The Monkey Signalman

For a time in the 1880s, a baboon named Jack was employed as a railroad signalman in South Africa. He was working, apparently successfully, as a voorloper, or ox driver, in the Eastern Cape when he was discovered by James Erwin Wide, a Uitenhage signalman who had recently lost his legs in an accident.

Impressed and needing a helper, Wide bought the baboon and trained him to operate his junction. When a train approached it would identify itself with a whistle; Jack would get the keys, head into the signal box and pull the correct lever to change tracks. Alarmed riders complained, but railway management investigated and were so impressed that they actually put the baboon on a railway allowance and rations, including a small amount of brandy per day.

I know this sounds preposterous, but there are photographs of Jack at work and eyewitness accounts of his abilities. His skull can be seen today in the Albany Museum in Grahamstown.