Friday Forgotten Book: Spike of Swift River by Jack O’Brien

this is the 103rd in my series of forgotten or seldom read books

Spike of Swift River by Jack O’Brien, illustrated by Kurt Weise, © 1942 John C. Winston Co. hardcover. Adventure

Spike of Swift River“Pounding out of Pendleton four minutes behind scheduled running time, Number Six, eastbound special, swayed and rocked into the night. The roar of the giant engine shattered the silences as the dazzling white beam of the headlight stabbed through the darkness like a searching finger. Smoke, blacker than the night itself, belched from the stubby smokestack to swirl back in tattered wisps around the ten lurching express cars which made up the train.”

Clinging to one of the cars is Dan Kirk, catching a ride east, struggling with anger and despair, and struggling to hang on as the train rocked along. But he’s discovered by a Rail Bull and tossed off the train as it slows to take on water near the small logging town of Swift River. Tired, sick, beat up, with a bad knee, Dan is barely able, long after the train has left, to hobble to the water tank, get a drink from a tap, and collapse beside a rail shack, almost immediately asleep. While he slumbers, a dog limps out of the forest edge, also takes a drink from the muddy pool beneath the tank and, unaware of the man, curls up on another side of the shack, to lick and worry at his injured paw.

Spike of Swift River endpapers


Thus we meet Dan and Spike, man and dog, and this book is their tale, and quite a story it is.

Spike of Swift River illo and title page

color illustration and title page

I got this book in the mid-Seventies at a dog show at a local community college. A friend had entered a dog in the agility competition, and I went to watch. Adjacent to the grassy field the dogs were on, were several booths. In one was a book seller with lot of dog books, including many dog fiction novels and stories. I bought a few, having enjoyed such books as a boy. This has been in a box or on a shelf ever since, and I’ve just now read it.

The hero of the book is Spike, a Shepard mix, but Dan is really the protagonist, and it’s the “legal theft” of his father’s timber company that left Dan penniless and riding the rails. Now, in Swift River, Dan is given a chance to get back on his feet, and with Spike at his side he overcomes being the new guy, sub-zero weather and bad guys to win out against the odds.

I enjoyed this book a lot. It’s darn well written for what at the time would have been “a boy’s dog book” (though girls read them too, of course). O’Brien wrote a few more of these, and if I come across any I’ll snap them up.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
This entry was posted in Adventure, Books & Reading, Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Friday Forgotten Book: Spike of Swift River by Jack O’Brien

  1. Never read this sort of thing as a child, not entirely sure why as I watched film and TV along these lines – got into Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler a bit early perhaps 🙂

    • Richard says:

      I read dog books and other young reader’s adventure books and loved them. I went on to Robert Louis Stevenson, not mysteries, that came much later. (Except the Hardy Boys).

  2. Bill Crider says:

    I read a good many dog books when I was a kid, but I never ran across this one.

  3. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Interesting, if not something I’d be likely to read. The only dog book I remember was OLD YELLER. Some day I may get over that trauma.


    • Richard says:

      Old Yeller was the only dog book I ever read that had such a sad ending. Most, including this one, end happily, and in the story the dog saves the man’s life.

  4. If I come across any Jack O’Brien books, I’ll send them to you.

  5. Yvette says:

    Sounds like a terrific dog story, Richard. Never heard of it till now. I have several dog books on my own personal library shelf and like to read one every now and then. The one that always makes me cry is LASSIE COME HOME. Jeez, what a tear-jerker.

    P.S. I once had a dog named Spike. But he was a Scottish Terrier.

    • Richard says:

      Yvette, I hadn’t heard of the book nor the author, but bought it that day because it was there. Looking for something different to read last week, I spotted it on a shelf and whipped right through it. Fun.

  6. Cap'n Bob says:

    My first German shepherd was named Spike. He was the best dog you could hope to have and even though he’s been gone for 12 years I still miss him. I’m sure this book would resonate with me.

  7. Matt Paust says:

    After the pull-out paragraph and a review like yours how could anyone resist reading Spike of Swift River? Not me!

  8. John Venable says:

    I received this book for Christmas when I was 8 or 9 years old and really enjoyed the story. I, just today was thinking about the book and where I might find a copy; and there it was! Thanks so much for adding it to your forgotten books its a keeper.

  9. Don says:

    That was the first book I ever read and it started a seven (so far) decade of reading!

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