John Miller’s masterpiece, a working crane made of wood, is a tribute to his son

John Miller's wooden working crane and lift.

John Miller’s wooden working crane and lift.

To look at the wooden crane John Miller designed and built, you might assume he was some kind of engineer. The 4-foot boom is expertly balanced by the cab and engine and rotates 360 degrees. The crane can lift and lower a modest load, and the machine can crawl on its caterpillar tracks.

But Miller’s astounding creation – and its companion, a wooden scissor lift – are the products of a master woodworker’s skilled hands and a mind for planning.

“It was a shoot from hip sort of thing,” said Miller, a resident of Salina Presbyterian Manor. “I started building that crane and it just kind of grew. I didn’t have any plans or diagrams.”

Miller created the pieces in honor of his son and daughter-in-law, who own Trinity Sales, a construction equipment firm in Wichita. The models are usually on display at their office. “On a daily basis there are people who come in and marvel at it,” he said.

This spring, the pieces were carefully transported to Salina for display in the Manor’s Art is Ageless exhibit. Miller estimates the crane took about 400 hours to build over a period of four or five years.

“My dad was a trim carpenter, so I think maybe that rubbed off on me,” Miller said.

He took woodworking in high school. After he and his wife, Jan, retired to Bella Vista, Ark., in the 1990s he was finally able to have his own workshop. John worked in sales for a construction and paving firm in Wichita, where they had lived for 25 years.

In Arkansas, he says, he made a little of everything. He sold some items and gave others away. The golfers loved his miniature golf carts, and he built three porch swings for his children and grandchildren. “I should have made four, so I’d have one to keep,” he said.

The Millers, who have been married for 69 years, moved to Salina about three years ago to be near their daughter. He had to give up woodworking around the same time, but he keeps a photo album to remember his projets over the years – including the big crane.

“It was made with a lot of love, and it was time well spent, in particular with the kids enjoying it now,” Miller said.

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