Dog-powered railways

Gallery opened: 14 July 2016

Updated: 26 July 2021

More on the Pup-mobile added
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The vast majority of locomotives in the Museum are steam-powered, though diesels, compressed-air propulsion, and even the use of sails is represented. In the early days of railways, trains were commonly hauled by horses, and this survived for small-scale shunting well in to the 20th century. Other animals are much rarer...


The Decauville railway system used light rails at a narrow gauge (usually 500 mm or 600 mm) fastened to steel sleepers. This track could be quickly laid and then taken up again. It was used extensively in the 600 mm gauge in the First World War.

Left: Decauville railway truck drawn by six dogs

This photograph was taken in the Vosges at some point during the First World War. Most of the Decauville traffic was hauled by suitably small steam locomotives, but both horses and donkeys were also used. Apparently dogs were used in the more mountainous areas; they were described as "chiens d'Alaska" which presumably means Huskies.

Bibliography: Les Decauville: Au service de la Grande Guerre. Sylvia Rhodier, 2014


Left: Railway truck drawn by six dogs: 1906

This is the "Pup-mobile" a dog-pulled truck that ran on a railway track near Nome, Alaska in 1906. The weight of railway rolling stock meant it had to be drawn by a team of 6 to 8 dogs, harnessed in pairs, and had much more in common with a dog-sled team than with European dog-carts. The latter could have up to five dogs pulling them, harnessed in parallel, but no six-dog carts have been found so far.

At top left, close examination shows that two women are sitting on the truck, with the driver standing by. That's a nice picture bottom left, showing all six dogs sitting on the truck with the driver.

The text at bottom left is mostly indecipherable, but "...on Dogmobile Trip... tch to Nome, Alaska" can be made out.

The dogs are working on 3-foot gauge track.

There is more information here.

There is a YouTube video; it says it was taken on the Kougarok Mining District railroad tracks near Nome, on Alaska's Seward Peninsula in the 1920s.

This information relating to a picture postcard comes from Olaf Rasmussen (at 5 Jan 2019)

"The 3-foot gauge Seward Peninsula RR still existed in 1993 and I walked many miles of the long-disused railroad (no, not all 110 miles). After the end of steam operations in 1910 the railroad became a public railroad anyone could use with their own vehicles, the most popular being pupmobiles as shown on the attached photo, likely taken in the 1920s or 1930s.

The back of the picture card shows the location as Salmon Lake, 40 miles from Nome (no, I didn't hike that far- there were far too many berries to pick, plus the grizzly bear chasing a group of mooses across the valley was a bit unnerving). What the status of the narrow gauge line is today I don't know. Back in 1993 parts of the line could probably still have supported a light pupmobile."

Left: Small covered truck drawn by eight dogs: 1906?

The driver (left) seems to have the brake handle in his hand.

Left: Small truck drawn by two dogs: 1906?

A pupmobile apparently drawn by only two dogs, though it's hard to be sure as the photograph is a but unclear.

There are at least three dogs running alongside the track, and there appear to be two more following the pupmoble. No shortage of spare dog-power.

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