Bob The Railway Dog

 At the heart of South Australia's railway history, a charming and loyal canine companion left an indelible paw print on the tracks – Bob the Railway Dog. A beloved icon, Bob's story is one of love, friendship and adventure as he became a fixture among steam locomotives and railway workers in the late 19th century.

Bob was born in 1883 in Macclesfield, South Australia. The scruffy, brown and white mixed breed dog was fascinated by railways from an early age. When he was still a puppy, Bob would often wander away from home, following the railroad tracks to watch workers laying the lines. Several times he had to be brought back to his owner, but one day, when he was nine months old, Bob ran away.

Bob found himself some sixty kilometers away in Adelaide, where he was captured by dog catchers and put into a truck with fifty other dogs and shipped north as part of a rabbit control program. When the train stopped at Tarrowy, a stationmaster named William Ferry fell in love with Bob and took him to the bustling railway town of Petersburg, now known as Peterborough.

Ferry trained Bob to perform all kinds of tricks, and later took Bob thousands of miles with him in the guard's van when he was a guard on the narrow gauge Northern Lines. Sometimes Bob would usually ride aboard the coal tender with the engineman. Later, Ferry became assistant stationmaster in Petersburg but Bob continued to ride the trains alone.

Bob was known to travel thousands of miles to and from Petersburg, often sitting in front of the coal point in the locomotive tender. According to the Petersburg Times "His favorite place was on the Yankee engine; the big whistle and the belching smoke seemed to have an irresistible charm for him... He lived on the fat of the land, and did not know from whom he accepted his dinner Was ."

'Bob, the Railway Dog' sits atop the driver's car of a stationary locomotive in the Port Augusta railway yard. Photo credit: State Library of South Australia

Bob did not like suburban engines because of their cramped cabs, but he was known to free up third class compartments for their sole use, "barking loudly at all stations, usually to the attention of interested passengers." They were successful in explaining that the coach had been reserved for their special benefit".

The Spectator wrote in 1895, "The most interesting part of his conduct is that he has no master, but every engine driver is his friend." He continues to watch until they return to the railway station in the morning, from where he sets out on another of his continuing journeys.”

For many years Bob rode engines throughout the state, sometimes traveling as far away as Oodnadatta in Queensland. He was present as "distinguished guest at the Melbourne Exhibition of 1881" at the opening of the railway between Petersburg and Broken Hill.

After spending many happy years riding the railways in Australia, Bob died in 1895. Shortly after his death, a poem was published in The Advertiser, the second stanza of which is as follows:

His body was preserved and later displayed at the Exchange Hotel in Adelaide. Bob wore a special collar made for him by railway workers. On the leather collar was a brass plate which read: "Don't stop me, but let me take a walk, for I am Bob, the driver's dog". His collar is on display at the National Railway Museum, Port Adelaide, along with photographs and other artefacts. There is also a statue of Bob on Main Street in Petersburg.

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