- Associated Press - Saturday, July 30, 2016

LANSING, W.Va. (AP) - Barnwood Builders crew members Tim Rose, Graham Ferguson and Sherman Thompson traded playful insults and bits of unhelpful advice while trying their hands at lobbing bocce balls at a pallino, or target ball, in a court next to their Fayette County work site.

There, technicians from a DIY Network film crew were busy adjusting lights and sound equipment in and around a virtually complete antique log framework for what will become a community pavilion for homeowners and guests at Wild Rock, an upscale residential development on a wooded stretch of canyon rim bordering the New River Gorge National River.

As the site for the final scene of the popular reality show’s 12th episode of its third season was prepped for filming (it aired July 10 on the DIY Network), Barnwood Builders’ host, Kanawha County native and Lewisburg resident Mark Bowe, grabbed a patch of shade and met with the production crew’s staff to go over details for the day’s closing shots. On a dirt road behind him, crew member and forklift maestro Johnny Jett used a small endloader to haul no longer needed construction gear from the work site to a truck to prepare for the move to the next Barnwood Builders location.

Since 1996, Bowe has been buying and tearing down centuries-old barns, cabins and outbuildings with salvageable hand-hewn logs, huge beams and solid joists, and re-purposing the materials in new homes built for people who appreciate, and can afford, fine craftsmanship.

“Most of the crew we have now has been with me since 1998,” he said.

It’s a process that has a following. More than 1 million viewers a week have tuned in to watch the Barnwood Builders crew crisscross the country to reverently recycle rural relics from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. The show is now most of the way through its third season.

During a brief break between his shade-tree planning session and the resumption of filming, Bowe took a few moments to reflect on the show, its success, his added role this season as its producer, and his passion for making Barnwood Builders a vehicle for enhancing his home state’s image.

The show traces its roots to a short documentary about a Bowe re-purposing project that was shopped to the networks years before Barnwood Builders came into being.

“If I hadn’t been approached by the right network and the right production company at the right time, this show would never have happened,” Bowe said.

The DIY Network, like Bowe, had no interest in producing a reality show that included scripted dialogue, manufactured drama, or backward Appalachian stereotyping, “and we quickly found out that the production folks from New York work as hard as we do,” Bowe said. “When you work together 20 weeks a year, explore the country and listen to music together, you can become pretty tight, It’s proof that there really is something to the idea that being nice and working hard are good things.”

As the show’s producer as well as its host, “I get to wear a lot of different hats,” Bowe said. “I spend time working with the cameramen to make sure they get the shots they need, and I work on the story arc with directors in New York, and figure out ways to tie the region we’re working in to its pioneer spirit.”

Compared to running his business before it was being filmed and televised, “a painful amount of slowdowns” are needed to accommodate shooting and add the dialogue and visual imagery needed to explain the design and purpose of historic structures and way of life experienced by the people who built and used them.

While the Barnwood Builders crew delivers to clients a solid, handcrafted, historic framework, “the homes are completed by talented designers and tradespeople who don’t get filmed in our show,” Bowe observed. “Sometime, I’d like to follow the rebuilding process to the finish and show the work these people can do.”

Since Bowe’s crew has taken down more than 400 antique barns over the years and has to range farther afield each year to find more, his business may soon find itself searching for unique structures from the mid-20th Century to re-purpose.

“The logs we used for this pavilion came from an old barn we took down in Canada,” Bowe said. “As used materials from the 1850s start to disappear, we may find ourselves looking for materials and technology from the 1950s to reuse. Either we adapt like the pioneers or we disappear, too.”

Bowe said the show has developed a loyal following of people “who reach out to us from all over with kind words for the passion, pride and reverence that they sense in what we are doing. People long for a simpler life - one that is more connected with nature - and they want to know that old-time craftsmanship is still here.”

Bowe, the son of a coal miner and foundation contractor, grew up in Glasgow and earned degrees in management and safety engineering at West Virginia University before launching his current business in Lewisburg, along with an insurance agency in White Sulphur Springs. He said he relishes the chance to portray West Virginia and West Virginians in a more positive light.

“I’m glad to hold the flag for West Virginia,” Bowe said. “I’m tired of being ranked last. For years, people have taken away our coal, taken away our timber, fracked our ground and made things hard for our people. West Virginia is full of kind, loyal, hardworking people.

“Why hasn’t industry come here for that? That’s what we should be promoting.”

“Everyone in the cast and crew worked their butts off during the week they were here,” said Wild Rock developer Carl Frischkorn. “An incredible amount of work went into making a 40-minute show. It was totally unscripted and a fascinating process to watch.”

One section of Wild Rock’s Peregrine Park Pavilion, expected to be complete sometime in August, will be open-air and equipped with a stone fireplace, while the other will be enclosed and contain a kitchen, dining area, fully equipped bar, restrooms and flat-screen television. Antique wood fence rails will be incorporated in the siding of the enclosed portion, and the structure’s roof is made of Corten steel, the same type of weathering steel used to make the nearby New River Gorge Bridge.

Three weeks after the Fayette County episode was shot, Bowe and his crew put work on the series on hold to focus on helping friends, neighbors and strangers in Greenbrier and neighboring counties get back on their feet following epic flooding. Bowe’s Antique Cabins and Barns storage and sorting facility north of White Sulphur Springs, known as the “Boneyard” to Barnwood Builders followers, was flooded, but not significantly damaged, and all of the crew members’ homes escaped damage, according to a post from the show’s Facebook page. Bowe organized flood recovery supply drives at Lowe’s outlets in Lewisburg, Beckley and Summersville and helped load donated items into distribution trailers and dispensed free hugs and back-pats as needed. According to the Twitter account for WVU’s College of Business and Economics, of which Bowe is an alumnus, the Barnwood Builders host raised more than $175,000 for flood relief.


Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, https://wvgazettemail.com.

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