The Baboon Who Worked for the Railroad — and Never Made a Mistake

One day in the 1880s, railway signalman James Wide was visiting a South African market when he witnessed something surreal: A baboon driving an oxcart. Impressed by the primate’s skills, Wide bought him, named him Jack, and made him his pet and personal assistant. Wide needed the help. Years earlier, he had lost both of his legs in a work accident, which made his half-mile commute to the train station extremely difficult for him. So, the first thing he trained the primate to do was push him to and from work in a small trolley. Soon, Jack was also helping with household chores, sweeping floors, and taking out the trash. The signal box, however, is where Jack truly shined. As trains approached the rail switches at the train station, they would toot their whistle a specific number of times to alert the signalman which tracks to change. By watching his owner, Jack picked up the pattern and started tugging on the levers himself. Soon, Wide was able to kick back and relax while his furry helper did all of the work switching the rails. Jack was reportedly given an official employment number and was paid 20¢ a day and half a bottle of beer weekly. Jack passed away in 1890, after developing tuberculosis. He worked the rails for nine years without ever making a mistake — evidence that perfectionism may be more than just a human condition.