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Biggest Gorilla rolls into town

October 30, 2012 12:00AM

There were lots of Gorillas in Pittsburg for Homecoming week, but the biggest by far was a shiny, 263,000-lb. brute courtesy of Watco Companies. The locomotive, painted in Pitt State colors and boasting pictures of Gus Gorilla on all sides, was introduced to the community as part of the Homecoming 2012 celebration.

Gorilla Train“Watco has a great relationship with Pittsburg State University and many of our team members are alums of Pitt State,” said Tracie VanBecelaere, Watco communications director. “We thought this would be the perfect way to let everyone see just how proud we are of our Gorillas.”

This is the fourth Watco locomotive to be painted in school colors and PSU is the first NCAA Division II university to receive the honor. The only other university to receive an official, custom paint job is the University of Alabama. Cherryvale High School received the honor last year to commemorate the opening of the Cherryvale Yard and Boise Valley Railroad has a locomotive similar in color to Boise State University.

“I don’t know of another university that enjoys such strong support from its community,” said Pittsburg State University President Steve Scott. “We’re fortunate to have home-grown industries such as Watco in our city, and I know that this locomotive will be a source of pride for Gorillas throughout the world.”

The Webb/Lundy family boasts many Pitt State alumni, including Dick Webb (Watco founder) and wife, Kaye Lynne; Gary Lundy, executive vice president for support services (who played PSU Gorilla Football in the ‘70s) and wife, Susie, (who holds two degrees); Rick Webb (Watco CEO) and wife, Stacey; Afton Lundy (a member of Watco’s Marketing Division); Kevin Deao (who played baseball for Pitt State) and wife, Fallyne, (a member of Watco’s Mechanical Division), and Bubba Lundy (also a member of Watco’s Mechanical Division and a member of the PSU football Gorillas until an injury ended his career).

Painting something this large and complex takes a team of experts and that’s exactly what Watco has at its Railcar Repair Shop in Coffeyville, Kan. Seven men, Broc Bryant, Jeff Denton, Rich Johnson, Wade Lunt, James Andrews, Kenny Rowell and Dion Wilkens, came together to transform locomotive 3834 into “The Gorilla” in less than three weeks.

“We were under a pretty tight timeline,” explained Kenny Rowell, shop foreman. “A normal paint job would take us about 125-150 hours, but the design on this one was quite a bit more complex. By the time it was all said and done, we put in more than 300 hours on it. It was hectic, but we wanted to have it ready for Homecoming. I really think it was worth it.”

“The Gorilla” has already generated buzz with rail fans throughout the nation, and many will likely make their way to Pittsburg to see the locomotive in person.

“Rail fans have a great deal of passion for these engines,” said VanBecelaere. “They love the history, they love the new paint jobs and they love to follow where these locomotives travel. I had a gentleman call me last week to ask me about ‘The Gorilla’ because he’d heard about it online. It’s another way Pittsburg State is making national news.”

©2012 Pittsburg State University