Johnny Jett gained prominence in the construction industry through a reality television series called “Barnwood Builders”, aired on Magnolia Network, which was previously known as DIY Network. The series became one of the top restoration-related shows on cable, and has continued to delight its fans since it was launched in 2017. The talented reality TV star was a fan favorite, and reports of him having died in 2021 really saddened viewers, but were later proved to be a hoax. Some people up to this day were still curious for the reasons behind such rumors, had something to do with Johnny’s advanced age, or if he contracted some sort of illness.

Get to know Johnny Jett before he became a reality TV star

Ever since Barnwood Builders became popular, fans of the show became enamored by the old guy, and wondered where he came from, and how he became part of Mark Bowe’s crew.

Childhood and family

A native of Fleming County, Kentucky, Johnny Jett was born on 28 April 1949, to parents Eugene “Gene” Jett and Leota Hawkins Jett. He and his late brother William Eugene “Billy” Jett were raised in a Methodist household, as both of their parents attended the Shiloh United Methodist Church. Their father established a business called Jett Heating and Plumbing, and was the superintendent at the Fleming County Water Association for more than 40 years before his death in July 2022. Their mother worked with the Randall Company before she retired after 23 years of service, and passed away in 2010. He had a happy childhood as when he was in fourth grade, he and his friends would sometimes sneak out of school during recess time to swim or fish in the nearby creek, recalling that it got them into trouble with their principal. He attended local schools in Goddard and Flemingsburg.

Vocational classes, enlistment in the army, and early work

It was Johnny’s older brother Billy who was the first to enlist in the US Army and was shipped to Vietnam. Due to the horrific situation in Vietnam, Billy advised their father not to allow Johnny to enter the Army, and instead persuade him to enroll into college. After Johnny’s high school graduation, he attended classes at Morehead State University for one semester, but he was never interested in studying, claiming that he had no idea what the professors were talking about. and as a result, he failed in all his classes except for arts and literature. Armed with knowing what he was good at, he went to Maysville Community College, and took vocational classes to become a draftsman.

After finishing his vocational course, Johnny started working at Cincinnati Milling Company in Ohio, spending a year there working on a project which involved drafting, board sketching, and drawing. By 1969, he was drafted into the Army and went to Fort Dix, New Jersey for his basic training, which lasted six weeks. He wasn’t shipped anywhere, but was given an engineering project, so this meant he was back on the drafting board once again, which he did for the next couple of years. In 1971 he went to Vietnam, and while he never got around to shooting anyone, getting shot at became a regular thing, especially when his platoon was moving to another place.

Things he worked on after his stint in the Army

Johnny went back home after the Vietnam War, and his father offered him a job in his water company. It was easy for him, as he used to be his father’s gopher when he was growing up. At that time, his brother Billy was already working as a carpenter on projects such as taking down old log cabins; this inspired him to build one for himself. There was one cabin he was interested in, but it was on lease to a brother and sister who were still living in it. However, when the sister passed away and the brother was sent to a nursing home, the owner contacted him and offered it to him, but curiously only if he could tear it down and put it back up. Johnny and Billy tore it down, and rebuilt it on the family’s farm.

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Kicked his drug addiction

Unbeknownst to many people back then, Johnny became dependent on recreational drugs during his time in Vietnam, because marijuana and heroin were easily sold everywhere, even on the streets. It was the only thing most of his friends and co-workers turned to whenever there was any idle time, and when depression set in. When he returned home to Kentucky, it was easier for Johnny to get off them, as the recreational drugs weren’t available anywhere near him. He realized, ‘God didn’t make me an addict, but he will use things like that and turn it around to get something good from it.’ Up to this day, he would seize the opportunity to share his story by accepting invitations to be a resource speaker on drug addiction rehabilitation programs.

He continued painting

Aside from working for his father, Johnny also went back to painting – his parents said that he inherited the talent from his grandmother. While he wasn’t a full-time artist, he made some artwork over the years and there were people who wanted to see his creations. For instance, his brother had an artist-friend who was becoming popular in New York, and who once asked him to bring some of his work so that it could be reviewed. It was then he received professional feedback; some of the critiques he listened to and some of them he disregarded. He continued painting during his spare time, and most of his artwork could be found on his website, and people could order them online.

Became a craftsman and purchased old log cabins

Johnny and his brother shared an intense passion for old cabins or barn yards, but Billy passed away without completing his last project in 1995. Johnny took over and finished the cabin with his best friend, Sherman Thompson, who was also a carpenter as wasBilly. He had so much fun doing it that he told his father that he was quitting his job to focus on establishing a cabin business – apparently, there was a demand for old log structures at that time. The two best friends started scouting the nearby areas for hundred-year-old log cabins, and expanded their search across the whole of Kentucky. They bought cabins one at a time, tore them down, and stacked them at their boneyard. The two became a supplier for those looking for old logs, and offered their services to rebuild them for those who wanted their own unique cabin.

Met Mark Bowe and became part of his business

In 1998, while painting on his back porch, he was approached by a man from West Virginia named Mark Bowe. At that time, Mark was dating a woman who was studying at Morehead State University and while visiting her, he scoured for old cabins. A few locals directed him to Johnny, as he wanted help in acquiring pioneer-era logs or cabins in the area. Mark and Johnny’s first meeting was memorable for both of them – his future boss told him, ‘My name’s Mark Bowe and I’m thinking about getting into the log cabin business,’ to which he replied, ‘I’m Johnny. I’m getting out of the cabin business.’ Since he and Sherman already knew where to look, it was easy to supply Mark with 100 cabins by the end of that summer. After hauling some cabins to Mark’s West Virginia boneyard, his best friend asked Mark if the latter wanted to hire them full-time in his company , and Mark agreed. Since then, Johnny’s been was part of Mark’s business called Antique Cabins and Barns, rebranded as Barnwood Living in 2016.

All about “Barnwood Builders”

Home improvement or restoration-related reality TV shows proliferated in the cable channel industry, and were also made available through several streaming platforms. There was an increase in the demand for these shows as Do-It-Yourself projects inspired many people to build extraordinary homes without breaking the bank. In 2013, Johnny Jett became part of “Barnwood Builders.”

The unique premise of the TV show

Aside from reclaiming pioneer-era cabins and barns from one place, and rebuilding them somewhere else, “Barnwood Builders” also highlighted the history behind these old structures.  It was described as part documentary and part reality series, making it quite a unique experience for viewers. The series was hosted by Mark Bowe, who led a small crew of skilled workers to dismantle the cabins, and carefully preserve the condition of each log from the structure.  If the logs that they took could no longer be used in the rebuilding process of the original cabin, Mark would use them as replacement logs in constructing other cabins to maintain the authenticity of each structure; they had so much respect for the pioneers who painstakingly built them by hand.

How Johnny became part of the reality TV show?

Rick Kaplan, an executive of the company from New York called Silent Crow Productions, passed by their area with his wife to ski about 100 miles from their boneyard, and saw some of their cabins. Rick had an interesting conversation with Johnny and Sherman and then later on, talked to Mark about wanting to film a documentary about their work. They all agreed to do a pilot episode to pitch to several networks, however, no one was interested at that time, since all of them wanted the “American Chopper” kind of TV show in which there were numerous intense confrontations between the cast members. It was one of the requirements of some networks, and if they were willing to do that type of narrative, then they would launch the show. Mark told the crew about this fact, and all of them refused to do it. Several years later, when Johnny and the rest of them thought that TV wasn’t in their destiny, Rick told them that DIY Network was interested in launching the series, and had ordered nine episodes.

16 seasons and counting

They were all shocked and excited that viewers loved it, and it went from there as Jett shared, ‘After the production company saw how high the ratings were for Barnwood Builders, they wanted 13 more episodes.’ The show was originally aired on DIY Network, but in November 2022, Chip and Joanna Gaines relaunched and called it Magnolia Network. “Barnwood Builders” was just one of the few selected series that the Gaines brought from the DIY channel to the rebranded network. Their audience expanded from just about 60 million households to half a billion viewers. In February 2023, the show started its 16th season with Mark, Johnny and the rest of the crew such as Sherman Thompson, Graham Ferguson, Evan Canterbury and Ryan Franklin as cast members,

What does Johnny do in the show?

Johnny was the oldest in the crew, but he was the one they relied on in using heavy equipment. Each time they needed to tear down a cabin, a forklift was used because the logs were so heavy, and Johnny was quite efficient in operating the heavy machine. It made the job much easier, but he needed a spotter to guide him to avoid damaging the logs and to ensure that no one would be hurt during the process. Then, he didn’t have any problem climbing to the roof, when there was a need to manually remove pieces of wood.

Barnwood Builders crew loved Johnny

During the off-season or if Mark Bowe didn’t need the crew for any new project, each of them was allowed to do individual projects. Johnny had been dismantling and rebuilding pioneer-era structures longer than Mark. When he saw an old chapel that was about to crumble, he immediately reclaimed some of the pieces that could still be salvaged, to be used again for the next 100 years. He transported the old logs somewhere in Fleming County, and started to construct a new chapel. When the other crew members heard about it, they followed him there and helped him tear down the old structure. Mark said, ‘We all love working with him and being around him.’ The production crew felt that it should be featured in the TV show, and so they filmed it, even if it wasn’t on their original plans.

Barnwood Living’s work principle: ‘Work Hard. Be Kind. Take Pride.’

Barnwood Living, the company that Johnny worked for, might have done some rebranding to take advantage of the opportunities that came from being in a reality TV show, but the main core of how it operated was still the same since the day it started. Mark Bowe, the top honcho of the company always believed in the phrase, ‘Work hard. Be kind. Take pride.’ It was the reason why the business became successful. It also continued evolving to adapt to the changes that each year brought to the table. All of the guys enjoyed working with each other and they continued to thrive. Being on top of the game wouldn’t be easy if the boss and his crew were not on the same wavelength.

Visiting the store, restoration projects, and boneyard

As the popularity of “Barnwood Builders” increased over the years, there was a demand for a tour of the boneyard and the store as well, to see how the crew actually restored cabins. However, there were no boneyard tours for fans since it was a real working site. The company only allowed fans to observe from beyond the fence for safety reasons, as the boneyard wasn’t set up for visitors. Viewers were often reminded that, unlike other reality TV shows, “Barnwood Builders” featured projects that were actual client builds, which Barnwood Living was actively involved with at the time an episode was filmed.

The Johnny Jett death hoax

“Barnwood Builders” fans were shocked when they woke up to the news that Johnny passed away. The initial reaction was that most of them believed the news, since working for a building company wasn’t easy, and could take a toll on the health of anyone. If able-bodied individuals found it stressful and exhausting, then what more for someone as old and frail-looking as Johnny. Even before the news about his death started circulating online, fans had already expressed their concerns regarding his health.

When people started to investigate the matter, their online search led to an obituary of a man with the same name, but it was an altogether different individual who was from Houston, Texas. Fans were relieved when they realized that, and hoped that Johnny’s wife Donna, and grandchildren Jonathan and Nicholas from their only son Johnny Eugene Jett, who passed away in 2017, weren’t bothered by the fake news.

While Johnny Jett was taken by surprise by the death hoax, he was pleasantly flattered by those who sent their good wishes. He firmly believed, ‘I will follow my Savior where ever he leads me.’ As seen in “Barnwood Living,” the talented craftsman and artist never backed down from hard work, even with the sudden changes in the weather. He had always been positive about life and the challenges that he faced now and then. Johnny is quite lucky to have Mark Bowe as his boss and friend, because Mark’s main priority these days is to ensure that his crew enjoy a happy retirement package when the time comes ,especially for those who have been with the team since day one.

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