It happened one summer night in the early 1960’s, in the bucolic southeastern Iowa town of Columbus Junction, where the Rock Island’s Chicago-Kansas City route crossed its former Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern. At the time, the Rock Island ran two north-south passenger trains, 190 and 201 (the old Zephyr Rocket), and four east-west, 3 and 4 (the famous Golden State) and 39 and 40 (formerly the Imperial but reduced to little more than mail-and-express trains with a single coach). It was common practice that 190 and 201 exchanged mail and express with 39 and 40 at Columbus Junction, the third-trick telegrapher-baggageman doing the work.
On the sordid evening in question, 190 from the north had a crate bearing a pedigreed dog destined to Chicago on 40. The dog was removed from 190’s baggage car and taken into the telegraph office where, in a fit of canine concern, said third-trick operator let it out of the crate to wander around a bit until 40 arrived. It was due at 2:25 a.m., about two hours hence.
The night drew on, and soon the dispatcher advised that 40 was on the approach. The operator looked for the dog, which was nowhere to be found. The operator looked in the waiting room, along the platform, on the tracks. No pedigreed pooch.
Bangety-bang, 40’s E7’s clattered over the diamond.
Desperate situations require desperate measures. The telegrapher, whose humanity was exceeded only by his ingenuity, espied a solution. There, standing on the platform, was a mangy, non-descript local mongrel.
Presumably, the local mutt enjoyed his ride to Chicago on No. 40. The pedigreed pooch lived a long and happy life on an Iowa farm.
The perpetrator went on to become a Rock Island train dispatcher, and to this day he pleads innocence. The rest of us know better.
First published in Spring 2003 Classic Trains magazine
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