New ideas, old-fashioned service, and an unexpected turn of events

The Burns Family: Ralph “R. W.,” back row, left, is pictured with his mother and father, Ruby and Dick Burns, his daughter, Madeleine, son, Warren, and wife, Terrell.

Chelsea Walker
Contributing Writer

From a bird’s eye view, Hillsboro, West Virginia, is just another small farmers’ town filling a valley engulfed by the old and hardened Appalachian Mountains.

But, if towns could talk – or buildings – what tales they could tell.

For well over 50 years, the Ralph H. Burns & Son, Inc. shop has sat as a cornerstone of Hillsboro, in the heart of the small town, offering services to truckers, local farmers as well as to those who are just passing through.

The shop carries an interesting story – one built upon the grit and determination of hard working men – a true tale of Americana.

In the 1950s, Ralph Hannah Burns took up hauling chickens and fertilizer back and forth from southern West Virginia to Virginia. After years of making a career out of hauling livestock, Burns found himself in the middle of the bustling road construction industry. Equipped with a dozer, a backhoe and a couple of dump trucks, Burns grew a one-man operation into a successful, booming business. At the company’s largest footprint, he had nearly 70 employees across the state of West Virginia, with three asphalt plants, two concrete plants and the rock quarry at Mill Point.

Burns sold the road construction operation, and the business moved and expanded into bulk transportation.

Burns’ son, Dick Burns, mirrored his father’s business-minded tendencies.

Dick quickly moved into the hauling business as well – transporting liquid asphalt. From there, he laid the foundation for what the business would be for years to come.

Today, Ralph H. Burns & Son, Inc. stands face-to-face with yet another tough change.

In December 2017, Ralph “R. W.” Burns, lost both his mother, Ruby Burns, and his father, Dick, within a week’s time. Reeling with the aftermath of their passing, R. W. also found himself at the helm of a business that has always been known for persevering through hardships and changing times.

“One of the things I’ve learned growing up here in this community is that, it’s important for things to continue to move forward,” R. W. said.

“There are only a couple options here: either you shut it down or you try to make it go. I think as long as our family has been in this area, inherently its kind of our responsibility to stay here and be a part of this community.”

With a longstanding family history of adapting to trying and changing tides, R. W. feels turning the lights off isn’t an option, regardless of how shocking and challenging the situation may be.

“My core understanding is that we need to be here for this community,” he said. “We’ve served it for 50-60 years, and we’re going to continue to serve as long as we possibly can.”

Harnessing the spirit of his family’s legacy, R. W. is dedicated to making changes that will continue the success of Ralph H. Burns & Son, Inc., all the while providing residents of the community the services they need and have come to depend on.

While the company is pulling back its broad footprint, the focus is coming back to Hillsboro and building up the community business.

“What we do now, and what we’ve done for a long time, is serve the local community by handling local repair and maintenance on farm equipment, heavy equipment and automobiles,” R. W. said.

“What we’re expanding to here in Hillsboro is launching more into the automotive side. We’re offering new services and seeking to hire another mechanic – we’re excited about this growth.”

Armed with an arsenal of hardworking, long-standing employees like office manager Emily Sharp and mechanic John Duncan, Ralph H. Burns & Son, Inc. will offer new services to the community and those traveling through the county, with the addition of quality automotive maintenance and repair.

The shop is now a certified inspection station, allowing individuals to stop in for a quick sticker change and pay for services using the shop’s all-new payment options, including Apple pay and card readers. While this may seem like a small and much needed upgrade in today’s world, R. W. said the change is a symbol of the shop’s story: a small town business adapting to the new ways of the industry.

“It’s about not only being on the cutting edge of technology, but also convenience,” he said of the new payment options.
“We want to offer that to folks that are either in the community, or just passing through and need our services. We want to take advantage of all the new avenues of technologies and trends.”

Ralph H. Burns & Son, Inc. will soon debut its new tire mounting and balancing system which will provide quick and efficient tire change service.

“We have a lot of talent in the shop, and we can provide a multitude of different services,” R. W. added.

“The important thing for small communities like Hillsboro is, you’ve got to have these core businesses here to support. We’re here to make a go at this; we’re committed to providing quality service for the people who walk through our doors.”

Located in Hillsboro on Rt. 219, Ralph H. Burns & Son, Inc. is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. You may contact them at 304-653-4213, and, in keeping up in a changing world, you can “Like” the business on Facebook.

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