The Last Barn Painter

Do you remember seeing barns with the Mail Pouch logo painted on them? They were once quite popular. Several years ago, I connected up with Harley Warrick, a Mail Pouch painter, in fact, the last Mail Pouch painter.

We were going out to see our son who lived in Columbus, Ohio at the time. I called Warrick the morning we were to leave to ask if we could stop for a visit. I had read about him and his job painting barns in this area. He asked me if I was looking for memorabilia. I told him I just wanted to interview him for a country paper that I worked for. He told us to come ahead. I did purchase a Mail Pouch birdfeeder as a memento of my visit with Harley.

Little did I expect how interesting this man was. He eagerly told us things about the barns in this area. He told us that farmers agreed to have the logo painted as a way of painting their barn and earning money in the process. It was a win-win for the farmers.

He definitely knew things about this are as he recalled his experiences painting area barns. He was even able to locate some of the barns for us via a map — yes folks, a hard copy of a map!

We ended up spending a large portion of the afternoon with him. He was very patient and answered all the questions we asked. I had purchased a picture that he painted through one of the agricultural magazines that I wrote for, so he signed that. When I purchased my copy, I chose a red barn instead of the black one that he also painted. Although the painting is autographed to Richard and Ann, it is Jill’s since her dad made the picture frame. It will soon travel to her house.

When he was in the field painting, he was often alone. He told me that more than once his brush caught a sliver on the side of the barn and ripped up part of the sign he was painting. Old barns are like that. He did not worry about it, he just repainted the part that was damaged.

Warrick told me that he painted free-hand. After painting just so many signs it became easy.

At one point he tried to train a replacement. The young man decided he did not like the job so that was that. He tried to find someone to take over his duties in the later years, but although a few tried it, they declined to stay with it.

I found out in my reading that there is a group that wants to save the barns with the Mail Pouch logo. They are called The Barnstormers. They have over one hundred members at this point.

“Finding a new Mail Pouch barn that isn’t documented is like a massive treasure hunt,” says Bill Vint, the executive director of Mail Pouch Barnstormers. In their archives there are records of all of the Mail Pouch barns.

Maxine Zimmerman Dudley is the daughter of one of the original barn painters. When her father took the job there were six painters – two to each Ford Model T – the vehicle of choice. She recalled that her father painted signs in New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio. Her mother traveled with her husband living out of a tent until the children came along.

Roger Warrick, son of Harley Warrick said his father took the job with the Blouch Brother Tobacco Co., creator of the Mail Pouch logo, just after returning from his service with the military in WWII.

Mail Pouch signs were declared as national landmarks in 1973. Many of the old barns have fallen by the wayside, but there are still many good specimens today for the public to see if they keep their eyes pealed as they travel along the back roads.

I know there is a barn owned I think by the game commission on Route 6 just this side of Union City, Pa. There is another one, I hope it is still standing, on Route 394 between Randolph and Kennedy.

There are currently 458 sites registered in Pennsylvania and 803 sites in Ohio. Nothing was listed for New York state but I know there are sites there.

The website for the organization is mailpouchbarnstormers.org.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa. Contact at hickoryheights1@verizon.net.

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