There were two terrifying things that I had to pass each morning on my half mile walk to school. The first was the steam locomotive sitting on the Y, the second was the wolf dog.
Everything moved by train: coal to fill the coal loading dock for locomotives; coal for the bins beside each grain elevator where folks bought coal to heat their homes; the mail; beer; merchandise for the hardware stores, lumber stores, grocery stores and grain from the elevators. Craik was midway between Regina and Saskatoon and a train would end its run there and go back in the direction it had come from. The locomotive would back onto one leg of the Y all the way to the end of the stem, then go forward on the other leg of the Y and be pointed in the direction it had come from.
The locomotive spent the night there, waiting for boxcars to be unloaded and loaded. When I walked by on the way to school they were firing up the boiler and just as I walked by it would release a great cloud of steam. I had once placed my hand in the steam from Mom’s teakettle and had to quickly take it away. I just knew that great cloud of steam from the locomotive would scald the skin right off me, so I ran for all I was worth to escape it.
After I escaped that threat I had to walk past the Gabel house with the wolf dog chained up outside. The house was well back from the street and I never got a good look at the dog, but the other boys told me it was a big wolf dog. It barked when it saw me and I would say a prayer and try to keep my legs from shaking too much. I knew that if I ran he would break the chain and come after me.
One morning, just as I crossed the railway track, the locomotive released a cloud of steam and I had no chance to get away from it. My doom was sealed. I was enveloped in the great gray cloud — and it wasn’t hot at all! It was cool and moist. I kept walking and soon left the steam, and that foolish fear, behind me.
Several months later, as I was walking home from school, I saw the wolf dog walking down the road toward me. I took to the other side of the road and kept walking, praying he would let me pass. He was a big, grey beast, his eyes like slits, not at all like the eyes of a normal dog, and he was sopping wet. He didn’t look at me at all, just kept on walking.
The next day at school a couple of boys were talking about the wolf dog. “We were down at the swimming hole and Jimmy got into the deep part and he can’t swim. He went under the water and came up spluttering and coughing. We thought it was funny, but the wolf dog was there and he jumped in and swam to Jimmy. Jimmy grabbed hold of his fur and the dog carried him up out of the water. That wolf dog saved Jimmy’s life!” That brought an end to another foolish fear.
A year or two later I began riding my bike to school. The RCMP Corporal live halfway between our home and the school and he had a German Shepherd. That dog felt a need to chase this intruder away from his home. He would start barking and come tearing out the driveway after me, nipping at my pant cuffs as I frantically kept pumping the pedals, then go trotting back home feeling he had done his duty. He never got hold of the cuffs, maybe he never meant to , but I was terrified.
I thought and though about what I could do to avoid this daily moment of terror, and came up with a plan. The next day, when the dog came tearing out after me, I took my feet off the pedals and pulled my right foot back. I waited until the head of the dog was even with the pedal then caught him on the side of the head with the sole of my running shoe. I don’t think I hurt him, only startled him, but he never bothered me again. He was still there as I rode by, but I guess he decided it wasn’t worth his bother to chase this kid on a bike.
I hesitate to tell that story, I don’t think it’s a good idea to kick a dog. But that’s what I did, about 65 years ago. As I tell it now, the thought comes to me that perhaps that is the solution to all the imaginary fears that still want to plague me. Instead of entertaining those fears, why don’t I give them a swift kick on the side of the head?