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Don King is Marking 50 Years in Dredge Building and Exporting

Don King has been in the dredging business for 50 years, and plans to continue in the business as executive vice president of Dredge & Marine Corporation, which he sold to John W. McDougall Co., Inc. in September.

His career began in the U.S. Navy, where he served in the Pacific Theater in the last years of World War II. He recalls being issued full Marine gear as a young sailor, and sailing west from Pearl Harbor, later learning that he was part of a decoy mission to fool the Japanese into thinking an attack was being launched in a certain place. The dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war, and the decoy mission was aborted, but King believes that he is one person whose life was saved by the bombs.

He was discharged on July 31, 1946, enrolled in the University of Tennessee for six semesters, then embarked on a series of jobs that led to his getting into the construction business, building roads in Tennessee and Virginia.

Dredging caught King’s eye in the late 1950’s when he used a dredge to pump material for a freeway project in Memphis. The contract to build the I-40 and I-240 interchange required 500,000 cubic yards of borrow, which he had pumped from the Wolf River by a dredging company. It was the first time this method had been used in Tennessee, and he had to get the Highway Department to write specifications for it.
(Note: The State of Nebraska used dredges to pump the road base for I-80, which created ponds along the right-of-way. Today, 40 of these ponds have been made into water features and fishing holes at rest stops, with special artwork and landscaping surrounding them.)

The dredging equipment and method so interested King that he left contracting and went to work for Neil Cargile’s American Marine & Machinery Corporation (AMMCO) in Nashville in 1960, as general sales manager. He had risen to vice president and general manager by 1967.

IN THE LAND OF DIXIE

That year, John Milne, founder of Dixie Dredge Corporation in Miami, filed bankruptcy, and his sales manager and lawyer acquired the company. Leaving AMMCO, King and Clyde Brown (an engineer), and two others acquired Dixie from the new owners and ran the company from 1967 through 1970, when they sold it to St. Louis Shipbuilding & Steel Co., a division of Pott Industries. Herman Pott retired in 1970, naming Dick Connolly president of Pott Industries. Connolly closed the Miami office, intending to build Dixie’s small portable dredges in the shipyard in St. Louis.

“We made it clear that [the kind of dredge building we did] wouldn’t work in a shipyard, but Connolly went ahead with the move,” said King. “Clyde and I both left St. Louis on the same day in 1973 on completion of our contractual obligation. Clyde started his company, Spectrum Enterprises, and I, with cooperation of Don Killom, founded DredgeMasters International (DMI). Don Killom was, at the time, running a company in Singapore. He later returned to Nashville and took an active role in running DMI,” said King.

As executive vice president of the new company, King supervised the building of the manufacturing plant occupied by DMI to this day, the road leading to the plant along the Cumberland River, and a power plant, creating one of the major manufacturers of portable dredges in the United States. DMI was owned by the Koch Engineering Division of Koch Enterprises.

King traveled extensively selling dredges, including to Mexico and other countries in Central and South America. Brantz Von Mayer had been the agent in Mexico for Dixie, and continued in this capacity for DMI. (Today, Von Mayer’s son, also named Brantz, is owner of Dredge Brokers LLC.) Francisco Valdez also represented DMI in Mexico in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

When the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 added heavy penalties to the already illegal practice of bribing foreign officials “for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business,” Charles Koch’s attorneys advised him that the relatively small sales ($20 million annually, compared to an aggregate annual income of $7 billion from Koch’s other companies) DMI produced were not worth the risk of running afoul of the Act. Koch sold DMI to Valley Industries of St. Louis in 1977.

DELIVERIES TO IRAQ

DMI acquired Dixie Dredge Corporation on December 1, 1980, at which time Dixie was merged into the DMI organization and no longer operated as an independent dredge builder. At the time of the purchase, Dixie had delivered five dredges to Iraq, and DMI assumed the responsibility of getting them into operation. King continued with DMI as executive vice president, utilizing his expertise in sales and management.

By 1985, Valley Industries was experiencing financial troubles, and began selling assets prior to filing bankruptcy, laying off 50 percent of its workforce, and ceasing operations. (An IDR report in the January/February 1985 issue notes that Don Killom and Bob Sutton had joined a Louisiana-based foundry–Dibert, Bancroft & Ross–and that DMI had gone out of business.)

King rejoined AMMCO, which Jerry Farmer had been running, as president. On October 18 of that year the company filed for reorganization under Chapter 11. King told IDR at the time, “The past years have been tough on the dredge builders who have been depending heavily on the export market. For the past three years they have been fighting for the domestic market, which put prices so low they couldn’t make a profit.”

At the ConAgg show in February, 1986, AMMCO announced that Warren Johnson had purchased Neil Cargile’s AMMCO shares, and that Don King would continue as president, with Jerry Farmer as general manager. The company also became the U.S. representatives of Orenstein and Koppel (O&K) of (then) West Germany, and would market O&K’s new concept dredge bucket wheel, which was designed by Heiko Stehmeier, who joined King and Farmer in the AMMCO booth at the show.

BROWN AND STOCKER BUY DREDGEMASTERS

In 1986, Clyde Brown and Bill Stocker (of Stocker Sand & Gravel) purchased the assets of DMI from Valley Industries, and began operating out of the DMI plant King had built. Brown’s Spectrum Enterprises later acquired AMMCO.

In early 1988, King and Farmer both left AMMCO to found Dredge & Marine Corporation (DMC). According to an article in IDR, April/May 1988, the company would provide re-manufactured dredges, act as agents for Kenner Marine & Machinery Company, manufacture weed harvesters, tender boats and specialized dredging equipment, and provide spare parts and service for all makes of dredges. King was president and Farmer was general manager of the new company. Farmer commented that “we have a wealth of people in our area we can call on for any kind of assistance.” Bearing this out, James Morris, Bobby Prince, Ken Graves and other former AMMCO people joined DMC.

Their office was in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, near Gillilan Machine Co., which was owned by former AMMCO employee James Gillilan. DMC contracted Gillilan for the steel work on their first five dredges.

Because their dredge building and refurbishing business was dominating their activities, King bought a manufacturing plant in Millersville, Tennessee, north of Nashville, then bought an office in Mt. Juliet. Most of the steel work was contracted to McDougall, which was on the west side of Nashville, and the two companies joint ventured on some projects also.

The company’s dredge brokering activities were advertised through the regular newsletter Dredge and Pit Trader, which listed used dredges, parts and aggregate processing equipment in a mailed publication. The Dredge & Pit Trader was inserted in each International Dredging Review issue from January 1989 through July 2001, and is still in publication on DMC’s Web site.

Leandro Montemayor is DMC’s representative in Mexico, and has sold 10 to 12 dredges for DMC in the last decade, said King.

DMC sold, refurbished and rebuilt approximately 15 dredges a year for 25 years, said King–a total of around 375 dredges. More than half of these were exported to other countries, he said.

King and his wife Kathleen (Bitsy) live in Hermitage–a community in metro Nashville, on Percy Priest Lake. Their house was built in 1837 and King mentioned that he is fascinated to think of the the historic events that happened in the house’s early days. Of King’s four sons, Rick, the oldest, is the only one who works in the family business, and he continues as DMC general sales manager following the acquisition by McDougall.

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