The American documentary-style series, “Barnwood Builders,” topped the ratings game when it premiered in 2013, and has remained to this day one of the most-watched shows in the history of the DIY Network. Make-overs on television seldom get old, as indicated by the huge number of reality shows with that concept, but what made this Silent Crow Arts-produced show stand-out and gain a huge following was because it featured a group of hillbillies, led by Mark Bowe who celebrated the ingenuity of the American pioneers by reclaiming, restoring and repurposing the structures they built using hand-hewn logs. Viewers came to love the talented crew, and when one of them disappeared from the series, they couldn’t help but wonder what happened, especially with even rumors of their deaths circulating online.
- 1 About “Barnwood Builders”
- 2 The “Barnwood Builders” Crew
- 3 Who died in “Barnwood Builders?”
About “Barnwood Builders”
At the center of “Barnwood Builders” is Mark Bowe. In 1996, he went in search of old log cabins in Northeast Kentucky, when he became interested in getting into the business of restoration after he helped a friend in tearing down an old barn. He met Johnny Jett, who along with his friend Sherman Thompson had been in the business of selling log cabins that they dismantled. The two agreed to supply Mark’s company, Antique Cabins and Barns, which was established around that time. In 1998, the two joined his company, based in Lewisburg.
A film producer who worked for the American filmmaker Ken Burns, went to their office wanting to have a cabin built in New York, and after meeting the crew at the boneyard and learning Mark’s story, he became interested in filming how they worked.
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In 2005, they shot a 20-minute documentary, and entered it into festivals. Some years later, they received invitations to do a reality show, but turned them down because the producers wanted to incorporate drama, which included fighting, to spice things up. Mark shared that his people who had been with him for more than a decade had formed a very strong bond, and he wasn’t ‘going to cuss them out on a television show.’
It was the DIY Network that wanted them as they were; they didn’t want anything other than what they were supposed to do on the job. A film crew followed them around when they were working on a project; Mark would meet with the producers, and talk to them about the process involved, and helpd them get the shots that they needed to show how they worked. He eventually became one of the producers of the show from season three onward, and helped develop the story arc for each episode.
When asked what he wanted to accomplish with the show, he said, ‘I want to champion West Virginia. I’d like to change the stereotype of the word ‘hillbilly.’’ Mark and the members of his team were self-proclaimed hillbillies, but the network didn’t want them to use the term at first, which was seen as derogatory. They eventually came around, as the word had come to mean ‘strong ties to family and friends, a willingness to do hard work, perseverance and fortitude.’ Mark wished the world was full of hillbillies in that ‘we’d shake hands, do deals, and that’ll be the end of it.’ His handshake meant a lot to him, as he considered it better than a contract.
Mark’s team would check out an 18th or 19th-century barn, and dismantle it piece by piece after measuring and tagging each one so that they could put it back together.
No tricks, all treats tonight when Barnwood Builders starts at 8/7c on DIY!! It’ll be a screaming good time! 🎃🦇🪚😱
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— Barnwood Builders (@BarnwoodTV) October 31, 2021
They held tremendous respect for history and architecture, so were extremely careful in handling the whole project. They have a boneyard, a place where they stored the ‘historical remnants’; salvaging the logs and then repurposing them was their way of paying homage to the craftsmanship and hard work of American pioneers. Modern homes or furniture were made out of the logs from the antique barns and cabins, as a way of preserving the past.
Words to live by at Barnwood Builders: ‘Work hard. Be Kind. Take Pride.’ Mark said, ‘We have a No Assholes policy. We don’t hire people who aren’t nice. We won’t do jobs for people who aren’t nice.’ They have never been sued, because if their client didn’t like their work, they fixed it to their satisfaction.
The projects they handled on the TV show were for their actual clients. For their first episode, Mark and the guys salvaged logs from a barn built in the 1830’s by President Abraham Lincoln’s uncle, Josiah, in Depauw, Indiana.
Considering its history, it didn’t come cheap.
The barn was huge, measuring 26 feet wide, 34 feet long, and 15 feet high – roughly 8x10x5 meters – with some of the logs weighing as much as 1,200lbs, almost 500kgs each. Wooden pegs instead of nails were used to secure the top logs, as was usual back in the day. They usually tear down the roof using the machine operated by Johnny, but the agreement with the former owner was that they had to do it manually since they had to save the roof, metal siding, and the trusses, which were not part of the original barn, so he could use them to build a new one. The dismantled logs and planks were brought to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, where a contractor used them in building a modern cabin.
The “Barnwood Builders” Crew
Dismantling an old barn or cabin entailed a lot of hard work, but the crew came across as easygoing guys who enjoyed working together. A member of the crew said, ‘We work as a unit. We don’t feel like anyone is the expert or the boss. If someone says, “Go do this,” or “Go do that,” we do it.’ According to Mark, each member of his team did mostly everything on the job site or the boneyard, since they all knew how to do whatever was required. However, when one person is considered the best in a particular area, he was the only one doing it for the TV show.
Mark Bowe (Seasons 1-present) – Host, Producer, and Business Owner
Mark worked in a coal mine while completing his Bachelor’s degree at the College of Business and Economics from West Virginia University. He also earned a Master’s degree in Safety Management.
With several years of experience in handling and restoring antique log cabins, he became an expert in old logs, and would be called on as a consultant for the local historical society to check out the condition of the logs in old structures, such as a barracks museum built in the 1770’s. He also traveled across the country for speaking engagements. Mark expanded his company and established Barnwood Living in 2016, specializing in handmade home goods, apparel, and art that represented what they called “Barnwood Boho”; it’s located in White Sulphur Springs in West Virginia. He also invented a folding house, and holds a patent on an R300, fireproof, hurricane-proof, and tornado-proof house design. Mark has been married to Cindy Lavender for a number of years now, and they have a son named Atticus.
Sherman Thompson (Seasons 1-present)
Sherman is a tobacco grower, and foreman of the crew. He describes himself as a country boy.
Despite having a bad back, he worked hard not only in directing traffic in removing the pieces and loading them on the truck for delivery, but also in working on the roof and carrying logs. Mark said that Sherman is the best in cutting the best notch, and is dubbed the “Chainsaw King.”
He has been married to Roma Andreuzzi for more than a decade and has two daughters, Felicia and Agostina, with her. He’s kept his personal life private, so not much is known about his family. When asked about them, he only had this to say, ‘I’ve been so lucky to have met Roma and to have her in my life, and our girls.’ In season 12, the crew went to Kentucky to help him in building his family’s fishing cabin.
Graham Ferguson (Seasons 1-present)
He hailed from Summers County, and was self-employed doing landscaping; Graham knew Mark as their children attended the same school.
Mark approached him saying that he needed help at work for a week or two, and he’s now been part of the crew since 2013, as a week turned into three months and then continued up to the present. He became one of the ‘animal whisperers’, as he takes care of the critters or snakes they find in the old cabins. ‘No reason to destroy wildlife if you can rescue it. I guess I’ve rescued a few lizards, too, before the buildings fell on them,’ he said.
Tim Rose (Seasons 1-present)
He worked as an aircraft mechanic for the US Air Force for 10 years. He’s an old-school lumberjack who joined the team in 2006, and became a beam lifter. Tim’s also known as an “animal whisperer” as he’s one of the bravest in the team in dealing with unwanted reptiles and creatures taking residence in the barns that they dismantle. There were rumors that he’s retiring from work, but so far no official announcement’s been made of that nature.
Alex Webb (Seasons 3-present)
Alex has a background in the military, before working for Norfolk Southern Railway as a locomotive engineer. However, he kept getting laid-off then called back, and wanted no more of that. He sent Mark an email and the latter called him within 10 minutes. At that time, the team needed extra help because Mark had an injured bicep. During the on-line interview, Mark asked him questions that he said one wasn’t supposed to ask, such as ‘Are you fat? Can you lift things? Are you scared of heights?’ To be included in the team, Alex had to work with the guys for a couple of days to see how he went. If they didn’t like him, they would just issue him a paycheck, give him a handshake, and send him on his way. However, he’d been working for two months and still no word from Mark if he got the job or not; so he joined the team in 2016.
Happy birthday to Alex Webb! Things we love about Alex: 1) His kind heart. 2) That ginger beard! 3) This photo. #realmenlovejuiceboxes
After five years, it was announced that he was leaving the show. Mark gathered the team as they were working on their first timber frame, and said that it was going to be Alex’s last project with them, as he’s ‘moving on to greener pastures.’ Alex said, ‘This has been a huge opportunity. I went from running trains to not having a job to you giving me a job… it was a good decision.’ He wants to be his own boss, so has established his own business – Webbs Joinery & Construction.
Who died in “Barnwood Builders?”
A show as successful as “Barnwood Builders” would be open to speculation, particularly when a member of the crew failed to return the following season. In the absence of a scandal or controversy, it seemed that some fans believed that the only other reason why their favorite was gone from the show was that the person died.
The truth is that no crew member has died, which begs the question of what happened to them?
Brian Buckner (Seasons 1–2)
From day one, Brian easily captured the hearts of the viewers due to his sense of humor. He was the one who kept things light at the job site, as he would banter with the rest of the crew. When he disappeared from the show after the season two finale, rumors that he passed away started circulating. Contrary to what was said on social media, Brian is alive, well, and enjoying his retirement from the TV show. While he loved working with Mark and the other guys, he’s a private person, and ‘he did not enjoy all of the attention that his television debut afforded him,’ according to the company.
Fans of the show speculated that Brian had a hard time dealing with the negativity on social media, as there were people who criticized him for not working hard enough on the projects like the others, that he was just lazing around.
These people must have forgotten that Mark introduced Brian at the very start of the show as someone who kept him in check, and drove him around. It clearly meant that his job was different from the other guys, so he wasn’t expected to do the same things as the rest of them.
In an interview, it was revealed that he was aware of the rumor that he’d died, and found it funny. He said, ‘I never was told if you quit being on a TV show, you die.’ He further shared that it was his anxiety that kept him from continuing in the show; from the start, he wasn’t sure about being part of it, because of his anxiety problems, but he was happy that he did it.
Johnny Jett (Seasons 1–present)
Johnny’s a Vietnam War veteran, who worked for 25 years as a maintenance worker in Fleming County. His brother was a carpenter, and in the business of assembling cabins. Johnny wanted to live in a log cabin, and found one he liked but someone was still living there.
The owner said to him, ‘If the old guy dies or leaves there, I will give you the log cabin if you’ll take it down, put it back up, and live in it.’ He said ‘yes’, and had since lived in that cabin on their family farm. When the owner’s brother died, he finished the cabin that the former had been working on with the help of his friend, Sherman Thompson. After that, the two decided to go into the log cabin business.
He moved to West Virginia and later joined Mark, becoming the company’s best equipment operator. Johnny’s also an accomplished artist, and his work can be purchased on his website.
Rumors of his death started circulating on social media in 2012, when an obituary of a guy from Houston, Texas with the same name passed away at the age of 62 was found online.
People were quick to assume that it was Johnny from “Barnwood Builders” who died, due to his advancing age. However, the 72-year-old craftsman is alive and, despite looking old and frail on TV, he’s still able to do his job well as a heavy equipment operator. When it comes to his work, he said, ‘We just love saving the history and making a living. If you can make a living and love what you’re doing, you’re doing better than most people.’
Mark was fully aware that someday the show would end, or that they would ran out of old barns to restore having taken down around 500 of them, but since none of them was thinking of retiring, they had been making plans that include building tiny houses, and launching a furniture line. He’s said, ‘Whatever we do, we’ll still be working hard, and we’ll still be taking pride in what we do.