They just don’t make ’em like they used to

By Ryan Cornell

STRASBURG — When 33 copper miners were trapped underground for 69 days near Copiapó, Chile, in 2010, Larry Miller thought he had recognized the name.

That’s because he had just returned home to Strasburg from building churches in that area of the world.

“When I saw that on TV, I said, ‘Man, that place looks familiar,'” Miller said. “I had been there just a couple years before that on a missions trip and went to that very copper mine.”

“And when I was there, I bought this,” he said, holding up a shiny copper pot.

That pot, born in the mine and possible unearthed by the same trapped miners, is only one of the items in Miller’s log cabin with an interesting backstory. The cabin is more like a museum than an antique collection with its countless historic artifacts lining the cedar walls.

There’s a 48-star U.S. flag that he keeps folded on the mantle, up above a handcrafted spinning wheel and a teacher’s chair from Toms Brook High School, which he had attended in the 1950s. There’s a hunting knife he’s saved from when he was a kid “back when everything was made in the USA” and earned after sending in 500 “Popsicle Pete” ice cream wrappers. There’s a dog sled sitting in the cabin’s loft that he said was raced by the world champion in 1978.

“We’ll have generations come up and all that stuff is lost,” he said. “The craftsmanship, the things from when I was a child, they’re lost if somebody don’t take care of them.”

On a table by a Red Ryder BB gun and photos of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, sits two framed sleeves of wood that look like intricate carvings. Miller explains that it’s an example of birch bark biting.

“An Indian up in Saskatchewan would go up to a tree, take a knife and peel it off,” he said. “She would fold it up and put it in her mouth and wouldn’t take it out until it was completed with her teeth. Only a few people in the world can do that.”

Outside the cabin is a functioning gristmill and not far from that is a bell originating from 1853.

Miller, 70, has been the pastor of Waterlick Church in Strasburg for the past 25 years. Many of the items he’s collected have been from missions trips he’s taken to Mexico and Canada in the past 18 years.

He said the cabin took a couple years to build, but it’s been a lifelong dream for him. Quoting Psalms 127 — “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” — he said all of the pieces seemed to fall into place.

“Everything was like right there,” he said. “The stone didn’t cost me a thing, the roof didn’t cost me a thing, the logs, I found them in the Valley Trader for free down in Stephenson. A guy there said he had 60 trees down there for free, you cut ’em.”

He said that God is the reason he was able to find the materials so easily.

He’s nearly completed with the log cabin and plans to lead tours of it to anyone interested at an open house on Saturday. The open house is scheduled from 1 to 4 p.m. He will offer food and refreshments at noon and live music from the Stevens Family Bluegrass Band between 2 and 4 p.m. The property is located at 2478 Minebank Road in Strasburg, near the intersection with Oranda Road.

He said he’s always looking for something new and different.

“My wife and I went to Vermont a few weeks ago and we stopped at antique stores and most of the stuff I see in the stores I have,” he said.

Miller is yet to retire and said that work, including building most of the cabin by himself, might be the secret to his extended health.

“Lots of times when people quit working on a public job, they quit working,” he said.

For more information about the open house, contact Miller at 540-465-4817

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com