Buster and Hobo- the Sierra Railway Dogs

One of the most well known celebrities of the late 19th century was a little dog known as Owney the Mail Dog. For nine years and 140,000 miles, Owney travelled the country by rail, always riding in the mail car and cared for by the mail clerks. His fame grew as he traveled across the country and later around the world. Owney is one of many dogs that have taken to rail travel over the years. In Italy, Lampo, rode the trains and his story was told in the book, “Lampo the Traveling Dog,” by Elvio Barlettani. Pepe Marvel, a young dog who regularly rode the   commuter train in Valparaiso, Chile, became an instant celebrity when pictures of him sleeping on a rail car were circulated on the internet.   Pepe was adept at avoiding the transit security and sneaking on board the trains. His traveling days ended when he was finally apprehended and later adopted by a Buenos Aires family.

Buster the Sierra Railway Dog- artist's rendition by Karen Kling

Buster the Sierra Railway Dog- artist’s rendition by Karen Kling

Tuolumne County and the Sierra Railway were not without their own  canine celebrities. Old Bob was a well-known local dog who regularly rode the stage coaches that traveled between Sonora and Milton.  Besides being a friend and companion to the stage-drivers, he was also an eyewitness to several hold-ups. When the coaches were replaced by the railroad, Old Bob was lonely and despondent. One day, he hopped aboard a train to Stockton for a little change of scenery. Not being a city dog, Bob quickly became disenchanted with what Stockton had to offer. Then he spied a hack driven by Frank Robinson and jumped aboard and made himself comfortable under the front seat. From that day on, he was cared for by the hackmen of the city.

Hobo, arrived in Jamestown about 1898 with Station Agent F.T. Boyd.  Hobo found railroading to his liking and made the train station his home base. He loved everyone, but was particularly fond of the rail workers. Hobo was a wanderer and never one to stay in a place for too long. When he grew bored with Jamestown, he hopped aboard a train and rode up the rails to make new friends and see new sights, returning to Jamestown when the mood struck. Hobo didn’t care much for warm temperatures and would make his way to Sugar Pine or Strawberry each year to spend the summer months, returning each fall to Jamestown. Hobo was a village dog and he was fed and cared for by the many members of the community who loved and admired him.

Bummer, was a very intelligent shepherd dog who lived above Sonora with rancher Joseph Barron. Besides his ranch hand duties, Bummer took it upon himself to fetch the daily paper. Rain or shine, Bummer made his way to the Black Oak Station each night and awaited the arrival of the mail train. After receiving the paper from the express messenger, he would hurry home to his master.

Bummer’s career almost ended when he chased a squirrel across the train tracks and derailed a small motor rail car. Badly injured, he crawled home and was nursed back to heath by Barron.

When you are riding the train at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, don’t forget to bring your own canine companion, and remember the history of the Sierra Railway dogs who came before.