Pals

Back in the late forties, most rail road switches had to be operated manually. It was pretty much the same, all over the world. India has the most rail layed of all countries. They still use steam for propultion in some areas. Since all those, ‘out of the middle of nowhere’ switches needed to be switched, men lived next to those switches. Some, if lucky, had a telegraph to keep in touch.¬†Others, went by strict schedules. Rain or shine. Those switches had to go exactly on time or people would die. Hundreds of miles from a city, in South Africa, lived such a switch man. He had worked that switch all through World War 2. All alone. His only source of contact left by the hanging mail pouch the train would hook on its’ way past. His mail and the surrounding villages’ mail was tossed out the mail car’s open doors as the train flew past. He would get a break in the beggining for one week in Johanesburg. That had long gone away…Now, the old man was worried about losing his job, and his home. Slowly but surely, all the railroad switches were becoming automated. Plus, the old man wasn’t getting any younger. Out on the fringe of a huge African desert, winds blowing at a hundred miles an hour, wild life coming past at night, villagers and tribesmen angry at the railroad threatening him at times. It was a tough, lonely existence, but it was all he had. One morning, the old man hears an odd sound emanating from a dry gully, just past the long emergency rail siding past his shack. He uses his cane to make his way over to investigate. The sounds were being made from a tiny, barely alive, baboon. The old man put him inside his worn, ragged coat pocket, then went about is switching duties. Thus began a friendship and a working partnership that few could equal. As the old man’s health deteriorated, the baboon would help him into an old pull cart, then, take the old man to the switches. Being ten times stronger then the man once it reached maturity at around 80lbs, the monkey also took over the manual switching part of the job. Sure, they had their spats. But besides being a good trainman, the monkey was also loyal. Many a passing troop of baboons would call out to him over the years, tempting him to join. Nope, the only troop he acknowledged was the old man…One morning, a train track repair crew on a short bob engine pull into the siding to await the passing of the main line train, while in the middle of a track inspection run. Sitting in their idling train, the repair crew watch an odd event transpire. A large baboon, wearing a tattered engineer’s cap, scampered over to the switches, puts his ear on the tracks, then, hearing what he wants to hear, WORKS THE SWITCHES. Hiding in the brush as the train blows on past, tossing the mail and supplies, the baboon then picked up the articles, and went back to the shack. He then returned, and reset the switch. The train men were astounded. Once back at the train yard, the story spread. A train representative was sent to investigate. He found the old man so crippled, he couldn’t leave his bed. His friend had to be tranquilized for them to get near the sick old man. Not long after, the switch was automated. The company wrote off the old shack. The incident was forgotten…by the big shots. Not the train men. Every day, for years, the train men tossed off food and a small bag for the switchman’s shack. Fuck corporate; they wouldn’t turn their backs on a fellow trainman. He was a real pal…

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