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Shep, The Turnpike Dog

Turnpike Dog with toll taker
Shep with turnpike attendant, 1955.

Stray dogs have always been attracted to construction sites. This was certainly true in Colorado in the late 1940s when a new road was begun that would link Denver to the fast-growing university town of Boulder, just north of the city.

When the Colorado Highway Department received funding for what would be a toll road, construction started. Shortly after, a young dog began hanging around. The construction workers welcomed their new companion, and he made the rounds of the men at mealtime.

Shep and Building the Turnpike

The dog was clearly part Shepherd, and the men named him Shep.  Shep became skilled at maneuvering around all the big equipment, and life was good as long as the work continued. 

The Denver-Boulder Turnpike (U.S. 36) was constructed with one toll booth from which toll takers could collect money from both directions on the highway. The toll plaza was mid-way between Denver and Boulder, right near the exit to Broomfield. 

At that time there were no toll readers or credit card systems, so a toll taker was stationed there to collect all the money. The toll charged was 25 cents.

Shep and the Toll Takers

 When the highway was near completion in 1951, the men wanted to be sure the toll booth operators knew to take care of Shep.

Because Shep was accustomed to touching bases with the workmen, it didn’t take long for him to figure out that the toll booth operators were his new best friends—and they were. They brought food regularly, and always shared with Shep.

One cold Colorado night, one of the toll takers worried about Shep sleeping outside. He convinced the dog that it was safe to come into the toll booth to sleep. This was a win-win. Shep now had a warm place at night, and the toll booth keeper had company.

Commuters

Over time, the drivers who traveled the road regularly noticed the friendly dog at the booth. Some brought food to him; others donated an extra nickel or dime to a fund to provide food and toys for Shep. He improved their days, and they wanted to improve his.

Denver-Boulder Turnpike
Shep at the toll booth.

The staff at the toll booth eventually tacked up a bucket up on either side of the toll collection area. That way if anyone had spare change to donate for Shep, they had a convenient way to do so. One fellow remembered arguing with his sister about whose turn it was to throw in the family’s loose change.

Some families were so excited to see the dog—a  real Broomfield celebrity—that they would pull over to have their picture taken with the mutt.

Shep was a Roamer

Like most stray dogs, Shep had no need to stay put. He was curious about the world, and during the days, he often explored the farmland all around him.  Sometimes the toll booth operators were left to worry about where he was, but generally, he would show up before too much time passed.

Shep with injured leg
Shep with bandaged leg.

However, one day in 1958 he returned limping. He’d been shot in his left front leg. When Dr. Clyde Brunner, a Broomfield veterinarian heard what happened, he volunteered to treat Shep’s wound at no charge.  The vet bandaged up the leg. While Shep was slowed for a time, the leg soon got better.

Shep also gained a friend for life. Brunner continued to attend to all Shep’s medical needs for the remainder of his life. 

Sad Day

By 1964, the toll booth operators had to face a grim fact. Shep was not doing well. He didn’t hear, couldn’t see well, and he mostly needed to be carried in and out of the toll booth. At that point, the staff made the difficult decision to take Shep to Dr. Brunner for a last visit.

turnpike dog

But they also wanted to be sure that Shep returned to the place he belonged—right near the plaza where the toll booth stood.  A small group worked to establish a burial plot. The first tombstone was a rough-hewn one made by one of the toll takers. It was inscribed “Our Pal.”

Later on, someone must have donated the money for an official tombstone. This one said, “Shep, 1950-1964, Part Shepherd, Mostly Affection.” A low fence demarcated the area where Shep was buried, and both tombstones marked the grave.

Commuters Suggest New Dog

While the toll takers were likely lonely for a time, no one made a move to bring in a Shep II, which turned out to be a good thing.

The Denver-Boulder Turnpike became a toll road success story. On September 14, 1967, a ceremony was held near the toll booth plaza to announce that the road was fully paid off. The traffic using the road had been so much greater than estimated, that the cost of the road was paid off 13 years early!

There would be no more tolls charged, and of course, no more toll booths or toll takers.  It was thought to be the first time a public toll road ever paid itself off and became free.

More Change

As the road usage increased even more, changes were needed. The highway planners put forth that a new on-ramp was needed near Broomfield. The only way to add the new road was through the patch of land where Shep was buried.

No one liked that idea. Because Shep had been a local celebrity and still lived on in stories of Broomfield, the townspeople decided that Shep’s gravesite needed to be moved. A place was made for him at Zang Spur Park next to the Broomfield Depot Museum. (The video below tells of the day the gravesite was moved, and there is an interview with Dr. Brunner, Shep’s vet. It shows how very much the people of Broomfield cared for Shep.)

People can still stop and pay their respects to Shep, the faithful, affectionate Turnpike dog.

Another story about a dog named Nig who made his home where the massive Hoover Dam was being built.

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