Barnstorming for Mail Pouch Barns

By Elmer Napier


My interest in Mail Pouch barns began in the summer of 1999 and according to my wife has grown from a hobby into an obsession.  I must agree with her.  The more Mail Pouch barns I see, the more I want to find.

At my age not too many things excite me, but I can and do get excited when I discover a new Mail Pouch barn.  During the summer of 1999 a cousin from Southern California visited me.  She is a journalist who writes for a community newspaper.  How do you entertain a journalist?  Wanting to be a good host I asked her what she wanted to do in my area, which is near the West Virginia and Ohio border.  I was surprised at her response of "…to photograph Mail Pouch barns."

I took 300 photos over the last three years and by trading with others having this interest, I now have a collection of 400 different barns.  Now that I'm obsessed with finding additional Mail Pouch barns, I can certainly relate to my cousin's interest.

A barn is still a barn unless it has a Mail Pouch logo.  Then it becomes special.  During my cousin's visit, we "barnstormed" in eastern Ohio and southern West Virginia and photographed perhaps twenty new finds.  Since then my wife and I have traveled thousands of miles in search of more Mail Pouch barns.  We have been north to central Michigan, east to Bedford County, Pennsylvania, west to central Ohio, and south in West Virginia to the Kentucky border.

We have found Mail Pouch barns in all shapes, sizes and conditions.  We recall one in Mason County, West Virginia with the top blown off yet the end with the painting is still in good condition.  A barn near Kehdive in Green County, Pennsylvania has fallen in except the wall carrying the Mail Pouch painting.  A barn in Washington County, Ohio was disassembled, the boards numbered, and relocated only two miles from our home at Vienna, West Virginia.

We found a barn in Washington County, Pennsylvania with tall and narrow lettering.  I asked Harley Warrick about the unusual lettering and he said, "The letters are just like Don Shires, the person who painted it, "tall and skinny."  Another barn in Ritchie County, West Virginia is located on a seldom-traveled road and owned by a retired schoolteacher.  I asked her why Mail Pouch would advertise in this location and she explained that "I was a friend of Samuel Bloch," one of the Mail Pouch owners.

Over the years Mail Pouch barns have the tendency to "ghost."  This occurs after the barn has been painted many times. But why do some barns "ghost" and not others?  Most barns were painted by Harley Warrick and he told a fellow barn hunter, Lonnie Schnauffer, that it was just as easy to cover the old sign and start with a new painting.  I wonder why more barns don't "ghost."  I imagine this question will never be satisfactorily answered.

My wife Thelma and I always check barns for initials and dates.  This tells who painted the barn last and the year.  The initials are usually found on the blue border although previously initials were located near the roof so that the eaves gave protection from the weather.  The most common initial we find is "HW" for Harley Warrick.  We also find "MT" which I believe is Mark Turley.  "RW", "DM" and "TN" are initials we only found once.  The barns with legible dates indicate most barns were painted every three to four years.

I think it would be impossible to mention Mail Pouch tobacco without remembering the name of Harley Warrick.  That's especially true for those of us who knew Harley.  I think one of the things he enjoyed most was talking about Mail Pouch barns.  You could spend two or three hours with Harley in his shop and it would seem like ten minutes.  I don't think anyone ever left Harley wanting to leave.

Harley had many amusing stories from his long career.  He told me about painting an Indiana barn in high winds.  The top of the barn flew off and his helper asked if it was time to quit.  Harley replied, "Hell no!  This side is still standing!"  They continued to paint.

Rick Campbell, who also "collects barns" recalls Harley talking about painting in cold weather.  When the temperature was below freezing, you just added more thinner to the paint and a little Seagrams to the painter, and everything works out just fine.

Harley tells about an experience with the Buckeye Candy Company in Mt. Vernon, Ohio.  The owner of the building bet Harley a steak dinner that he couldn't paint the sign on his building in an afternoon.  Harley enjoyed a steak dinner that night!  Another story Harley tells is that when working on a scaffold you were not supposed to touch a fellow painter. If you did, you had to buy that person a drink.  When Harley wanted a drink he always managed to get touched by the other painter.

Here are some of the observations that we have made:

  • Barns found within 150 miles of Mail Pouch's West Virginia headquarters are in much better condition.

  • All of the barn owners we visited with were friendly and helpful.  They wanted to talk about their barns and they didn't have any problem keeping our attention.

  • Barn owners encourage us to take photos from as many angles as we want.  Most Mail Pouch barns have a black background.  We found ten Mail Pouch barns in Michigan this past summer and seven had red backgrounds. Seven of ten is unbelievable.  The red background takes more time to paint.

  • We learned that Mail Pouch was not the only tobacco advertised on barns.  We have photographed Red Man, Beech Nut and WOW chewing tobacco.  WOW Chewing Tobacco was owned by Mail Pouch at one time.  If you see a white circle ghosted through a Mail Pouch sign it is likely a WOW sign.  WOW signs were painted before 1945 and very few are left.

As you can see I am not a journalist, not even a writer.  This article was written because of my obsession, and yes, even love for Mail Pouch barns.

More of Elmer's photos


Elmer and Thelma Napier live at Vienna, WV (summer) and Okeechobee, FL (winter) and can be contacted at  He has an MA from West Virginia University in Safety and Athletic Training.  Elmer is happy to assist "barnstormers" in any way possible.