"It was a real fleeting glimpse of a dog out in the middle of nowhere," said VanMoorhem, who lives in Salt Lake City. "It was pretty hard to get to where she was."
VanMoorhem couldn't get out to help the dog, but he didn't forget about her.
His sighting led to the eventual Feb. 24 rescue of the blue heeler mix, who had chewed off part of her left front leg and was stranded for months. It's thought the dog lived by eating animal carcasses like those of rabbits and a cow that had been hit by a train.
"Her will to live and survive for at least four months are amazing," VanMoorhem said. "There's no water out there. Snow melt is basically the only water that was out there."
Now People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals will award VanMoorhem a Compassionate Action Award for saving the badly injured dog.
Other railroaders had seen the dog since last Halloween and some tired to rescue her.
"But you can't just stop a train and go out and grab her," VanMoorhem said Thursday. "And she kept moving. She moved about 15 miles and she was never in the same place twice."
Then VanMoorhem spotted the dog in a Nevada tunnel called Hogan, about 30 miles west of Wendover, Utah.
"I basically gambled that she would stay there where she had shelter," he said.
Another conductor, Theo Bassett, drove out to the desert and caught the dog.
"She let Theo pick her up," VanMoorhem said. "As soon as she got back to the truck, she devoured his ham sandwich and slept under his feet on the drive back."
But the dog was in bad shape. Her left front paw was chewed off and her right front paw showed scars and damage from being in a snare.
"Traps for coyotes probably," said VanMoorhem, who named the dog Hogan after the tunnel where she was rescued.
The dog had also been hit by something. The veterinarian said she had major impact damage. She had a torn anterior cruciate ligament, her pelvis was broken in two places, her right hip was dislocated and her colon had torn loose. The dog also had a collapsed lung, a couple loose teeth and was full of intestinal worms.
"She won't be able to run all day long like her breed would be able to do, but the vet said she'll be able to have a good quality of life once this is done," VanMoorhem said.
Despite the bad health, though, the dog seemed happy after Bassett gave her to VanMoorhem.
"I cut her loose in the backyard," VanMoorhem said. "It only took about 15 minutes for her to sit next to me. Her spirits were high and she engaged my other dog to play."
After he fed and bathed the dog, Hogan made herself at home. She's now fully housebroken, he said.
"Within five or six hours she had staked her claim on the couch and nuzzled her head against us," VanMoorhem said.
VanMoorhem said Hogan, whom he estimated to be around 8 years old, was recovering Thursday from surgery on her knee ligament. No one could be reached for comment at the Riverton vet clinic after hours.
He said he'll spend about $4,000 on Hogan's medical bills and is hoping for some help. He'd also like to see someone adopt the dog.