Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Childhood fears

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?

The parable of the train-chasing dog

Many years ago, in the time of small farms, one such farm was located beside a railway that connected several of the big cities of the area. The farm consisted of a number of small fields, cultivated by a small tractor, and a pasture containing a few cows and their calves. There was a little valley running across one corner of this pasture with a creek where the cows could drink.

In this bucolic setting there lived a farmer with his wife, their three children, and a dog. Now this was a noble dog, whose heart was set to protect the farmer and his family from all dangerous intruders. And he proved this determination eight times a day when a great growling and howling creature approached on the railroad tracks. The dog immediately began to bark and to run towards this oncoming threat, reaching the tracks just as the last car of the train passed by. The dog continued to bark and to follow until he was satisfied that it was gone, then returned home.

There was in the same neighbourhood a person whose motives were not as noble as those of the dog. He observed that the farmer and his family grew accustomed to the barking of the dog and took no notice. This person began to walk by the pasture at odd hours, always bringing with him some treat for the dog, who soon came to regard him as a friend. Thus when this person came one night with a truck and loaded up some of the calves, the dog made no barking, for was not this his friend?

It occurs to me that I have known in my time several persons who resembled this dog. They fancied themselves to be watchmen of Zion, and began to bray loudly at the approach of any innovation that they regarded as a threat. People learned to ignore them, for were they not always braying? And did not the imagined threats always pass by harmlessly?

Yet these same self-appointed watchmen were prone to become intrigued by a speaker or a book that professed to uphold the faith, yet contained some unorthodox line of thought. As these watchmen considered and digested these ideas, they spoke of them often to others. The result was that a few others found the new way of looking at things so captivating that they left the fold to follow the errant doctrine. And no one quite knew what had happened.


A short while ago I published an item in this space entitled The Millionaire and the Scrublady, having no knowledge of who had written it.  A reader informed me that it came from Parables of a Country Parson by William E Barton. I have since obtained a copy of the book. Therein is the story of The Dog and the Limited, wherein the writer observes a dog futilely attempting to catch a passenger train. It seemed to me that the dog was not trying to catch the train but to chase it away. And in this he succeeded, as far as he could understand. Those thoughts led to the writing above.

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