The Monkey That Worked for the Railroad

About the amazing animal, a baboon named Jack who operated railroad signal machines for his legless master.


When James Wide lost both his legs in an accident on the Port Elizabeth main line in Africa in 1877, he thought his life as a railroad man was over. However, the railroad took care of its own and gave him a job as a signalman at the Uitenhage Tower. He lived there in a wooden shack with a garden, with his only companion--a chacma baboon he called Jack.

Jack was general housekeeper for Wide. He pumped water from the well, cleaned the house, and took care of the garden. However, it was in helping Wide run the signal tower that he was most indispensable.

In the morning, Jack would lock up the house and push Wide to work in a trolley that Wide had constructed to run on rails. For a while the baboon had help from Wide's dog, but the dog was killed by a train. After that, Jack had to do the job himself.

At the signal tower, Jack operated the levers that set signals and the tower controls that opened or closed switches on a siding as well as a human being could. In the 9 years Jack worked for the railroad and his legless master, he never made one mistake that resulted in an accident.

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