his Mt. Washington home led to his campaign to save a Pittsburgh transportation landmark. 

David H. Miller of Upper St. Clair, formerly of Mt. Washington, died Saturday, June 7, 2008. He was known for his campaign to save the Duquesne Incline. - submitted

David H. Miller of Upper St. Clair, formerly of Mt. Washington, died Saturday, June 7, 2008. He was known for his campaign to save the Duquesne Incline. - submitted

One day after Thanksgiving 1962, Mr. Miller returned home shortly after leaving for his Gateway Center office and announced he would have to drive because the Duquesne Incline was shut down, recalled his wife, Ruth Miller. That incident triggered an interest in the incline and its viability that became a passion for the rest of his life, she said. 

David H. Miller of Upper St. Clair, formerly of Mt. Washington, died Saturday, June 7, 2008, in the health center in the Friendship Village of the South Hills retirement community in Upper St. Clair. He was 87.

His efforts got the Incline back in operation, Ruth Miller said.

Mr. Miller and his wife founded the Society for the Preservation of the Duquesne Heights Incline, the nonprofit organization that owns the incline and has kept it going since July 1963. Mr. Miller was president of the organization until September, when he began experiencing health problems, Mrs. Miller said.Mrs. Miller said her husband was passionate about reviving the Duquesne Incline because it was an important mode of transportation for many people who lived in the Duquesne Heights section of Mt. Washington. The incline rises 400 feet in its 793-foot span, carrying passengers between the top of Mt. Washington and West Carson Street. The organization’s Web site says that when the incline opened in 1877, the “funicular railway” was one of four inclined planes carrying passengers and freight to the residential area that had spread along the top of what originally was known as “Coal Hill.”

The incline uses two original 1877 cable cars, each holding up to 25 passengers.

Mr. and Mrs. Miller became involved with the incline in 1962 when the former owner, the Duquesne Inclined Plane Co., had shut it down. Mrs. Miller said the incline needed expensive repairs including new sheaves or grooved pulleys.

“It was terribly inconvenient for the Heights,” Mrs. Miller said. “We went door-to-door in the community and raised nearly $20,000 (for the repairs).”

Jim Presken, chief operating officer of the society, said Mr. Miller’s many years of community service inspired him to become involved in volunteer work. The two met through a mutual friend who works on the incline.

Mr. Miller’s other areas of civic involvement included serving on the board of the Pittsburgh Public Parking Authority and the Historic Review Commission.

“I never volunteered before meeting Mr. Miller,” said Presken, 55, of Mt. Oliver. “But I saw his tireless commitment, and he inspired me.”

Presken said he sees his mission as keeping the Duquesne Incline going in Mr. Miller’s honor.

Mrs. Miller described her husband as a quiet man and “very deliberate, as befits an engineer.”

The couple enjoyed traveling throughout Europe, particularly England, throughout their 63-year marriage.

Mr. Miller was raised on Mt. Washington and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 1942 with a degree in civil engineering. He enlisted in the Navy’s civil engineering corps and helped build air fields in the South Pacific Islands during World War II.

Ruth Furman and David Miller met in grade school and were married in 1945. Mr. Miller joined the engineering department at Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., where he worked until his retirement in 1985, his wife said.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Miller is survived by a nephew, a niece, and five great-nieces and great-nephews.

Friends will be received from 2 to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at the Brusco-Falvo Funeral Home, 214 Virginia Ave., Mt. Washington. Graveside services will be private.


Karen Zapf can be reached at or 412-380-8522.

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