With the help of neighbors and heavy machinery, Niles Canyon Railway volunteers rescued a cow on Sunday that slid down a hill and got stuck at the base of the slope, and mere feet from the historic railroad tracks.
"At a time when we are increasingly socially isolated from our neighbors, it is heartening to know that there are those who watch out for each other, and will take time out to lend a hand or backhoe when the need arises," railway representatives said in a statement.
Two volunteers were in the area that day to clean up a large oak tree when they spotted the adult cow beneath a barbed wire fence. The bovine had "lodged itself between a couple of solid rocks at the base of the slope, 15 feet from our railroad tracks," according to officials.
Railroad general manager Stephen Barkkarie, who lives in nearby Sunol, was also contacted around 10 a.m. Barkkarie was enjoying his day off and planning to spend the afternoon playing music with friends when he got the call.
"They said they came across a stricken cow, evidently it had fallen through the fence on the property" above the tracks and then fell down the hillside about 100 feet, Barkkarie told the Weekly.
"It got caught between a couple of rocks and was really halfway upside down, so it couldn't get back on its feet," Barkkarie said.
"Tumbling down a 100 foot cliff tends to break them up; they usually don't survive," Barkkarie added. "Fortunately, the fall was somewhat gentle and the fence actually slowed the cow down. It really had all the best conditions."
When the cow didn't return with the rest of the herd the evening before, the owner and some other people went out searching but gave up after dark. That means the cow "probably laid there through the night," Barkkarie said.
A list of neighbors' contact information maintained by the museum for such emergencies was used to contact the owner after finding the cow on Sunday morning.
The owner and four cowboys arrived shortly after midday to assess the situation, followed by Barkkarie around 1 p.m. Barkkarie arrived with the organization's backhoe that is specially equipped for traveling on railroad tracks.
With a potentially injured animal weighing hundreds of pounds in an area inaccessible to both vehicles and ranchers on horseback, officials said that "short of airlifting the cow using a helicopter, there were no easy solutions to the problem."
The group of nine quickly went to work threading several nylon soft slings under the cow, and attaching the slings to the bucket of the backhoe.
The owner opted to keep the cow off its feet for the time being and hauled it back home for a closer examination.
"She was a little bit distressed and exhausted trying to get out of there by herself," Barkkarie said. "They could've rolled her over and helped her stand up but given the conditions, she was exhausted and had a questionable leg."
A railroad maintenance push car was used to hoist and then transport the cow on the tracks for a quarter of a mile to an access gate through the adjacent property -- then hoisted again on to a waiting trailer. Luckily, the neighbor was working on the property at the time and gave the group access.
Approximately five hours were spent saving the cow that day but Barkkarie "still made it in time for appetizers" with friends.
Plus, "I got to regale them with the tale of the cow rescue," he said.
The cow was not severely injured by the accident and appears to be back on her feet. "I could see that cow up there on the side of the hill today," Barkkarie said of his commute earlier Tuesday. "She was white, so pretty hard to mistake."