For over a century, railroads have contributed immensely to America’s industrial and economic growth. The Mississippi Export Railroad, one of 500 short line railroads in the United States, was first envisioned in the 1880’s by two local businessmen, J. W. Stewart and Oscar Randall, to provide transportation for the import of lumber for the largest sawmills in the South and the
third largest logging location in the world—Moss Point, Mississippi. At that time, Moss Point was better known in parts of Europe, South America, Cuba and the Caribbean Islands than any other port in the world, including New York.
The MSE history, like many others, has evolved from numerous predecessor lines. It has operated under different ownership and has been known over the years by various names:
The Moss Point & Pascagoula Railroad
A four-mile railroad was organized in 1894, and built from Moss Point to Scranton (now known as Pascagoula).
The W. Denny Log Road
The proprietor of one of the largest sawmills in Moss Point, W. Denny & Company, purchased the line circa 1902, to accommodate the rapidly growing inland trade and built a 38-mile extension to the north from Moss Point to Evanston (Lucedale, MS). The U. S. Secretary of War was petitioned in 1904 to build a bridge over the Escatawpa River. This same swing span bridge remains in operation today.
The Pascagoula & Northern Railroad: “Peanut Route”
In 1906, a devastating hurricane took a severe toll on the Denny’s timber interest. Attempting to salvage the line, they obtained a common carrier’s license in 1909, in order to transport passengers, mail and freight, along with timber. Fervent competition, irreparable losses from the hurricane and the impending decline in the timber market forced the Dennys to file bankruptcy.
The Pascagoula-Moss Point Northern Railroad: “Poor Man’s Perfect Nuisance”
In 1912, the N. E. Turner Family of Vinegar Bend, Alabama, purchased the 42-mile line and extended it to their sawmill at Vinegar Bend, lengthening the line to approximately 84 miles. During this time, a marketing book, Jackson County, The Los Angeles of Mississippi, disseminated information about the sparsely inhabited, fertile land located along the line between Moss Point and Lucedale. The railroad was, primarily, the catalyst that attracted development of the settlements and businesses that are seen today.
The Alabama & Mississippi Railroad: “Agony and Misery”
Still under the operation of the Turner family, the line was renamed the Alabama & Mississippi Railroad in 1915. Before World War I, it was also dubbed the “Pine Knot Special.” Due to insufficient funds to purchase coal, the firemen filled the locomotive boilers with “pine knots” picked up along right-of way. Realizing the imminent demise of the line, the Turner family applied to the Interstate Commerce Commission for permission to discontinue operations. In 1920, the railroad was declared insolvent, a receiver was named and the properties were ordered to be sold.
Mississippi Export Railroad Company
The late Greg M. Luce, great grandfather of the current President and Chairman of the Board, Dwain Gregory Luce, Jr., raised the necessary funds in order to purchase the defunct Alabama & Mississippi Railroad. The railroad was shortened from 84 miles to 42 miles and re-named “Mississippi Export Railroad Company.” Mississippi Export Railroad, as it is known today, was incorporated in 1922 with the purchase of rail from Pascagoula to Luce Farms. Soon after, the railroad served the paper mill near Moss Point, and eventually facilitated the return of log trains to the rails (after 20 years). Countless advances in rail technology and Gulf Coast industry over the past century have allowed Mississippi Export to become a safe and efficient shortline in the South.