MOSS POINT — One of Mississippi’s oldest businesses is celebrating its 90-year anniversary this year.
The Mississippi Export Railroad Co., headquartered in Moss Point, was launched in 1922, when the late Gregory Luce purchased and revamped the previously failed business.
The railroad dates back to 1894 when it was first built as The Moss Point & Pascagoula Railroad and stretched four miles from Moss Point to Scranton, now known as Pascagoula.
Five name changes, three owners, three reconstructions and 118 years later, the railroad is now known as the Mississippi Export Railroad extending 42 miles from Evanston to Pascagoula.
Greg Luce, great-grandson of Gregory Luce, is the president and chairman of the board.
“People think we’re just a traditional railroad, but we actually have more capabilities and features to offer today than we did in the past,” Luce said.
The company provides distribution services to and from businesses in the South Mississippi area, owns and operates a railcar/locomotive repair and maintenance facility and offers track space for railcar storage.
Manager June Lennep said the company lost its No. 2 and No. 3 customers when the companies shut down in the early 2000s, and what could have been a detrimental situation ended up helping the company prosper in the end.
“We got together and brainstormed and came up with the idea to offer storage services to make up for that lost revenue,” Lennep said.
Luce said, “We received more customers, and it brought on the most prosperous years for the business.”
The maintenance shop built by Luce’s father is another element of the company that makes it unique. Luce said he considers it to be another business within the business.
It was named after their oldest living retiree, Clyde Britt, who is 85 years old and still has the energy and appearance of “someone not a day over 50,” marketing manager Christopher Watkins said.
Britt went to work on the railroad at age 16 in 1944. He worked for 46 years in several positions including conductor, train master and master mechanic.
“I worked 16-hour days for $5.27 a day when I started out,” Britt said. “I watched the speed of the train go from 10 mph back then to 60 mph now.”
Britt also held other jobs at the papermill and the shipyard but said Mississippi Export was “one of the greatest companies to work for.
“They are some of the best managers around,” Britt said. “The business just grew and grew and grew every year.”
The railroad holds a key role in linking the Gulf of Mexico to all parts of the continent.
It connects the Canadian National Railroad to the east-west line of CSX Transportation and also connects the Norfolk Southern and Kansas City Southern railroads.
Mississippi Export maintains five operating locomotives and can accommodate loads of up to 315,000 pounds per car.
Luce said the business also is very active with the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation.
“We have sites ready to be developed to receive industry and bring in more jobs,” he said. “But the two big things about this company is safety and the people.”
He said the railroad has consistently received the Jake Award from the American Shortline Regional Railroad Association year after year for its safety record.
Luce said it’s the people who make the business, and at Mississippi Export Railroad there are generations of families who truly have a passion for what they are doing.
The company will be celebrating its 90-year anniversary event the first week of October with tours of the mainline on an observation train for affiliates and customers.
Two time capsules will be installed, one to be reopened in 10 years and the other in 35 years.