Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jack the Signalman

Just goes to show - they are much more like us than we realise.

In the South African town of Uitenhage lived a man named James Wide. Known to locals as "Jumper Wide." Jumper earned the moniker due to his love of jumping from one railcar to another. A neat trick. Well, it was until Jumper lost his footing, missed a jump and fell in between two cars. Jumper lost his legs. Nearly his life. And who was there to pick up the slack? Jack. That's who.

Let's back up a bit. How did Jumper meet Jack? By chance some would say. By divine intervention I say. Jumper had made a little trolley to scoot around on like Eddie Murphy in Trading Places. While visiting the local market, Jumper saw an ox wagon being driven by a freaking baboon. Jack at the helm. Capably steering the yoked beasts through the busy market traffic. Whip in hand. (I may be making the whip bit up.) Jumper went over to inquire about the obviously talented monkey. Jack's owner felt compassion towards the crippled man and gave him the baboon to become a helper. A partnership was born. It was like the meeting of Siegfried and Roy. Except less gay and nobody got eaten by a tiger. Hmm, may need to rethink that analogy. It was like the meeting of Abbott and Costello. There, that's better.

Jumper began taking Jack to work with him at the train yard. There Jack helped out wherever he could. At the end of a long day, Jack was rewarded with a stiff shot of brandy. If the master didn't deliver the booze, the following day there was a very uncooperative monkey at the Uitenhage Train Station.

After some time, and I swear I am not making this up, it is said that Jack learned to change the signals at the train yard. He responded to the horn blasts from the engineers and changed the signals accordingly. Locals swear that Jack never made an error. In fact, Cape Town train officials, after hearing of the monkey bidness up the road, came to investigate. Skeptical, they agreed to test Jack's competence and the little guy passed with flying colors. After he aced the signal exam, Jack was officially given a government salary (bananas?) and was issued an employee number. Really.

There are tributes to Jack the Signalman, as he was known, at the Albany Museum in Grahamstown (they have Jack's skull) and the Uitenhage Railway Station.

Read some more on this over at YesButNoButYes,written by Johnny Wright.


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