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The Dog who Hitch-hiked in Trains

Italy has a jumble of attractions for every tourist. But while roaming the kneecap part of Italy in search of sculpture by Michelangelo, Donatello, Bernini et al, don't forget to look in on Lampo the Traveling Dog—in its own way one of the most arresting statues of them all.

 Here at the main train station of Campiglia Marittima, within sight of Elba Island, stands a gleaming memorial to a mongrel called Lampo, beloved by every trainman in Italy. There is a tail wagging behind that statue, a happy story with a sad ending.

The monument here to the Traveling Dog compels you to look at it. It shows Lampo seated on a pedestal of stone, holding his right paw aloft. Facing the railroad tracks, he watches the trains as they come and go.

Born in the United States and taken to Italy in 1953 while still a puppy by American sailors, Lampo—like Rin Tin Tin and Lassie—was no stranger to Italian television. Just about every newspaper in this country managed to do a feature about the little dog, who had the most unusual hobby any dog ever had.

The inscription around the base of the statue does not tell much about the bowwow celeb. But the personnel working at the train station can explain. Better still, seek out Lampo's owner, Elvio Barlettani, the assistant station master who wrote and published a book about the mongrel, and you will get all the details.

 "What Lampo did," explains the 43-year-old railway man who adopted the white-fur Lampo "was to live a life different from that of other dogs. Lampo liked traveling in trains—and because he got to know their schedules and could distinguish the slow trains from the expresses, he managed to go somewhere every day by train. But he always made sure he would not go beyond a certain spot on the map, so as to catch the proper connection which would take him back to Campiglia Marittima before dawn

Lampo, whose name in Italian means "flash of lightning," made over 3,000 trips in his day. When he made his first long journey, all the way to Rome, Barlettani got a call from the station master there, asking whether they should put the dog on the proper train for home. Barlettani said no, let the dog find his own way back. Sure enough, late that evening, Lampo jumped off the Rome- Turin express at the Campiglia Marittima station. After that there was no stopping the Traveling Dog. His fame spread. Platform workers everywhere would affectionately tie all kinds of railway ticket stubs to his collar to indicate where he had been. Some of the staff even stuck imitation tickets on his tail with the words, "Free Pass For Lampo," and anybody who tried to take away these special passes would get a ferocious snarl from the railroad rover. "We came to learn," adds Barlettani, "that Lampo visited every station in northwest Italy at least once. He was a sociable dog, and he knew which cars to board on any train where someone on duty or a tourist might give him a bite to eat. Since he had the job of escorting my daughter Mirna to school every morning, he made only short trips on school days and saved his longer journeys for weekends.

Only once in eight years did Lampo miss a return train. That was the time he went past his stop. Eventually he got back to his home station by taking a series of connecting trains and backtracking—a feat, say the local railway men, that could only have been done by a person who had a printed timetable in his hands. Lampo's railroad career came to an end on the evening of July 22, 1961. Ironically, the four-legged hitch-hiker died under the wheels of a freight train, the kind he had always avoided since passenger trains were his preference. The accident happened at the Campiglia Marittima station, following an illness which had kept him indoors. He was not at his canine best that day and even needed a boost from a trainman to help him scramble up the steps of a local. Today Lampo has come back to the Campiglia Marittima station to stand guard over the train traffic. There are some people who swear that the life-like statue lets out with a bark whenever a train pulls in a few minutes behind schedule. They claim Lampo does not want his beloved trains to go to the dogs. 

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