One hot summer evening a bleeding, exhausted shepherd pup, with sore
footpads indicating he had journeyed a long distance, dragged himself into the desert town of Peach Springs, Arizona. The Santa Fe station agent, A.M. Browning, bandaged the paws and named him Jack.
After Jack had healed, Browning started teaching him tricks, and Jack responded quickly. Soon Jack was performing real service - he began retrieving order hoops. The order hoop, as any railroad man can tell you, is a lightweight loop with a handle, in the crotch of which tissue paper train orders are inserted. For trains that do not stop at the station, the agent stands on the station platform next to the tracks and holds the hoop aloft as the engine passes. The fireman snags the hoop, removes the train order, and throws the hoop back to the ground. Depending on the train speed the distance between snagging and throwing back can be considerable. In short order Jack was saving the agent many miles of walking.
Jack loved to retrieve hoops. "Sometimes, just for fun, I remained at my
desk when I hear a train coming. Jack would run to the door, look out, then
bounce back and grab a hoop by the handle, trying to remind me to deliver the
flimsies. If I still failed to go to work, Jack would put his forepaws on my
desk, and nuzzle my face. He always stood by expectantly when I passed up orders to the head end. As soon as both hoops had been picked up by the crew, away he'd dart after them. Sometimes it took him as long as thirty minutes to find hoops that dropped in weeds, but he invariably brought them back. If one fell under a train and was broken, he'd return with the pieces, one or two at a time."
On one occasion a drag freight labored slowly up the grade. Jack had
already brought in the head-end hoop and was waiting to run back for the one from the caboose, but, instead of flipping off the hoop, the conductor sat on the caboose steps reading his order. Jack kept pace with the crummy, looking for the hoop. At length, tired of waiting and seeing the handle protrude several inches over the steps, he made a mighty leap and grabbed the hoop in triumph with his teeth.
Jacks reputation spread far and wide. "Twice a Hollywood scout stopped off
at my depot and offered me a good price for him. I said no. Separation from
the railroad would have broken Jack's heart. Finally there came a time when
Jack limped home to the station with a bullet wound in his side. He died almost
immediately. We miss him. To this day many railroaders working out of
Seligman, Arizona, and Needles, California, would like to have a few minutes alone with his killer.