TIL that in the 1880s, a South African railroad employed a baboon as a railway signalman, paying him 20 cents a day and a half bottle of beer a week. He made no mistakes in 9 years.

as the hour where the sun hang at its highest. Heat rippled from the tracks. Around this time of day the old man would finish his beer and nap in the shade, leaving Jack all alone. As the old man began to slump in his chair and begin dozing, the other railroad signaler took up his spot at the watch point.

“Aye… that’s a good boy… Jack…” The old man mumbled. His tone soothed him.

When there were no trains approaching, the rail crossing was peaceful. There was nothing but the soft raking of grass from the breeze, and the old man’s snoring. These were the moments Jack cherished the most. Three trains passed that afternoon, and just as the sun began to fall, the old man woke up.

“I see nothin’s wrecked. You’re a good boy Jack.”

A good boy

That sound always warmed him like the sun.

The old legless man then wheeled himself over to his purse and produced the shiny bits. Humans cherished these things more than anything else in the world, although Jack did not understand why. They shined and they made beautiful sounds when they clinked. But the sun also shined. And the breeze and the sleeping old man also made beautiful sounds. Nonetheless, it was clear he was expected to take them.

“What does a chimp do with 20 cents a week?” The old man joked. A train blew its whistle in the distance.

The railroad crossing was handed off to the next shift. The old man packed up his things and signaled to Jack it was time to leave. Then the two went home: the ruby red sun setting, the trains whistling, and Jack pushing the wheelchair down the trail. At home the old man spoke of his family and how he missed them. One day, said the old man, he’d save enough money to move his family to Uitenhage with him.

And so the days went by. Days turned into weeks, the weeks turned into months, and the months turned into years. Every day the sun would rise, the old man would snore, the wind would rustle, and the trains would pass. Jack got his shiny bits, and took the old man home.

But as time passed, Jack became sluggish, and started to feel sleepy like the old man. The sun burned his eyes, the air choked his lungs, and the loud trains rattled his aching bones. It was not long before the old man took notice and grew concerned. The next day another man arrived at the crossing. He was younger and carried a sack with tools in it.

“I dunno what’s the matter with him, but he looks ill doc,” the old man said to the younger man.

The younger man took something shiny out of his leather kit and began examining Jack’s mouth.

“He has trouble breathing,” the younger man finally said.

The two exchanged a few more words before parting. The old man looked distraught.

“This time I’ll watch and you nap,” he said, wheeling Jack into the shade.

That night, the old man wheeled the two home, with jack in his lap. He did not talk about moving his family this time. They reached his home, and the old man laid Jack on the monkey’s little sleeping mattress.

“It’s going to be lonely without you at the crossing,” he said.

In the morning, the two went to work at the crossing like always. The sun shined, the breeze rustled, and Jack grew even worse. He barely moved. The old man became panicked and began rocking back and forth in his chair.

“Come on now boy!” He cried. “Where is an old legless man like me supposed to go without you!”

A train whistled in the distance.

Jack wriggled out from the old man’s lap and fell upon a floorboard. Shaking, the animal raised the board with what little strength it had left, tossed it aside, and then promptly collapsed. The old man scooped the monkey back up in his arms. The train whistle grew louder.

It was then the old man noticed the glimmer beneath the floor. It clinked with the rumbling of the train tracks.

Shiny bits.

Jack looked up at the old man.

“You’re a good boy Jack,” the old man sobbed.

And it warmed him one last time.

/r/todayilearned Thread Link - en.wikipedia.org