Miser, a Railroad Dog

By: Richard Palmer

Volume 17, Issue 7, July 2022

[Editor's note: First, this is a long article – 3,000+ words – and we normally limit our articles to 1,200 words; however, it’s a wonderful bit of history that deserves a second viewing.
Also, if any of us have travelled or plan to travel this summer, it is apropos to the long lineups at airports around both countries. Therefore, we thank Richard F. Palmer for finding this one and sharing it with TI Life readers. Enjoy!]

Article from the Watertown Daily Times, by Ernest G. Cook, Theresa, NY, December 7, 1912]


Travels on Clayton Branch and is Known to Many - In Summer Deserts Trains and Turns to Navigation

This morning I left the elegant coach with its comfortable, high-backed seats, for a trip in the baggage car. Not that the coach was overcrowded, no, not that. And I was not in need of being checked through. I was there because I wanted to get better acquainted with my friend Miser.

In a Snow Storm

I first met Miser during a fierce snow storm of about a year ago. And the snow storm of this week made me think of it. I was on deck awaiting the Clayton train in the Philadelphia yard and we had been there about an hour that December evening patiently waiting for the trains up from the south. There had been a heavy fall of snow all the afternoon and it was still at it, snowing and blowing.

Somewhere, north or south of Watertown, a snow-crusted engine, maybe there were two of them running tandem, was, or were, battling their way northward foot by foot.

And that few passengers on our waiting car, like most American people were inclined to look upon the bright side and make sport of the delay. However, the long delay was beginning to tell on some.

The Ways of Men and Women

And if you want to study human nature, get on a belated train and watch the people as they are made to wait hour after hour. You will be very apt to get a glimpse of the side in their natures that is seldom brought into view, for they are apt to drop down from the higher levels and take on the manners of a disappointed and unsatisfied children. For a while they are not on dress-parade – but our friends that night in the car were inclined to make the best of it.

Down in the far end of the car three commercial travelers, used to all sorts of delays and disappointments through many years of travel, were telling stories and cracking jokes. They settled down, telling stories each in turn of the different kinds of snow blockades they had been in and how they spent the time.

Another drummer was pacing up and down the aisle, doubtless thinking with regret of the orders he was missing and longing to be at his work that very moment in some village down the line.

In the middle of the car was a tired and uneasy youngster, and now and then it would pipe up in its shrill treble, that could be plainly heard above the hum of conversation. “Ain’t we never goin’ to get any supper tonight?”

And there would be periodical interludes when everybody seemed to stop talking at the same time and silence would reign throughout the length of the lighted car.

And Then Came Miser

And it was during one of these lulls in the hum of the conversation that I first saw Miser. He came in so unexpectedly that we hardly knew he was with us, but soon every eye was upon him as he made his passage down the aisle. His trip down the length of that car was almost like a stage parade.

His entrance was about like this: The door on the end of the car next to the baggage suddenly opened and down the aisle there walked a rather thickset man, a little below medium height and with shoulders a trifle stooped. He walked like a railroad man, used to years of service on a moving train, where one must ever be on the alert to keep one’s balance. His step that evening was slow and measured and there was just a slight suspicion that there might be a twinge of rheumatism about his knees, for he seemed to favor one leg as he walked. The man moved forward down the aisle with an almost silent tread and his eyes looked neither to the right nor the left.

And about four feet in his rear, marched, with all the pompous air of a drum-major, a fat, brindle, keen eyed bull-dog. A short stubby tail of about four inches appended his fat body. And so fat was he, that when he walked, that stub tail moved sideways, back and forth with each step, with about the same tempo as a musical director’s baton beating two-four time.

A New Stunt

Down the aisle moved the silent pair, keeping just the same distance apart and both with “eyes-front.” Had they been waxworks moved forward with secret springs, their actions would not have been more machine-like.

About six feet from the drinking fountain the dog stopped, sort of braced himself and made ready for his part in the act to be performed. The man pushed the lever and filled the cup and then turned and faced the dog. The passengers were all alive now and watching. The three commercial travelers were up and looking with all their eyes. “What in thunder!” I heard a man a seat or two down the aisle exclaim as he watched the pair at the end of the car.

Suddenly there was a flash as the cup was thrown forward towards the dog’s mouth, and before the passengers could take in the situation the dog had made a spring and we heard the “kerflap” as his smacking jaws came together. The man had simply thrown the cup full of water at the dog. When the cup suddenly stopped at arm's length, the water moved forward in a globule mass, straight for the dog’s mouth. And, presto, it had gone inside the dog. Once, twice and three times the man filled the cup and threw the water at the dog. Three times we heard the “kerflap” as the dog’s jaws shut after he had caught the water. And then the dog gave his head a quick shake, turned half around, and the man hung up the cup.

Back down the aisle went the solemn recessional towards the baggage car. I put out my hand for a friendly pat on the dog’s head, but he paused not in his measured march, only shifted his eye slightly my way and marched on, out into the baggage car.

A Smart Dog

Have you ever observed what a change comes over people when, after two or three days of continued dark and cloudy weather, the sun suddenly shines forth in all its splendor? How they will seemingly spring forward into greater activity and a new world seems to be opening all around them?

Well, that was about the way it was that night in the snow bound car. New life and a new spirit came over the people. And if the dog had belonged to the official hand for scattering sunshine, he could not have done better work.

“Gee, that’s a smart dog!” said a fellow up ahead, and instantly there was a hum as the people began to talk about some smart dogs they had seen; and some, for there must have been Clayton people aboard, about this remarkable dog.

And I only got a fleeting glimpse of Miser, as he made his daily railroad trips, until last spring. Then I began to get better acquainted. I saw him doing different stunts and watching the baggage truck at Philadelphia.

The Railroad station in Clayton, NY. [Photo courtesy the author]

In the Baggage Car

And so this morning I took a trip in the baggage car to learn more of Miser. “Maybe I'll write a story about that dog,” I said to my trainman friend, William Murray.

“If you do,” replied my friend, “You can’t get your picture too strong, for it is a mighty smart dog. And with that be turned the key in the lock of the baggage door and let me in. Instantly the dog was on hand to greet me.

In the car were William Campbell and Frank Farmer. Mr. Farmer is a railroad man of many years service, forty-five I think with the baggage car. He was in the stations for a while.

And Mr. Farmer was the man mentioned in the early part of the story and it is Farmer and Miser that are chums and companions of many a day. It is Farmer that has taught the dog his many tricks and either would fight to help the other. Mr. Farmer is a genial man, ever ready to help and – well dogs are not fools, they know the kind of men to tie to.

A Railroad Man’s Story

“Just tell me about this friend, Miser,” I said to Mr. Farmer, after we had squared around for the story.

“Now that dog,” said Mr. Farmer, “is smarter than a lot of people seem to be, that I have seen in my 62 years of living. He knows a lot, and in fact, is the smartest dog I ever saw.”

“No, I don’t know much about his early days or where he came from, but think he is five years old and that John bought him when a pup.”

“John who?” I asked. “That is so you would not know,” replied Farmer. “The dog belongs to John Colon of Clayton, a policeman there in the summer time. John thinks a lot of the dog, but some way the dog has taken a great fancy to me. I first got acquainted with him about two years ago. Met him on the street and thought he acted like a smart dog and made friends with him. And after a little while he used to look for me. One day he came down to our house, scratched at the door and we let him in. He'll just as likely as not go home with me tonight. He is as much at home with me as at John’s, more so I guess, and I am teaching him new tricks all the time. You just tell him once, and he will remember it. Yes sir, a very smart dog. Now this dog is the friend of all along the river and all are friends of him. Just as like as not he will call around in Frank Cole’s house, the conductor, you know, and ask Mrs. Cole for a bit to eat.”

“Maybe he will visit up at Irvin Dalley’s or Joe Farmer’s or any of the railroad men’s homes. They all like him, you bet they do.”
“You think of writing him up do you? Well, don’t you do it till you learn all about him. He’s too smart a dog and has too many tricks to just tell a little of him. Now, here is a strange thing. He will ride the train only during the season when the summer travel is not on. When it comes summer time, he rides the boats.”

A Sailor

“Is that so?” I managed to exclaim.

“Yes, sir, he rides the boats. Why every steamboat captain knows him and would fight for him. There is many a millionaire that thinks as much of that dog as he does of his money, more so, I guess. You see this dog began riding with me about two years ago and he would make the trip nearly each day and I thought that he and I were to be companions all through the year. When it came summer he wouldn't take the trip out on the early morning run and when I returned I found he had gone out with the mail boat.”

“Does he seem to have a regular boat for his trips?” I asked.
“Sure thing,” said Mr. Farmer. “He likes the Newsboy the best, or at least that was the boat he rode on the most. However, he would take any of them and often you would see him on one of those palatial private yachts. It is comical to see him. He will jump on the Newsboy and ride up to the Park, where he will hop off and take a view of the place and he’ll be on hand when the boat makes the return trip. And did you ever see him help dock a boat?”

I shook my head in the negative.

“Now that is his big stunt,” replied Farmer. “He jumps for the first rope thrown out and helps to tie it on the snub post. If he remains on the Clayton dock he’ll be all alert when a big, or little boat pulls in and he is the first one to grab the shoreline when it is thrown out. And sir, this may seem big, but he will sometimes take it and run around the snubbing post and try to make the rope fast.”

A Millionaire

“And when the dog goes out on a pleasure trip with some of those millionaires on their private yachts, he acts just as much like a millionaire as any of them. They say that when it comes dinner time and the call is given by the cook, that the dog is the first one that is ready for the table and he takes his place with all the dignity of a parson. And these fellows like him, I guess that dog is known from coast to coast.”

“Doesn’t the dog ever take a longer trip than to the Park?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” he replied. “He sometimes takes longer rides, going down to the Bay and sometimes further down the river. But seems to be partial to the Newsboy and does most of his work on the Clayton dock. Oh, he is the greatest thing out with some of those city people. More than one has tried to buy him and take him home with them. But isn't it strange that Miser should change from the railroad to the boats when summer comes?”

Miser a Fireman

And while Mr. Farmer was closing his talk, Mr. Campbell was reaching for an old newspaper and soon had it in his hands and touched a lighted match to it. The paper blazed up quickly on the floor of the car and instantly Miser was keenly alert and when the command of “Put it out!” came from Mr. Farmer, the dog gave a spring forward and with a quick pounding with his front feet soon pounded out the fire. And not till the last scrap had been extinguished did he cease his efforts. The fire trick was tried over again, and the same results.

However, there is one thing that Miser likes to do. In the car is carried a heavy ball. It’s on purpose for Miser. For hours at a stretch he will play with it, if allowed. Several times while we were talking this morning Miser came to the middle of the car and looked up into the racks and begged and teased. He wanted his ball to play with. Roll it across the car and Miser is after it and from that time on he will play with it. Bury it into some rags or sacks and Miser will nose it out.

A Friend of All

And Miser seems to be a friend of all the people who travel the Clayton line. I have watched the passengers as they talked with him, fed him and played with him. Quite often he will take a trip down the coach and into the smoker where there will be some Claytonite or some commercial traveler that knows him and then there will be a series of tricks.

When the tricks are over Miser will select a good double seat and locate himself thereon with all the coolness of a veteran traveler. But the baggage car is his home most of the time and there with his good friend Mr. Farmer, he spends his happy hours.

I have seen Miser when at the Philadelphia station and told to remain with his car, stand in the door and bid defiance to all. And it seems he never misses his train. When the train makes its trip at noon the crew changes and the train runs on to Utica. And Miser knows the change as well as any. And when he is on the ground and the steam from the engine comes gushing out with its hissing noise from some of the lower valves and pipes Miser plainly feels that something is wrong and at once sets up such a barking at the steam as though he would stop it or is begging for the crew to stop it. But when it is train time Miser is on board and ready for the trip.

[Photo courtesy the author]

What the Passengers Say

I have enjoyed hearing the passengers tell of Miser’s many good qualities. It was Supervisor Charles Ford, chairman of the board of supervisors, that told me of Miser’s visits to LaFargeville. They are not frequent, but when he comes he enjoys himself.
“And he seems to know when to expect the train on its return trip,” said Mr. Ford. “I have seen him,” he continued, “jump off the morning train and take a slow run up town and look about. Everyone seems to know him and he has the best of treatment from our people. Along about train time you will see him making tracks for the station and if he should be a little belated when the whistle blows he will give himself a lively chase so as to be there on time. Yes, I think he is a remarkable smart dog,” said Mr. Ford.

Others have told me how he is the best kind of a friend, is Miser, unless you bother him and then you had better look out and not overdo it. One time at Clayton, so it is told, a lot of boys thought they would have some fun with Miser and began to shoot peas at him. He stood it about as long as he could when he took a hand and in a very short time the attacking army was suing for peace, for Miser had them all up on the seats. And, as someone said, “we had rather not have Miser shut that jaw down on us.”

Defends His Friend

And Mr. Farmer told me of an incident of only last spring when a dog was being checked through to the river and was tied in the baggage car. As Mr. Farmer went to go by the strange dog, it made a nab at him and growled. At once Miser was up from his rug and ready to lend a hand. He did not attempt to disturb the strange dog, but every time Mr. Farmer had occasion to walk down the car by the strange dog, Miser went too, and Miser walked between the strange dog and his master.

Came Near Going

“And just think,” said Mr. Farmer to me, “we came near losing Miser a day or two ago. And what we would have done without him I don’t know. It was all because the fellows that carried the horses that have been at work on the state road near Clayton wanted Miser to help them and he was willing. I saw him with them and saw them call him into the car when the horses were all in and I thought I smelled a rat. I saw that the car door was locked and about time for the train to start I looked for Miser. But Miser did not appear. Something wrong, somewhere, I thought, and started out to see.

I knew that Miser would be on hand if such a thing was possible. And would you believe it, they had that dog locked in the car and were taking him home with them. Maybe I didn’t say a few things and maybe they didn’t get that door open pretty lively. Didn’t I Miser?”

And Miser waggled his stump tail with great vigor in his effort to say “yes.” And just then the train came to a stop at Philadelphia and Miser made for the side door of the baggage car so as to inspect the work of the morning.

Note: Passenger train service on the Clayton Branch dwindled down to two trains daily, except on Sunday (mixed freight and passenger), which were discontinued on April 2, 1951. The 21-mile New York Central branch line between Philadelphia and Clayton was abandoned in 1973.

Compiled by Richard Palmer

Richard F. Palmer is a retired newspaper editor and reporter, and he was well known for his weekly historical columns for the “Oswego Palladium-Times,” called "On the Waterfront." His first article for TI Life was written in January 2015, and since then, he has written a dozen-plus others. He is a voracious researcher, and TI Life readers benefit from his interests.

Posted in: Volume 17, Issue 7, July 2022, History, People

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