WTF Fun Fact 13124 – Signalman Jack

Signalmen play integral roles in the rail industry, installing, repairing, and maintaining the signal systems used to direct trains. It’s a hard job, but in the 1880s, a signalman named James Edwin Wide taught a chacma baboon from South Africa to assist him. The baboon became known as Signalman Jack.

Training Signalman Jack

Wide had lost both legs in a work accident and needed an assistant to help him get to his job at the railroad. And apparently, he saw a baboon driving an oxcart one day on a trip to South Africa and decided he’d made a fine sidekick.

Wide named the baboon Jack and first taught him to push a small trolly to get him to his job each day a half-mile from his home. The baboon even helped with chores around the house, including sweeping and taking out the trash.

But it was when Jack followed Wide to work that he seemed to find his calling. The baboon learned to recognize the train whistles used to indicate the vehicle was about to change tracks. After watching Wide operate the signals to indicate which tracks they should take, Signalman Jack was eager to start pulling the levers himself.

Wide had no qualms about letting a baboon do his job.

Kicking back

Wide was eventually able to train Signalman Jack so well that he could sit back and pursue some hobbies while at work.

According to Mental Floss, “As the story goes, one day a posh train passenger staring out the window saw that a baboon, and not a human, was manning the gears and complained to railway authorities. Rather than fire Wide, the railway managers decided to resolve the complaint by testing the baboon’s abilities. They came away astounded.”

Eventually, the railway superintendent decided to formally hire the talented baboon. Signalman Jack was given his own employment number. He even got a salary of 20 cents a day (plus half a bottle of beer per week).

Signalman Jack worked in his job for 9 years without ever making a single error. Sadly, he died of tuberculosis in 1890.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Signalman Jack: The Baboon Who Worked for the Railroad—and Never Made a Mistake” — Mental Floss

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WTF Fun Fact 12951 – The Witwatersrand Gold Rush

Around half of the gold in the world today comes from South Africa. And it wasn’t even discovered until the 1850s. The Witwatersrand gold field still produces gold to this day.

What and where is Witwatersrand?

The majority of the Witwatersrand Basin is underground, yet it holds the world’s largest gold reserves. It has produced around 88 million pounds of gold since it was discovered.

Located in South Africa, most of the basin is hidden away deep inside the earth. But there are outcrops that are more reachable, such as the one in Gauteng that forms the Witwatersrand ridge. The southern part of the ridge, which is roughly 3 miles west of modern Johannesburg, South Africa was discovered on a farm. Later, people realized that the Centra Rand Gold Field actually continued for 31 miles.

What is Witwatersrand’s history with gold?

In 1852, a Welch mineralogist named John Henry Davis discovered a gold deposit and brought his finding to President Andries Pretorius (who came from a Dutch settler family, was the leader of the Boers, and played a role in later forming the South African Republic). With the fear of what would happen if news got out, Davis was told to sell the gold he found to the Transvaal Treasury for £600 and leave the country.

Of course, news of a gold mine doesn’t stay quiet for long. Other foreigners went through the same thing. George Harrison and Pieter Jacob Marais also found gold and sold out their stakes.

But in September 1886 President Paul Kruger (a Boer who had successfully defended the territory the Dutch took over from the British) declared nine farms in the area open for digging to the public. This sparked the Witwatersrand Gold Rush.

The Witwatersrand Gold Rush

There were already small Dutch gold mines in the area before the late 1880s. But the gold rush meant signaled open season for wealthy men from around the world to start dynamiting the landscape.

Then, mining magnate Cecil Rhodes (founder of DeBeers) got involved. He had already wreaked havoc by displacing people and destroying land in modern Zambia and Zimbabwe. Then, he moved on to the south African cape to find diamonds before hearing about the gold.

The gold found in the region gave the British motivation to take the land the Dutch had claimed for themselves. Gold magnates sought to overthrow governments. They led bloody uprisings, staged raids, and built enormous sites for their workers to live on the land being plundered.

Modern-day effects of the gold rush

The gold rush is credited with the foundation of the modern city of Johannesburg. However, the city still suffers from tremors and other surface instabilities (like sinkholes) after being hollowed out by gold-seekers.

According to Atlas Obscura (cited below): “The mines in the Witwatersrand Basin are some of the deepest in the world, tunneling miles below the surface. The deepest mine, Mponeng, tunnels 2.5 miles below the surface, and houses the world’s tallest elevator, which can go down more than 7,000 feet in three minutes, traveling up to 40 miles per hour. As the gold is extracted, the mines had to be dug deeper to keep the supply up. In certain places, it can take miners two hours to get from the surface to the depths of the mine, where they face extraordinarily dangerous conditions. Gold mining has been on the decline since the 1980s, which has had a huge impact on the economic health of the region that has long glittered with gold. Today, there are just 120,000 remaining workers in the once immensely profitable gold industry in South Africa.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “Witwatersrand Basin: Hartbeespoort, South Africa” — Atlas Obscura

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WTF Fun Fact – Klepetan The Stork

WTF Fun Fact - Klepetan The Stork

Klepetan is a male stork who has migrated from South Africa to Croatia every year for the last 20 years to be with Melena, a female stork who can’t fly after being shot by a hunter. She lives indoors until his return and they stay in a nest on a roof until he leaves. – WTF Fun Facts

Source: https://www.total-croatia-news.com/lifestyle/3050-klepetan-and-malena-croatia-s-most-unusual-love-story

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