A hundred years ago, an unusual signalman started working for South African Railways. His name was Jack and he was a tame chacma baboon, the largest kind of monkey in South Africa.

The monkey was owned by a railwayman called James Wide, who had lost both legs in an accident. He had bought Jack so that the animal could help him get about by pushing him on a special trolley. Then he discovered the monkey was more clever at operating the train signals than he was. So Jack was set to work.

He learnt each lever by name and, at Wide's command, could push them into position when a train approached. He was also put in charge of the keys and even did the station's gardening. Then, at the end of the day, he would push Wide home in the trolley, jumping on the back for a ride whenever it went downhill.

Not surprisingly, one or two passengers objected to the fact that their lives were being placed in the hands of a monkey. Yet Jack never made an error, and he soon became famous. His main reward, however, was the affectionate pats he received from his master. He died after nine years of living with Wide, leaving the lonely signalman brokenhearted.


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