Donald Richard King died on November 19 at the age of 91. He was retired and living with his wife Kathleen (Bitsy) in their historic home in Hermitage, Tennessee, at the time of his death.
He is survived by his wife Bitsy, his four sons Rick King, David (Hajdi) King, Roger (Terry) King, Clif (Terry) King, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. All his sons were present at King’s deathbed.
Don King was an entrepreneur whose understanding of the dredging market and the forces driving the market led him to join, purchase and establish successful dredge building and marketing businesses to the end of his life.
His career in dredge building and dredge sales spanned nearly 60 years in the Nashville area, and his legacy is a thriving Nashville-area dredge manufacturing industry. King had a hand in the startup and success of every Nashville dredge manufacturer in existence today.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway system provided the impetus for the rise of dredge manufacturing in Nashville. At the time, King was a dirt contractor, and won a job providing fill for the I-40/I-240 Interchange in Memphis. He contracted a dredging company to pump 500,000 cubic yards of borrow from the Wolf River and was intrigued by the dredging process. Neil Cargile was manufacturing construction equipment, including dredges, at American Marine & Machinery Corporation (AMMCO) in Nashville, and King approached him for a job, joining the company as general sales manager in 1960, rising to general manager by 1967.
Under King’s direction, AMMCO emerged rapidly as an innovative manufacturer and one of the industry’s largest. By 1966, the company was building and delivering new dredges at the rate of almost one per week to customers all over the world.
Through King’s efforts, AMMCO received the President’s “E” Award for export excellence.
Because slurry has better and faster compaction qualities than dry dirt, the State of Tennessee began specifying dredged fill for roadbeds in the highway construction program, and King was able to use his knowledge of earth moving along with his newly-won knowledge of dredging equipment to provide contractors with the equipment they needed for highway construction contracts.
“Don could look at a project and know the best way to approach it,” said business colleague Clyde Brown.
“Don was a very positive influence on the dredging industry, especially aggregate mining,” Brown said. If a person is new to the industry, he needs the advice of someone knowledgeable in the capabilities of the equipment, as well as what is needed to mine a particular deposit,” Brown said. “Don was good at that.”
Marine architect Francis Ducote said, “Don liked people and he got along with people quite well. That’s why he was such a good salesman. He was unflappable. His personality and drive were his fortes. He was honest with customers, making sure that they were purchasing the appropriate equipment for a job,” he said.
King left AMMCO in 1967 to purchase Miami, Florida-based Dixie Dredge Company along with three partners, one of whom was Clyde Brown. They sold the company to St. Louis Shipbuilding & Steel Co. in 1970, with King and Brown contracted to stay on until 1973. Both left at the end of their contracts, Brown to form Spectrum Enterprises, and King to join Don Killom in founding the dredge builder DredgeMasters International (DMI). He supervised construction of the manufacturing facility on the banks of the Cumberland River in Hendersonville, Tennessee. As executive vice president, King used his expertise in sales and management, and travelled extensively selling dredges in Mexico and other Central and South American countries.
While at DMI, King established manufacturing cooperation with heavy equipment manufacturing firms in West Germany, The Netherlands, Japan and Canada, enabling the company to market its product in areas that would otherwise have been inaccessible. Under his management, DMI received the President’s “E” award for export excellence.
DMI acquired Dixie Dredge in 1980, after Dixie had delivered five dredges to Iraq. After merging with DMI, Dixie no longer operated as a dredge builder.
In February 1984, King rejoined AMMCO as president at the behest of Jerry Farmer in a move that was approved by owner Neil Cargile and the company’s board of directors.
By that time, King had worked in more than 40 countries in North, Central and South America, Western and Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Africa the Middle East, the Far East and the Asia-Pacific, dealing with dredge owners and operators in the private and public sectors, with manufacturers’ agents and heavy equipment dealers.
When he rejoined AMMCO, he told IDR that “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.”
According to Jerry Farmer, “Don immediately did wonders for AMMCO’s sales numbers, and that continued for several years. There should be no doubt that Don brought the company back from the brink of bankruptcy.”
Clyde Brown, who had acquired DMI in 1986, acquired the assets of AMMCO in 1987. In partnership with Bill Stocker, Brown operates DMI to this day, building Dixie, AMMCO and DMI dredges and providing wear parts for all models.
In early 1988, King and Jerry Farmer founded Dredge & Marine Corporation (DMC) and were joined by a number of other people from the early AMMCO years, to rebuild and refurbish used dredges in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. During the following 25 years, DMC sold approximately 375 refurbished dredges, half of them to other countries. They also established the Dredge & Pit Trader, a monthly publication listing dredges, parts, and aggregate processing equipment for sale, which was bound into each issue of International Dredging Review and mailed separately to other customers. Dredge Central continues to publish it today.
In 2010, John W. McDougall Co. Inc. acquired DMC, heralding King’s first retirement at age 83.
The Western Dredging Association awarded him its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.
In 2013, King identified a need in the industry for used dredging equipment, especially in the aggregate dredging industry, where many of the business owners didn’t have the capital to purchase new equipment. He launched Dredge Central, LLC, joined by a team of colleagues who had worked with him at AMMCO, DMI and DMC for decades. The group included King’s son Rick as sales manager – the only one of his four sons who had gone into the dredging business.
Besides purchasing and re-selling dredges, Dredge Central provided parts for almost any dredge, including the major brands and also the shop-built dredges in use by small gravel companies in Nebraska, Kansas and other midwestern states.
The company’s longtime representative Leandro Montemayor, in Mexico City, along with his grandson joined Dredge Central to handle Latin American sales, and they continue in this capacity today.
In December 2013, Dredge Central acquired the assets of King’s previous company DMC.
King formally retired from Dredge Central in March 2016, and invitations to his retirement party were sent to clients and friends in many countries as well as the United States. The shop crew built a model of King’s first dredge design as a retirement gift.
His health began to fail in March of 2018, and he died in the hospital on November 19 of respiratory failure. A World War II Navy veteran, he had expressed a desire to be buried in a military cemetery. Bitsy arranged for his ashes to be interred in the historic Nashville National Cemetery on December 21. At a family gathering it was decided that the legend on his tombstone would read “Sail on Gentle Man.”
Bitsy is planning a celebration of his life at their home this summer.