Durbin may seem like a small town with only a few businesses, but one of its own has turned his initial business venture – Varner’s Construction Company – into an enterprise which employs 33 county residents.
The businessman, Kenneth “Buster” Varner, added endeavors to his business as he saw needs arise in the community. He developed his business acumen at a young age, driven by his mother, Joyce, to stay busy and earn a living.
“Basically everything that I have done, I have seen needs in the community,” Varner said. “At the time, they were needing someone to run around and put gravel on their driveways or people needed a ditch dug, or septic systems. I’ve put septic systems in ever since I was eighteen-years-old.”
While Varner began his career as a paperboy – for the Clarksburg Exponent in the morning before school and The Inter-Mountain after school – he always enjoyed operating machinery.
“Whenever I was a kid in the summertime, I’d get up, eat breakfast go outside and stand on the porch, and listen to see if I could hear any equipment or backup alarms or anything,” he said. “That’s where I’d go. I remember they dug a basement up here on the hill and I sat there, and watched them dig that basement out. Anything to do with equipment, I was usually there.”
Varner soon went from being a spectator to being a large-equipment owner. As a junior in high school, he purchased a dump truck and soon added to the fleet. In 1982, Varner’s Construction Company was born.
Over the years, his business has grown to include A1 Pumping porta-johns and septic pumping, K&S Logging, an auto parts store, Varner Wrecker Service, towing, trailer sales, a car wash, Station 2 Restaurant and motel, and farm. Varner is also a licensed auctioneer.
“I’ve always looked and seen things that were needed, and thought about how I can make this work,” Varner said. “People need to realize, there is hope out there of doing whatever you want to do. You’ve got to have the willpower and a little bit of common sense. Don’t be afraid to take a step and go out there, and try to do whatever you want to do.”
There is no rhyme nor reason to when a new venture is added to the enterprise, but there is one simple reason – “why?” Instead of just adding everything at once, Varner waited until the need presented itself. Take, for example, Station 2 Restaurant.
“Pretty much all my life there’s been a restaurant where you can go get coffee and shoot the breeze,” he said. “I was going to put one up there where the old library was years ago and the Old Pike Grille decided to move in, so I put my restaurant on hold and didn’t do it because somebody else was doing it. Then, once they went out of business, you couldn’t even get a cup of coffee in town. So I opened Station 2.”
A similar thing happened with the auto parts store. Rumors traveled through the northern part of the county that NAPA Auto Parts was closing, so Varner decided to build on to the construction office and add an auto parts store there. Although NAPA didn’t close, Varner kept the auto parts store open as another option for people to get supplies.
“Give us a try,” he said. “You can get an inspection sticker here, your modified stickers, you can get your parts here, you can get your parts put on here, oil changes, tires – we have a pretty good selection of tires, large truck tires for log trucks, dump trucks. We have logging supplies as far as your cables, fuel filters, air filters.”
The store also stocks Stihl chainsaws and Husqvarna equipment.
As Varner said before, it takes willpower and common sense to open a new business or expand an existing one. He gained a lot of experience and mentoring from another Durbin entrepreneur – Red Kane – a man Varner saw as much more than just a mentor.
“Red Kane was basically my dad in my mind because he was so good to me,” Varner said. “I looked up to Red because he was a very good man. I like to think I’m the modern day Red Kane, although I could never fill Red Kane’s shoes. Whenever I was a young person and Red bought the Durbin Mercantile Company, I carried the cinderblocks for the car wash for Bernard Shears and his son, George, who laid the blocks. I helped them re-do all that. Now I own the building, so I thought that was kind of interesting.”
Red Kane gave Varner a step up in business at an early age. Kane received a contract with Howe’s Leather Company to mow the property. Kane had Varner, who was too young to bid the job, do the work and then the company paid Kane, who paid Varner.
“That was just one of many ways that Red Kane helped me out,” Varner said. “I really appreciate that and between Red Kane and Harold Miller, who was in the excavation business over in Brandywine – Hott Miller Corporation – they kind of molded me and gave me words of wisdom that I still think about today. I think ‘what would they do in this situation,’ and I think that has made me a better person.”
Varner’s extended family includes everyone under the Varner’s company roof.
“Varner Construction and all of our businesses, I look at it as family,” Varner said. “I’ve got family working for me, even though they’re not blood kin, I look at them as family. I try to hire good employees and that’s what makes me look good and all the businesses look good.”
On top of all the businesses he runs, Varner is also fire chief at Bartow-Frank-Durbin Fire and Rescue – another venture he entered into at a young age.
“Other than God, the first love of my life is fire and rescue,” he said. “The feeling of helping somebody in need – not for the thank you – but the self-gratification in your heart that I helped my neighbor today. I helped saved my neighbor’s belongings from burning up. I saved my neighbor from bleeding to death.
“My mother was one of the original dispatchers when you used to dial 456-4999,” he continued. “It would ring in to five different houses here in the area, and I was just a small child. We lived across the street from the firehouse. When we’d get a fire call in the middle of the night or whatever, I would get up, Mom would dial people up and I’d run across the street and start the fire trucks, have the doors open and waiting for them to go.”
In 1980, the new fire station was built and Varner continued to frequent the firehouse. He helped then- chief Bill Rexrode with the truck’s transmission and any other parts of the fire department that he could.
“When I was sixteen-years-old, I was sitting in the fire department/rescue squad business meeting and chief Rexrode said, ‘I want to bring up Buster Varner to be a member of the department,’” he recalled. “I just sat there because I thought I was. I legally became a member of the department then.”
Varner rose through the ranks quickly and has been at the helm of the department for many years. He was instrumental in building the Green Bank branch of the BFD department.
“I was the person who went to the Green Bank area and looked to find land down there,” he said. “I went to Dr. Harper and said, ‘Doc, we need some land to put a fire department and rescue squad.’ He went outside, pointed at a field and said, ‘how about here?’”
The area Harper suggested is where the station was built.
Now that the needs of the community have been met, Varner said he doesn’t have plans to add anything more to the businesses he has now. He hopes that young people see what he has done with his business and realizes that it is possible to achieve a goal, no matter how lofty it may be.
“I’m a prime example that anybody can make it if you try,” he said. “I was raised in a single-parent household and my mother went on welfare to feed us kids and to raise us kids.”
While Varner says he isn’t proud of the fact his mother had to turn to welfare for help when raising her family, he is proud of how he was raised. His mother instilled in him a drive to find work and to work hard at everything you do.
“You’ve got the whole world there, you need to go out and do it,” he said. “That’s how I’ve done all of this. Just go out there and try.”
To learn more about Varner’s Construction Company and its associated businesses, call 304-456-4505.