Travellers over the great trans-continental railways of the United States and Canada gaze with awe and wonder at the grandeur of Nature in the wild canyons and rugged peaks of the Rocky Mountains. In many places the railway tunnels through overhanging rocks, or winds round narrow shelves above gloomy precipices.
The railway companies take the greatest precautions for the safety of their trains in the mountain sections. Besides the usual working gangs, there are special track-walkers, and “safety switchopeners,” who lead solitary lives in the great hills.
Spring thaws and showers loosen the frost-bound soil, trickling snow-rills grow into gullying torrents, and the jar of a passing train sets in motion a loose boulder, which, with ever-increasing speed, at last hurls itself upon the track. Even the echoes of the locomotive whistle will in some states of the atmosphere bring disaster. Tiny snow crystals are jarred by the sound-waves; these start on a down ward career, gathering volume and speed until a mighty avalanche has been developed.
In one of these mountain canyons lives a Scotch track-walker and his only companion, a beautiful and intelligent collie dog, who always accompanies his master on the inspection rounds.
It was in the late afternoon of a strenuous day in May, when Jock and Collie arrived weary and hungry at the “shack” door. Everything was satisfactory in the canyon, the section gang had gone down the track, and with a sigh of content Jock set about preparing his evening meal. Collie, with his head between his paws, watched the proceedings. Suddenly he assumed an alert, listening attitude, then he set off at a great rate up the track.
When supper was ready Jock whistled for his companion, and on looking out was surprised to find him gone; but from the narrowing walls of the gorge came the sound of his furious barking. Jock whistled again and again, but the dog did not come. Perfectly convinced that something was wrong, he seized his rifle and hurried off, expecting to find that Collie had cornered some wild animal, or that some animal had cornered him! Round the curve he hurried, and what he saw almost paralysed him.
A great boulder, weighing many hundredweight, lay across the track, and on top of it, wild with excitement, was Collie.
On the little flat near the 'shack' was the switch at which the Pacific and Atlantic Expresses — the trains going East and West - crossed. They were due almost at once. He was alone, time was short, and upon, his action depended the safety of many lives. He could not go both ways at once with his warning; but down the western track beyond the switch he sped with explosive “torpedoes,” or detonating signals. Then he hurried back again past the dog (still on his signal station), and far to the east, round the long curve, with his red flags of danger.
The express from the Pacific, warned by the torpedoes, steamed slowly, very slowly, to the switch, then came to a stand-still.
The train crew ran down to the hut, which was thick with smoke from burnt 'flap-jacks' and frizzled bacon, but found no sign of Jock or Collie. Round the curve they ran, and there, still on the boulder, was Collie, barking, as the brakeman expressed it, “to beat the band.”
The others continued the pursuit of Jock, while the brakeman tried to coax the dog down. But Collie was there for a purpose, and not until Jock returned would he leave his post. His master's smiling face and hearty voice gave assurance that all was well, and then Collie fairly hurled himself upon Jock, licked his face and gave frantic yelps of delight.
An extempore breakdown gang cleared the track, and the great trains thundered away to Atlantic and Pacific — saved by a dog!