Jerking Lightning

By Eilene Lyon

Since I seem to be on a roll with the Ransom family, I thought I’d follow up with a bit about one of Robert Ransom’s sons. He and Emma had four surviving sons: James Henry, William Randolph, Arthur Lemmon, and Albert Frederick (“Fred”). The first two were named for fathers and brothers. Arthur and Fred’s namesakes I’ve yet to discover.

Arthur (1859 – 1867) and Fred first appear in the newspaper in Independence, Kansas, as students in March 1881. Arthur was just 13 when his father died in 1883. All four of Robert and Emma’s sons worked for the railroads at one time or another. Arthur chose to make a career of it. All four young men headed west from Kansas.


Arthur Lemmon Ransom as a young man (University of Idaho – Special Collections)

South Kansas Tribune, June 9, 1886, p. 3

Arthur seems to have made a promising start in his chosen career working for the I & S W railroad (Iowa and Southwestern?). Note the name of his supervisor, Mr. Gravely.


Independence Daily Reporter, September 14, 1886, p. 4

Whoops! Maybe I spoke too soon. Why on earth was he asked to resign? It must not have been serious, because he quickly found another position in Peru, Kansas. Maybe he was forced to make room for someone’s son, or some other such political nonsense. Labor laws were non-existent for the most part.

Independence Daily Reporter, September 29, 1886, p. 4

I just love this clipping! What was Arthur doing at the station in Peru – jerking lightning! This colorful 19th century idiom certainly has much more appeal than “telegraph operator,” don’t you think?

“The telegraph operator’s job was to keep the trains on schedule, notifying the train crews of any problems or unexpected trains that may be ahead of them. They also would send warning messages to other depots up and down the line, warning of such things as run-away trains or Indians on the war path.”

Independence Daily Reporter, October 9, 1886, p. 4

Arthur is a man on the move, looking to learn more about the business and move up the ladder. I’m not entirely certain what his job entailed, but it probably involved material management regarding rail construction and maintenance.

Independence Daily Reporter, December 17, 1887, p. 4

No longer “Artie,” we see that he has made another move, probably to take a promotion and gain experience.

South Kansas Tribune, July 3, 1889, p. 3

Now he has moved on to Moscow, Idaho, and his new job title is “Agent.” Clearly this is seen as a step up the ladder by the press back in Kansas. As Depot Agent, he would have been in charge of all operations at the railroad building in Moscow relating to passengers and freight.

South Kansas Tribune, June 1, 1892, p. 3

All four of the Ransom brothers lived in Moscow for a time. James and Fred eventually moved on to Los Angeles, California. Henry Hockett was their brother-in-law, married to their sister, Ella (Emma Luella Ransom). I had not realized until finding this clipping that the Hocketts had lived in Moscow. They returned to Kansas after about a year in Idaho. Note the mention of a J. M. Gravely. Could this be the same Gravely that Arthur first worked for back in Kansas?

South Kansas Tribune, January 17, 1894, p. 3

At last, Arthur has taken command of the Moscow office for Union Pacific. He’s made it!


Arthur Ransom at work in his office in Moscow, date unknown (University of Idaho – Special Collections)

South Kansas Tribune, June 27, 1894, p. 3

Once again, we find that Arthur has been very successful in his chosen career, taking on ever more responsibility and prospering. For Pacific Express, his “job was to ship packages, much like United Parcel Service (UPS) or Federal Express (Fed Ex) does today. Quite often, especially in smaller communities, the Express Agent was also on the payroll of the local railroad.”


Arthur at work in the depot. Note that his older brother, William, is seen at the left. This is the only known photograph of William, who was the black sheep of his family (much like his uncle/namesake). (University of Idaho – Special Collections)

Arthur’s experience in management for the railroad and express company stood him well in his later business endeavors in Moscow.

Note that they place Arthur in Moscow in 1885, but he clearly moved there in 1889, as seen above. (Latah County Historical Society)


Feature image: Postcard of the O. R. & N. railroad depot in Moscow, Idaho, in 1918 when the local young men were sent off to fight in World War I. (Family collection)


All news clips downloaded from

12 thoughts on “Jerking Lightning

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  1. That. Is. Cool. What an interesting time and life. Right about the papers. Reminds me of the old hometown paper in Issaquah where I grew up. There wasn’t much news so they were in everybody’s business

    Liked by 2 people

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