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Birmingham-Nashville Express (BNE) was a less-than-truckload (LTL) carrier that traced its roots back to the 1940s. BNE was founded by Forrest Durrett, who gained experience in the trucking industry through his first company, Durrett Transfer Lines, which he founded in the mid-1930s. Durrett Transfer Lines grew as it hauled refurbished tires during World War II. Durrett himself ran delivery routes with these tires, though he gradually began adding and hiring employees.
Durrett Transfer Lines was a unionized company, like many other companies of the time, and he began to tire of constantly contesting labor grievances. Durrett Transfer Lines was ultimately sold and merged into Motor Freight Corp. in 1967, allowing Forrest Durrett to focus on other profitable endeavors, including another trucking company.
The corridor between Nashville, Tennessee and Birmingham, Alabama began to look profitable, and Durrett focused his attention on that route. Birmingham-Nashville Express was founded in 1967, with Durrett as the only driver. Initially, Durrett contracted out other loads, but soon employment numbers, as well as service routes, grew. The company’s motto in those early days was “Connecting the Steel City with Music City.”
BNE continued to grow throughout the 1970s but faced challenges due to deregulation. In a 1983 interview with The Tennessean newspaper, Durrett explained that four years previously, at least 90 carriers had local agents and offices in the Nashville area. Three years after deregulation, 29 of those carriers were in financial distress or had gone under completely. BNE was able to stay afloat through the acquisition of two smaller companies, as well as the diversification and extension of its service routes. At that time, it cut a route from Owensboro, Kentucky to New Orleans as well and then a more direct line from Springfield, Tennessee to Nashville to Birmingham.
LTL is a highly competitive sector by nature, and BNE soon found itself unable to compete. In 1996, Birmingham-Nashville Express divested its LTL business after 30 years in service. It was not an unexpected occurrence. Technological demands and rate pressures had been pushing smaller regional players out of the industry for years, and though BNE had a strong reputation, it was still a small regional carrier.
However, BNE then began to focus on full truckload service. The early 2000s had their own challenges, including extremely high diesel prices. In 2003, Birmingham-Nashville Express was acquired by Big G Express, which is headquartered in Shelbyville, Tennessee.
The life of Forrest Durrett
The following information is summarized from two articles written by Bill Jones of the Robertson County Connection.
Forrest Durrett was born in White House, Tennessee on December 23, 1909. By the time he was 15, Durrett was driving a solid rubber tire truck weekly to Nashville to pick up stock for his father’s grocery store in Springfield, Tennessee.
He loved driving trucks; a love that stayed with him all his life. His father made him pay for room and board starting when he was 12 years old, so he trapped rabbits and sold the skins to pay for the room and board. This instilled in Durrett the value of saving money; throughout his life he never spent money frivolously.
Durrett graduated from high school in 1926. He caught a train to Chicago and enrolled in Coyne College Electrical School. Graduating in 1930, he returned to Springfield looking for work.
With a background in electricity, he thought there would be a job in Springfield. In the first full year of the Depression there were hardly any jobs available anywhere. Instead, the Draughon brothers employed him driving a gas truck.
He worked seven days a week and saved his money. The Draughon brothers were impressed by Durrett and his hard work and ethics.
In 1935, Forrest Durrett and Louis Draughon were very good friends and worked closely together. Draughon offered to sell Durrett the 638 Service Station.
He began his trucking business by buying one truck and hiring Jimmy Sanders as his driver. He operated from the back of the renamed 638 Tire Company. He called the trucking company Durrett Transfer Lines and ran a route from Springfield to Nashville each day. Later he hauled freight from Springfield to Russellville, Kentucky and Owensboro, Kentucky to Evansville, Indiana.
Durrett married in 1939. Everything was going well for Durrett until Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941. Sanders, who was Durrett’s sole truck driver, was a trained pilot. He left the following day to Camp Campbell, Kentucky (now Fort Campbell) as a pilot instructor for the war effort. Durrett had his truck and a filling station. He began driving the truck himself.
The station was known for the service it provided vulcanizing tires. This type of repair involves external tire damage, such as sidewall cuts, chipped lugs, cracks in the shoulder, and bead damage. With spot repairs, the damaged area is ground or beveled out and filled with new rubber on the outside of the cavity. A high-pressure heat cure forces the rubber into the casing and cures the tire. Stripping repair involves the inner lining of the tire as it thins and the cords become exposed. As with section and spot repairs, a layer of rubber is applied to the inside of the tire and a high-pressure heat cure bonds the layers together for a lasting repair.
When the U.S. entered World War II, vulcanization became a premium service. New tires were unavailable as the materials to make them were diverted for the war effort. Durrett began getting contracts from Camp Campbell in Clarksville and the state of Tennessee to vulcanize used tires. With his equipment he could take an old tire and make it like new.
Durrett began to travel to Cincinnati, where he found a huge warehouse of used passenger car tires. He picked through the tires and loaded as many as he could in a railroad boxcar and traveled with it to Springfield.
He took the tires to the 638 station where he vulcanized them and then resold them to Camp Campbell and others. He had the only vulcanizing equipment in the area, and he wasted no time in getting the operation up and running. He hired people that worked for him and he himself refurbished tires as well as drove his truck daily on the routes. He also furnished tires to the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
At that time, traffic came right through the middle of Springfield and his station was in the right spot for business.
In the 1960s and 1970s business at the service station began to wane due to construction of a new highway that diverted traffic from downtown Springfield. Durrett sold the station at that time, and went into the trucking business full-time.
Durrett Transfer began in 1941 and lasted until the fall of 1967 when Durrett sold it. Like nearly all truck lines then, its employees were members of a union. Durrett had to travel to Biloxi, Mississippi monthly to contest labor grievances that were filed by drivers.
The growth potential from Nashville to Birmingham was strong. After se;;omg Durrett Transfer Lines, Durrett began Birmingham-Nashville Express. He had one employee (himself) and contracted everything else out. He was years ahead of his time with this idea. He operated BNE until 1996, but his one-man operation could not compete with bigger competitors. The truck line was sold to Big G Express, which is based in Shelbyville, Tennessee.
Durrett served three terms as president of the Tennessee Motor Transportation Association. During his tenure he assisted in establishing the first transportation scholarship at the University of Tennessee. Special recognition was given to him by the Southern Motor Carriers Conference, for his 12 years of service (he served as a board member, vice president and president). He also served as president of the Nashville Motor Carriers Operations Association and because of his many contributions to the transportation industry was honored in 1987 by being chosen Transportation Man of the Year. He was very active in the American Trucking Associations (ATA), and was vice president of ATA for Tennessee.
He retired, after working hard all his life. He had a reputation of being honest with people and was hardly ever sick a day in his life. However, in December 1999 he developed internal bleeding and passed away on January 1, 2000.