Catching up with the Barnwood Builders

You might say it all started back in 1996, when a former coal miner from West Virginia was scouting the hills of Northeast Kentucky, looking for old log cabins to restore. Someone in Flemingsburg sent him to talk to one of the locals.

“My name’s Mark Bowe,” he introduced himself. “I’m thinking about getting into the log cabin business.”

“My name’s Johnny Jett,” the ponytailed older man replied. “I’m thinking about getting out of it.”

They didn’t know it at the time, but they were at the beginning of a 20-year friendship that would, strangely enough, turn into a hit television show where they play themselves.

Jett and his friend Sherman Thompson had been dismantling log cabins and selling them, and they agreed to become Bowe’s suppliers. By 1998 they were working for his Lewisburg-based company, Antique Cabins and Barns, forming the core of what would later become the crew of “hardworking hillbillies” on the DIY network’s popular show, Barnwood Builders.

As TV shows go, Barnwood isn’t your standard fare. The hour-long episodes portray 7 easygoing guys doing pretty much the same things they’d be doing if there weren’t any cameras around. It’s obvious from their playful country boy banter that they enjoy working together. The only drama comes with the occasional structural collapse or hornets’ nest, or when the weather turns uncooperative. But they’re nice guys, and viewers admire their work ethic and find their knowledge of the old pioneer buildings enlightening.

For self-described hillbillies, they’re a pretty sophisticated bunch. Bowe has a master’s degree from WVU, he served on the Lewisburg City Council, and he owns an insurance company in White Sulphur Springs. Jett is a Vietnam veteran who maintained the Fleming County, KY, water system for 25 years. More surprisingly for a man who’s usually shown operating heavy equipment, he’s an accomplished artist who sells his work at Thompson is a farmer and tobacco grower, a bighearted guy who recently got a lot of attention on Facebook for an act of kindness he showed to a special needs child.

In addition to Jett, two other members of the crew have military backgrounds. Tim Rose, a Virginian who joined the team in 2006, worked for 10 years as an Air Force aircraft mechanic. Alex Webb, a Monroe County native who joined Barnwood in January 2016, pulled a hitch in the Army before becoming a locomotive engineer for Norfolk & Southern Railroad.

Graham Ferguson, originally from Summers County, has been on the crew since 2013, when he was introduced on the show as “the rookie”. He’d been doing landscaping; he knew Bowe because their children were attending the same school in Lewisburg. Max Hammer, a native Arizonian who manages the “Boneyard” near White Sulphur Springs where the logs are stored, rehabbed and assembled before delivery, was working as a fishing guide at the Greenbrier’s Sporting Club before he went to work for the company in 2015.

One thing all seven have in common is growing up with hardworking fathers who taught them how to use their hands. Many of them grew up on farms. They’re intelligent, but they like work that’s physical and concrete, where they can see what they’ve accomplished at the end of the day. You get the feeling none of them would be happy toiling away at a desk in a cubicle. The Barnwood Builders guys are the kind you want to have around if your furnace goes out in the middle of a snowstorm. They know how to do things. What they don’t know, they figure out.

Barnwood gets plenty of press. The coverage usually focuses on Mark Bowe, understandably, since he owns the company, hosts the show and is one of the producers. But because the projects they tackle are a team effort, we thought it might be interesting to talk with the whole crew. We caught up with them while they were working on a cabin on an island in the New River. We sat down at Pipestem State Park, and later at the Boneyard, and asked them about their work and their adjustment to being TV celebrities.