Today is National Monkey Day.

We know these primates are plenty smart, but did you know that at least one monkey was smart enough to land himself a job working for a railroad?

Jack, aka Jack the Signalman, was a baboon in the late 19th Century in South Africa.

Today you might call him a service animal.

He worked with a guy named James Wide, who had earned the nickname “Jumper” for jumping between moving railway cars.

Unfortunately one of his jumps went all wrong and Wide lost both of his legs, but he came across a baboon at a market and decided that with a little help he could keep up with his railroad duties.

He trained the baboon, named Jack, to help him get from their little house to the train station and back in a little trolley.

He taught Jack to handle a few light housekeeping duties, and then he taught the baboon some railroad stuff.

As trains approached their station, the engineers would blow their whistles a specific number of times to let the signalman know where they were headed, so they could set the track switches appropriately.

Wide had done this, but over time Jack the baboon was pulling the switches.

Animal rights advocates today would not love that Jack was chained while he worked for the railroad (or maybe even that he worked at all).

They also might not love that his salary was 20 cents a day, plus half a bottle of beer a week.

And some passengers did not love the idea of looking out the window of the rail car to see that a monkey was pulling the levers to keep their train on course.

The people running the railroad were at the very least surprised to find what Wide had done, but instead of getting rid of the man and his monkey, they tested Jack’s skills, and he passed.

In fact, in his nine years on the job, Jack never made a single mistake.

He may not have been a man, but turned out to be a very effective signalman.

And as an article about Jack said in 1908, “I hope signalmen never act as baboons.”

The thriftiest among us have long used old newspapers as wrapping paper for holiday gifts.

The Arizona Daily Star is happy to accommodate these patrons; this week one page in each day’s paper is a piece of unique wrapping paper designed by an artist from in and around Tucson.

Online readers can download and print the patterns too!

Stranger Than Fiction: Jack the Signalman (Knoxville Daily Sun)

These wrapping paper designs were created by Tucson artists (

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Image from an 1886 edition of The Railway Signal, via Google Books