Doe River Express comes to end of the line

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   A trucking company with a display that captured Elizabethton Zeitgeist has come to the end of the line.
   Doe River Express made its final delivery on Friday before parking the company's six trucks and laying off eight employees.
   The company's president blamed the company's shutdown on weakened market conditions that left the small trucking firm faced with declining revenues and rising costs.
   "In the transportation market, you've had fuel increases, insurance increases and at the same time freight rates have been coming down," said Robert Smalling, president of Doe River Express since 2000.
   Smalling said larger trucking firms had aggressively dropped prices on backhauls that were critical to profitability.
   "It's the old syndrome of the large boys versus the small carriers," he said. "They are driving the rates down. They work on volume whereas a small carrier cannot work on volume."
   Smalling said all six trucks were leased from the Penske corporation and have been turned back in. Eight employees with Doe River Express are now looking for work.
   The company will meet all obligations to supplies and assist employees in career development and securing other employment, according to Smalling.
   Doe River Express was acquired in the fall of 1997 as Family Transport, according to Smalling. The name was changed to Doe River Express, roughly one to two years later he said.
   Doe River Express had been initially named in a lawsuit by the city of Elizabethton against North American Fibers among other business entities. Doe River Express was later dropped from the lawsuit.
   Smalling said the incident had "absolutely nothing" to do with the trucking firm's closure.
   He also said he had accepted a job in Knoxville and planned to relocate to that area in the near future.
   With Elizabethton's Covered Bridge emblazoned on the truck trailers, the firm may have been one of the most recognizable cargo carriers to Northeast Tennessee residents.
   Smalling stated that while the closure was disappointing, it represented a growing sense of economic malaise in the community.
   "There is not a pro-business feeling in this city," said Smalling, who ran for a seat on Elizabethon's city council in November. "It has got to get progressive or I feel there is going to be more and more (departures)."