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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 his story.
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 coming along.

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 capture Sonny.

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.