August 23rd's Pic of the Day features the Feel Good
story of the summer. This photo was snapped August 4th,
as this little dog reunites with his family after a 3
week quest for survival in the remoteness of the Island
Falls Subdivision. The dog's name is Sonny, and this is
Every railroad on God's Green Earth is riddled from one
end to the other of stories which, through the years,
eventually turn into myths and legends. Stories living
on to be repeated time and time again by generations of
Railroad Workers, whether it be Maintenance Of Way,
Running Crew, or any other Railway related profession.
Ontario Northland's Island Falls Subdivision served as a
backdrop during this year's Excursion season, to a story of rock
hard determination, and bare bones survival. Our Survivor? The
little dog pictured here. His name? Sonny.
The saga begins on a beautiful July 2006 morning as this family
embarks for a day long trip to Moosonee aboard the Polar Bear
Express, after travelling 500 miles from Toronto. However, while
the reservation process was underway, problems rose as Sonny,
the families little dog, put the upcoming adventure at risk due
to the "No Pets" rule on passenger trains. But, thanks to some
extra info, the family quickly realised that Sonny could indeed
join the rest of the family for their Sub-Arctic adventure,
courtesy of a portable pet kennel and baggage services which
were offered on ONR's Little Bear service. The family wouldn't
get the usual "touristy" treatment as Polar Bear Express
travellers would recieve, but that didn't matter. Sonny was
Now, little Sonny was forced to remain in his cage within the
Baggage Car of the Little Bear as the family journeyed the 186
miles north, but he was visited quite often by his loving family
during the course of the trip.
For those of you familiar with the operations of the 421-622
Little Bear, you know that switching and flag stops are just
part of the trip, as the mixed train makes it's way to Moosonee.
Our train arrives at Otter Rapids (Mile 93.5) for the necessary
lifting of northbound gravel loads. It was a pretty warm day in
the old baggage car. So warm that the baggage door was left open
slightly to enable a nice flow of air into the car to keep the
animals cool, since baggage cars aren't air conditioned.
With our Crew busily lifting these loaded gondolas and adding
them to their consist, Sonny managed to get out of his little
cage and leaped from the baggage car. The air is applied, and
the train departs Otter.
As I mentioned earlier, Sonny's loving family would visit him
often while the train motored north. It was after that first
visit, once the train departed Otter Rapids, that it was
realised that Sonny had indeed bailed out. Now, this was truly a
unique problem. There was no way the train could back up to
Otter, since they were already too many miles away. Not to
mention that the mainline had to be cleared for the southbound
Polar Bear (624) which would be southbound in a few hours. It
was then that the story behind Sonny's arrival with this family
came to light.
This family, from Toronto, had recently gotten Sonny as a little
helper through the lengthy grieving process that they were going
through with the recent passing on of their wife and mother.
With that little bit of news, hearts melted, jaws dropped, and
determination was on everyone's minds. It was then that radios
cackled, towers keyed in, and the name "Sonny" could be heard as
far south as Englehart! This dog HAD to be found. The family
returned to Cochrane and then to Toronto, hanging on to what
little hope they had of Sonny returning alive. To be honest, he
was a house pet in the Northern wilderness. The odds of living
were stacked against him.
It was a quiet week. There was no sign of Sonny anywhere along
the tracks in the Otter Rapids area. Did he starve to death? Was
he eaten alive by wolves? The possibilities of finding Sonny
were bleak. Until a little after that week. Section Crews and
Running Crews were spotting Sonny. The poor little guy was
totally panicked and would run away whenever one of the
employees would attempt to capture him. All in all, Sonny was
being spotted in different areas as far north as Mile 100 to as
far south as Mile 80. He was still alive!
For the next two weeks, everyone along the rails was trying to
figure out a way to get Sonny back. Whether it be dumping mounds
of food along the tracks, which would attract a whole lot more
than a lost dog, or have some of the kid's clothing shipped up
and left along the tracks to attract Sonny to a familiar scent.
At which point, he could be captured and assured that he had
nothing to fear and was going home.
As July closed and August began, everyone was keeping an eye for
Sonny, but still had no real way of capturing him. Until one
special Excursion trip with 2 big dog lovers on the head end,
E.S.B.'s Peter Smith and Jeff Glinski. It was your typical
northbound Polar Bear Express trip. Our train thunders into Mile
80. The second Engineman spots Sonny along the tracks. He steps
out on the catwalk of the now slowed train and proceeds to call
Sonny with no success. Sonny is freaked and continues to run up
the tracks. The second Engineman bails off and begins chasing
Sonny on foot. This goes on steadily (the second Engineman
chasing Sonny, while the Polar Bear slowly brings up the rear)
up the tracks to Mile 82.
It was then the train's Conductor, Denis Morin begins to help
out, and the plan of attack is fully laid out in order to
It could almost be a play out of an NFL playbook as 423's
Conductor sneaks around through the bushes to get ahead of
Sonny. Once in position, the Second Engineman takes off running
after Sonny, chasing him right into the awaiting arms of the
Conductor. Sonny was caught!
Our little dog was pretty much pampered for the rest of the
trip, sharing the cab of the lead unit with our two Enginemen
(because of the "No Pets" rule), while having some very well
deserved snacks courtesy of the Dining Cars Staff. This was when
RTC was contacted that Sonny was found alive and well, and in
the safe company of the Excursion Crew. The call was made to
Sonny's loving family in Toronto, who immediately piled in the
car and drove the 8 hour trip to Cochrane, arriving at the
station at 2200 that August evening.
While Sonny visited the Running Crew Bunkhouse during the
Excursion's layover at Moosonee, he was treated to more food and
a very much needed bath. The northbound Little Bear rolled in to
Moosonee that evening, greeted by an awfully cute sight of Sonny
sitting on the lap of the Excursion Engineman Jeff, as the
southbound Polar Bear readied to depart.
The Excursion rolls in to Cochrane about 20 minutes late that
evening with a pretty full crowd. The hustle and bustle of
Cochrane Station didn't last very long, and as the crowd
cleared, all that was left was Sonny, his family, and us. It was
hard to keep the tears in as one of the young daughters shouts,
"Sonny!". Sonny's ear perked up, and that little pooch took off
to greet his family leaping into the arms of their father. We
were speechless as I captured this photo of the reunion.
It was one of the most emotional events that I, and everyone
else there have witnessed in a very long time, and I consider
myself a very lucky person to have been present for the special
event. This is one of those stories that will be echoed through
generations of people who will come and go from this 186 mile
Subdivision. This is a story with a happy ending that could only
be made possible through the hard work of a pile of ONR people,
who took it upon themselves to make sure Sonny was saved. To
those people, I Salute You.