Bob and Alice Miller love the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It passes through their hometown of Somerset and nearby what became their home in Greensburg.
"Back when the turnpike opened in the 1940s, it really was a super highway," said 80-year-old Bob Miller. "People went out of their way to travel on the turnpike."
And so did Bob and his 81-year-old wife, Alice, both Somerset High graduates. During the last 30 years, the couple collected more than 800 souvenirs from the turnpike — commemorative plates, ash trays, cigarette lighters, playing cards, salt and pepper shakers, signs and license plate covers. Anything with the Pennsylvania Turnpike logo emblazoned upon it was snatched up by the couple either on the turnpike or at flea markets and antique shops across the country.
And that collection is now in the hands of the state Turnpike Commission, which plans to put the items on display at the Grand Midway when it reopens around Memorial Day. The couple donated their collection, minus a few doubles here and there, to the commission this past fall after state officials heard of the Millers' hobby and expressed interest.
"About 30 years ago, we found a (commemorative) plate in Texas," Alice Miller said. "It had Pennsylvania Turnpike on it. That's where it all started."
The couple has been collecting ever since. Alice Miller is a retired geography teacher, so travel naturally appealed to her. Her husband is a retired research scientist from U.S. Steel in Monroeville. They've traveled the turnpike from what became home nearer to Pittsburgh and back to their hometown of Somerset.
"Many, many times," Alice Miller said. "Now, well, it's not now what it was then. It's still the best way to get from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia."
What the Millers loved most about the turnpike is what it used to be. When it was built, it was one of the premiere roadways in the country.
"It really was a super highway," Bob Miller said. "It's like when people went to Niagara Falls. You'd bring home souvenirs from your trip. And that's what travelers on the turnpike did."
Rather than keep their collection boxed up, they decided the memorabilia should go back from where it came — to the turnpike.
"We felt this was the right thing to do," Bob Miller said.