Meet Jack, the Baboon Who Worked as a Railroad Signalman

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Meet Jack, the Baboon Who Worked as a Railroad Signalman

Wednesday November 21, 2018 Written by Taz

Jack G

People tend to get indignant when advised that a trained monkey could do their job. Not James Edwin Wide. He was overjoyed.

Better known as ‘Jumper’, Wide had earned his nickname working for Cape Town’s Port Authority Railway Service, where, workplace safety being perhaps not what it should have, he’d earned a reputation for leaping between moving train carriages. Which was how, one fateful day in 1887, he lost his two legs to a passing locomotive.

In what one would like to think was a show of pity, South Africa’s railway authorities gave their injured employee a relatively cushy job pulling levers to at Uitenhage station. That, however, was as far as injury compensation went. In lieu of a wheelchair, Jumper built himself a wooden trolley that he used to trundle himself the half-mile commute to work each day. Until he found Jack.

Jack was a chacma baboon in whom Jumper recognised potential after spying him hauling an ox-cart through a marketplace.

Jumper purchased him on the spot and, over the best part of the next decade, the primate became Jumper’s live-in maid, wheeling him to and from work each day, sweeping floors, and hauling out the rubbish. It was, however, at the rail yard that Jack really proved his worth. Supposedly without any prompting from his owner, Jack learnt to recognise the approaching signal toots of a train, and to switch the tracks accordingly.

But not everyone was thrilled about the arrangement. When a passenger informed the authorities that there was a monkey working the controls, a review was undertaken of Jack’s abilities. Funnily enough, that complaint was the best thing for the careers of both Jack and Jumper. It being found that Jack was a perfectly able employee, Jumper was permitted to keep his assistant. Jack, meanwhile, was issued with an official employee number and even assigned a salary: 20 cents per day and half a bottle of beer every week. He continued working for nine years, supposedly without making a single mistake.

Via Mental Floss