Jerk lightning

Posted by ESC on February 07, 2005

In Reply to: 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.

I couldn't find anything in my references, including a book of railroad slang. But I did find this under by googling "jerk lightning":

What a Train-Despatcher Does
by Charles De Lano Hine
with drawings by E.L. Blumenschein, ca. 1898

".The despatcher, always clear-headed but coatless, takes a pull at the ever-present, nerve-soothing cigar, and bitching up his shirt-sleeves, grabs the telegraph-key to 'jerk lightning,' no less valiantly but much more discreetly than did Ajax of old..." rrextra/wkdesp.Html Accessed February 6, 2005.