Mark Twain would be proud. Kirby (NYSE:KEX) continues to barge up and down the Mississippi River, generating impressive profits and returns for its shareholders in the process.

Kirby's share price jumped about 70% from $24 at this time a year ago to above $41 in May, only to slide back nearly 30% from that high to below $30 a month ago. In the process, its forward P/E ratio was trimmed to a level in the mid-teens, from a more lofty mid-20s perch. It thereby seemed materially below where it should have been for a company with Kirby's demonstrated strength, industry dominance, and bright prospects. Within just the past month, Kirby has bounced back to about $35, or nearly 24% above its still-recent low.

The lion's share of Kirby's revenues emanate from its fleet of nearly 900 tank barges, which primarily transport petrochemicals from refineries near the Gulf of Mexico to manufacturing plants in the East and Midwest. All of the company's barges and the towboats that nudge them north and east are currently operating at capacity, with nary a slowdown in sight.

The remaining 15% of revenues involves its diesel engine services segment. With energy-related activity still flourishing in the Gulf of Mexico, diesel engines are purring. As a result, this group boosted its operating income by a whopping 71% in the June quarter.

Kirby's operations are not exactly sexy, but it's meaningful that the company's barge fleet is easily the major player in an industry that's vital to the U.S. economy. In fact, since its fleet represents about a third of the U.S. total -- a fraction that far outstrips its next-largest operator -- Kirby enjoys "big enchilada" status that few companies anywhere can boast.

The company's management is seasoned and deep. And with the benefits of a strong balance sheet, I believe it's a team capable of achieving meaningful absolute and relative growth for the company in the years ahead.

Kirby is scheduled to announce its third-quarter results next week, with analysts expecting a 25% increase in revenues and a 33% jump in per-share net income. And this is a company that typically exceeds expectations. As a result, its recent share-price bounce seems justified, and you don't have to be a riverboat gambler to expect more of the same.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith enjoys examining any company with a nautical bent. He does not own shares in this company and welcomes your comments.