Riding the rails with the Colonel
by Jennifer Cohron
Dec 05, 2010 | 3734 views | 0 0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Harland Sanders
Harland Sanders
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Before Harland Sanders became the famous face of Kentucky Fried Chicken, he worked in Jasper for the Alabama Central Railroad.

"Nobody knew him as Colonel Sanders back then," said Jim Short, owner of Radial Tire & Bandag, Inc.

Short was a child when he met Sanders at his grandparents' home. Short's grandfather, Monroe Williams, was employed with Sanders at the Alabama Central.

The two men became close friends and stayed in touch after Sanders made a fortune with his special blend of 11 herbs and spices. Sanders was the godfather and namesake of Short's uncle, Harland Williams.

Short said that to the best of his memory, Williams was a flagman and Sanders was the engineer on the local railroad.

Short has heard stories about his grandfather shooting rabbits from the train.

"He would walk up to the engine, shoot a rabbit, jump off the train and get the rabbit, catch the caboose and then walk back up. When they got back to Jasper at night, they'd bring the rabbits home and my grandmother would cook them," Short said.

Short said his grandfather, Sanders and a female timekeeper who had been with the railroad for years are the only employees of the Alabama Central that he can recall from that period of its history.

According to Internet biographies, Sanders married a local girl named Josephine King in 1909.

Short said that he doesn't know all of the reasons that brought Sanders to Walker County but he knows how he left.

"The Colonel left Jasper with everything he owned in the backseat of his car," Short said.

Sanders drove to Corbin, Kentucky, and started cooking out of a service station near the highway. He was in his 40s at the time.

After Sanders became a millionaire, he would schedule a stop in Jasper anytime that he was flying in the Southeast.

"My grandfather was already dead then, but he would call my grandmother and say, 'I'm going to be in Jasper. You reckon you could find some collards?'" Short said.

Short would pick Sanders up at the airport and bring him to Jasper so the Colonel could visit and enjoy his favorite meal -- collards and cornbread.

"He was just an old country boy," Short said.