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.
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