Jack The Baboon Operated A Railway, Earned A Salary, And Never Made Mistakes
By | January 21, 2020
Jack belonged to a physically impaired railway worker
Anyone passing through Cape Town, South Africa on the Port Elizabeth Mainline Railroad in the late 1800s saw something curious along the railway: a baboon operating the switchboard. This wasn't some Planet of the Apes scenario; quite the opposite, in fact. Jack the Baboon was an intelligent creature who spent nine years working on the railroad and providing companionship for his owner, a paraplegic man named Jumper. His strange story is full of sweetness and a kind of ingenuity that will make you long for the days of trains crisscrossing the globe and prove that animals are much smarter than we give them credit for.
Before Jack entered the picture, the Port Elizabeth Mainline Railroad was operated by signalman James Wide. Known to his friends as "Jumper," Wide was prone to jumping from rail to rail and sometimes car to car, but in 1877, he slipped and fell beneath a moving train. Jumper survived the accident but lost both of his legs. He fashioned a set of wooden peg legs and did his best to get around on a trolly, but his jumping days were over, and he was nowhere near the signalman he used to be. One day, however, Jumper saw a man with a baboon in town because the 1800s were a much weirder time. He talked the man into selling him the primate, who was named Jack, and quickly trained him to push a wheelchair. Pleasantly surprised by Jack's acumen, Jumper had a stroke of genius. "If he can do that," Jumper thought, "why couldn't he operate a signal box?"
There was no monkey business on the railroad
Jumper and Jack the Baboon lived together in a cottage half a mile away from the railroad. Each morning, the man and his primate friend made their way up the hill to the depot, where Jack quickly learned to work the signals that told engineers which tracks to take. He was also in charge of the key to the coal sheds at the depot, so whenever an engineer needed to score some more fuel, they had to signal the baboon. For his hard work, Jack earned $0.20 per day and half a bottle of beer per week. For a baboon, he was living the high life.