Watco rolled out the black and yellow to support the crimson and gold in Pittsburg State’s homecoming parade on Saturday, October 14. One difference this year is that it was decorated with the new Watco logo, which was revealed on September 29. The Forty and Eight train cruised down Broadway with Watco Team members and their families walking the parade route alongside the engine and tossing candy to onlookers while cheering on the Gorillas.
The Forty and Eight has a long history of appearing in parades. Consisting of a motor-powered locomotive and a trailing box car, the train was built by W.B. (Bus) Johnson, father of Kaye Lynne Webb and father-in-law of Watco founder, Dick Webb. It was originally built in 1950 for the Forty and Eight Society, which was founded in 1920 by World War I veterans.
The society is named after French boxcars that were stenciled with “40/8,” denoting each car’s capacity to hold 40 men or eight horses. The society was originally an arm of the American Legion but became an independent and separately incorporated veteran’s organization in 1960.
Membership is by invitation only and an eligible candidate must be an honorably discharged veteran of the United States Armed Forces. Kaye Lynne recalls seeing her normally reserved father dressed in a gunny sack and wearing make-up and earrings for his initiation.
The train had been used for many occasions since Johnson built it, and Kaye Lynne remembers riding in parades as a teen. The train disappeared during the 1960’s and resurfaced when Watco CEO Rick Webb saw the engine sitting at an old gas station at the corner of 4th and Elm streets in Pittsburg.
“I asked my dad if he knew anything about it and he told me that it was the train that my grandpa had built,” said Webb. “The guy who owned it said he had bought it from someone who was getting ready to sell it as scrap iron and he agreed to sell us the set.”
Originally the train was repaired at the Coffeyville, Kansas, mechanical shop and sent back to Pittsburg. It was even rigged so that a drop of oil could make it look like smoke was coming out of the engine stack. When the train needed updating again in 2012, it was taken to Watco’s mechanical shop in Neodesha, Kansas, where it was restored to its former glory. The train was completed in late October of that year, just in time for the famous Newollah parade in Independence, Kansas. Since then, the Forty and Eight has been a regular sight for people in Southeast Kansas at community and company events.
This year’s PSU homecoming was highlighted by a 26-10 victory over Missouri Western, ending the Gorillas’ three game slump.