Thursday, October 24, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nicole Brodeur / Times staff columnist

The man who could move a city

Most folks believe their fathers hung the moon and stars — or at least got out a ladder.

Louise Mills believes her father could have moved all of Seattle.

Indeed, Marmion Douglas Mills came close. As the former general manager of Seattle Transit, Mills brought the city its first diesel bus and trackless trolley. The first time each hit the streets, Mills was behind the wheel.

But Mills may be best known for bringing the monorail to Seattle for the 1962 World's Fair — too early for the city to see what dollars and dilemmas it could have saved.

"My father would have rolled over in his grave if he saw that nobody has done anything with it all these years," Louise Mills told me the other day.

For years, from her home on Bainbridge Island, Mills has watched city leaders talk and talk about roads and rails, while the commuters kept coming.

"There used to be giants walking these hills," Mills said. "Is there anyone in Seattle in charge of transportation?"

My mind sorted through the names that have barraged me with monorail e-mails; then those of Sound Transit board members.

"Not really," I told her.

We don't have anybody as take-charge as M.D. Mills, who started his transportation career moving 600,000 troops during World War I. He went on to convert transportation systems here and elsewhere.

For the World's Fair, Mills went to Germany to bring the monorail here. He saw its potential beyond the fair and talked then of expanding it down to the airport and up to the North End (sound familiar?).

Instead, the monorail has paced back and forth between Seattle Center and Westlake Center. It could have gone much farther, and much faster had people listened to Mills.

"After the World's Fair, that was the time to do something," Louise Mills said. "But you've got to have vision to do it. Now it's so messed up and things are so expensive, who knows what the best thing is?"

The transportation players seem like intelligent people, she said, but always keep one eye on business or political or neighborhood interests.

Before he died in 1964, M.D. Mills left his daughter with a small part in the city's transportation history.

She was on board when the city's last cable car and streetcar were driven into the barn.

"We had a big party," she said, "and my father autographed the tickets."

The next morning, she was up early for the first run of the city's first trackless trolley, and the first diesel bus — her father behind the wheel.

Years later, she was on the maiden voyage of the monorail.

"I rode the first trip because my father was driving," she said. "He didn't want anyone to have to drive something that he couldn't drive himself."

Mills can still see herself sitting in it, still feel the sleek, smooth ride. And she still remembers the editorial in the newspaper the day before: "Beginning tomorrow," it said, "the life of Seattle will completely change."

But the years of gridlock — and our leaders' failure to see us out of it — have shown her otherwise.

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or at More columns at

She took the ferry; it was nice.


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