The meaning of the phrase "Jerking Lightning"?

Posted by Rob Montgomery on February 06, 2005

I am trying to find the meaning of the phrase "jerking lightning". In doing genealogical research, I have come across two newpaper archives (one from 1879 and one from 1880) that use the phrase, but there is not enough context to even guess at the meaning.

In one of the newspapers, the following was written on June 24, 1880 in an Indiana newspaper about a young 18 year man named Morgan Jolly (a relative of mine a few generations back)...

"Morgan Jolly is jerking lightning at Nebraska."

While sarching for a meaning, I also found another reference to the phrase in a newspaper on Jan 22, 1879.

"Young fellow who has been jerking lightning here..."

Morgan Jolly worked for the railroad, so it is possible that "Jerking Lightning" was a phrase related to railroad work. The way it was used in the newspapers leads me to believe that it was a widely understood phrase in 1880. If anyone can tell me what it means, I would appreciate it.