Frequent trips along the Grand Trunk Rail Way allowed Edison to become friendly with station master and telegraph operator James Mackenzie at the Mount Clemens station. In August 1862, Edison was standing outside the Mount Clemens station and saw Mackenzie’s young son Jimmie playing on the tracks. He then noticed a boxcar coming into the station at high speed so he jumped into action and grabbed Jimmie before the car struck either of them. As a thank you, James offered to teach Edison Morse code and how to use the telegraph.
Edison picked both up quickly and by 1863 he began working as a full-time telegraph operator on the railway. His first job as an operator was said to have been with the Grand Trunk Rail Way at the Stratford Station. It was also reported that he worked at the Junction Station in St. Marys, and the Camlachie (in Lambton County) to Stratford Line. While working at the Stratford Station, and according to his membership application, he was a night operator. This job was short lived as his innovation lead to his termination. Edison had reportedly invented a repeater telegraph that automatically sent an all clear signal down the single line of track to St Marys every 20 minutes. He would leave this on and usually doze off. One night in 1864, two trains nearly collided. Thankfully the two engineers saw each other and tragedy was avoided.
The story goes that, due to his negligent actions, Edison was asked to the office of the general manager of the Grand Trunk Rail Way in Toronto. He expected to be jailed or fired on the spot, so during the meeting he slipped out a side door and caught a train back to Stratford. He quickly packed his things and took off for the United States.
Jumping forward to 1904, Edison was living in Orange, New Jersey and was working as a full-time inventor. On his membership application for the Old Timer Telegraphers’ and Historical Association, he credits the city of Stratford as the place where he formally started his telegraphing career. Even after fleeing Canada, he continued telegraphing, citing his answer to question nine on his application “Has service been continuous” he wrote, “wandered over the map of the US for 5 year, working for the US [Western Union]”. It appears that he migrated from city to city taking any available telegraph job before devoting himself as a full time inventor.