Photo of a day

The signalman baboon, South Africa, 1880s.

Baboon railway signalman

This signalman’s name was James Wilde, and he was worked at South Africa Railways in the late 1880s. He went under the nickname ‘Jumper’ because he had to jump between running trains to switch the levers and assure that locomotive appropriately directed. You won’t be surprised to know that James Wilde lost this competition one day, fell under the rain and lost his legs. To keep his job, he taught a baboon to work as a signalman to assist him with his work, switching the levers when needed, and even handing keys to the station’s warehouse to engineer when he was approaching the coal store.

We all know that baboon’s brains are almost equal to humans: they can count, have their language, they even play the violin. So there was no surprise that Jack (baboon’s name) learned that the number of whistles done by locomotives means a specific lever to be pulled. There were several extra commands that Jack learned to do, and they all were based on the hand gestures that James Wilde used. In addition to everything, this baboon required some brandy to do his job, so the numerous cargo trains and hundreds of passengers were in the hands of the drunken monkey for years!

Read more: The Molotov man: the Nicaragua photos of Susan Meiselas

But even this brilliant (as for baboon) career had to end one day, due to some aristocratic woman complain to the Railway administrator. As company owners didn’t have any idea that a disabled guy managed their major railway together with his drunken baboon, they launched an investigation, and both Jack and James Wilde were fired.

James bagged the railway bosses to check the skills of the baboon, and they agreed to examine it. Surprisingly, the monkey passed a test and received a valid job, where Jack was paid 20 cents per week, and half of the bottle of beer as a bonus. Overall Baboon was working as a signalman for 3 more years. James Wilde was staying near the baboon, giving him a helping hand when needed. This collaboration lasted for several more years until James died of tuberculosis. 

Read more: Ernest Hemingway and His Cats

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