Small-Road Briefs: Watco, ASLRRA, Mississippi Export Railroad

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
U.S. Army veteran Ken Killingsworth (left) is heading up Watco's Military Outreach & Hire (MOH) Program.

U.S. Army veteran Ken Killingsworth (left) is heading up Watco's Military Outreach & Hire (MOH) Program.

Watco formalizes military outreach and hiring. Also, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) looks back at Auburn’s “greasy railroad” prank; and the Mississippi Export Railroad (MSE) celebrates its 100th anniversary.


Watco has launched its official Military Outreach & Hire (MOH) Program, with 31-year U.S. Army veteran Ken Killingsworth heading up the effort to support service members making the transition to civilian employment, the company announced in its monthly newsletter.

Killingsworth, a talent acquisition manager, has been with Watco for about six months and in that time, the company says he has been visiting military installations to build relationships and connect their transition assistance personnel to Watco recruiters, finding that Watco is capturing audience interest, the company said.

U.S. Army veteran Ken Killingsworth

“I think that the on-the-job training and career advancement opportunities at Watco are attractive to someone transitioning from the military. So is the fact that we operate in so many locations,” said Killingsworth, who has attended a dozen hiring events in person or virtually and plans to participate in six more before the year is out.

According to Watco, Killingsworth conducted the first military transition hiring event on April 13, and since that time, the MOH Program has “enabled the company to hire 39 known veterans or reservists who revealed their military affiliation in their job application.” These new team members, the company adds, are working primarily in field operations as equipment operators, track laborers and other similar roles, but are also in office-based roles.

In addition to helping to line up these direct-hires, Killingsworth is helping to develop internships. Later in September, an individual transitioning from the Army will join the Green Ports team as an intern for two months to learn the conductor role alongside a peer trainer, Watco said. Another conductor intern, also from the Army, will start in October with the Austin Western Railroad.

Watco, which “has always been a friend to the military,” also conducts an annual T-shirt sale benefitting a military organization, donates other funds to military groups and hires many veteran reservists as team members, has recently partnered with Veterans Ascend. The organization, according to Watco, uses artificial intelligence (AI) to match the skills of veterans and their spouses to career opportunities.

Blast From the Past

Like with so much in U.S. history, railroads and football have long-standing relationships, said ASLRRA in a Twitter post. The organization, which also mentioned members Iowa Northern’s Hawkeye Express, which transports Iowa Hawkeye football fans to Kinnick Stadium, and Watco-owned Alabama Southern’s Crimson Tide-themed locomotives, looks back at Auburn’s “greasy railroad” prank, a 125-year-old trick that messed with rival Georgia Tech.

The parade shows the popularity of Elvis Presley in 1956. Photo by Bill Wood, Courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History via Alabama Pioneers’ Twitter feed.

According to FanBuzz, “college football is a game of advantages” and Auburn coach John Heisman “relished in any advantage he could get.” This was particularly true on November 7, 1896 when the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets boarded a train and set out on an 11-mile journey from Atlanta to Auburn, Ala., for a game against the Auburn Tigers. When the train pulled into Auburn station, the players prepared to get off, but the train didn’t stop. It kept going until it reached a halt five miles down the road, nearly halfway to the neighboring town of Loachapoka, FanBuzz reported.

As the story goes, Auburn students lathered the rails in the middle of the night with pig grease, lard and soap with the “intentions of making braking impossible.” To make it in time for kickoff, the Yellow Jackets had to hike the five miles back with their equipment. In their first home game in program history, the Tigers beat the Yellow Jackets, who were “gassed before the game started” 45-0, FanBuzz reported.

The 1956 Wreck Tech Pajama Parade at Polytechnic Institute in Auburn, Ala. Photo by Bill Wood, Courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History via Alabama Pioneers’ Twitter feed.

According to FanBuzz, the prank, which seemed to work perfectly, started a new tradition for Auburn University (called Polytechnic Institute for a while) of marching to the train station for a pep rally in pajamas (since the students greased the rails in the middle of the night). The event, titled the Wreck Tech Pajama Parade, has been referred to as “the most comfortable college football tradition of all time.”

Auburn and Georgia Tech played annually until 1987 when the tradition came to an end once National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Southeastern Conference (SEC) and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) schedules started conflicting. The rivalry, however, was rekindled for a home-and-home series in 2003 and 2005.


Moss Point, Miss.-based MSE is celebrating 100 years of service to the Gulf Coast region, the railroad announced on its website. Since 1922, it has “played a vital role in the development and sustainability of many businesses along the Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coasts,” said MSE, a 42-mile short line railroad that extends from Pascagoula to Evanston, Miss.

“Throughout the years, while the commodities transported through the rail line have changed, MSE remains steadfast and nimble,” the railroad said. “Through world wars and hurricanes, MSE has relied on its dedicated team to navigate the turbulent times and generate new business, moving forward and transporting excellence.”

MSE President and CEO Kate Luce

MSE, which began operations in 1922 after Gregory Luce purchased the Alabama & Mississippi Railroad and renamed it, is the north-south corridor connecting the Canadian National Railroad (CN) and the east-west line of CSX Transportation (CSX). The short line also connects to the Norfolk Southern (NS) in Mobile, Ala., and Hattiesburg, Miss., and Kansas City Southern (KCS) in Jackson, Miss., through haulage agreements. These connections and their alliances link the Gulf of Mexico to all points on the continent and beyond.

Today, Gregory Luce’s great-great-granddaughter Kate Luce is the President and CEO of MSE, a position she acquired in 2017, according to the MSE website.

In 1940, as MSE continued to grow and prosper, it acquired one of Mississippi’s first diesel-electric locomotives (pictured above), according to the short line’s website.

The short line, which, in 2011, was honored with the Anchor Award for its “outstanding customer service, efficiency and community leadership” by the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, has one subsidiary—the Alabama Export Railroad (ALE). ALE, which began operations in 2019, is a transportation service company providing freight rail service in Mobile, Ala. With connections to seven railroads, including CN; CSX; Norfolk Southern (NS); KCS; Terminal Railway Alabama State Docks (TASD), a subsidiary of the Alabama State Port Authority; Alabama and Gulf Coast Railway (AGR), and CG Railway (CGR), as well as the Port of Mobile and APM Terminals, ALE, the short line says, also links customers to any point around the world.

Moving forward, MSE says it will continue to expand its product and service offering to the global marketplace. To view the full timeline of MSE’s history, click here.

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