Norman and his crew from Watauga Preservation will be featured on the reality show “Log Cabin Fever,” airing at 10 p.m. Nov. 21 on the Great American Country network.
What the Johnson City business does, as he describes it, is part rebuilding the American dream, part historic preservation. The tradesmen deconstruct centuries old barns and homes, salvage the lumber cut and shaped by hand tools and use it to build rustic new homes.
“It’s a thing of beauty,” Norman said of the craftsmanship demonstrated by long gone carpenters. “Somebody 200 years ago put this hard work into this structure with nothing but horses, hand saws, foot adzes and axes. It’s amazing the level of skill they had.
“If I could get a time machine, I’d go back and watch how they built old barns.”
Norman said the most well-crafted historical structures are in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states, where he usually reclaims materials. The area was more developed 200 years ago than the Southern Appalachians, the farms were bigger and residents needed bigger barns, he said.
A lot of the credit usually goes to Amish settlers and their knack for woodworking, but Norman said he’s taken down beautiful barns and cabins built before the Amish arrived.
For him, reclaiming and reusing old wood becomes a story about the longevity of the materials.
“It’s really cool to me to take a barn down in Pennsylvania, it’s 200 years old, if it could talk, it would tell a story,” he said. “When you think about it, the tree was probably 200 years old when it was cut, the barn stood for 200 years, then we use it in a cabin, and it’s going to be on Earth 400 to 600 years that you know of. Sometimes, I just look at floor beams and think ‘What a journey.’ ”
Norman started in show business after building his first cabin for Woody Farmer. That was more than a few years ago, but Norman said he and Farmer formed a bond and had a good relationship ever since.
Farmer’s daughter, Ellen, married Tom Jennings, a producer and director. When Tom Jennings was looking for ideas for a new reality show, Farmer suggested featuring Norman and his reclamation business.
Jennings shot a short pilot and sold the concept to Discovery in 2013, but after filming and editing some episodes, Discovery didn’t like the final product and never aired the show.
Jennings eventually got the overseas rights for the show back, and sold “Log Cabin Fever” to networks in Canada and Europe, where it’s already aired. Eventually, Discovery relented and sold the rights to air it in America, as well, and next week, viewers will get their first looks at the show.
Norman said he was considering having a watch party for the debut of the show with some of the guys from his crew, but 10 p.m. is a little late for a party, especially on a Tuesday.
Depending on the success of the show, Norman said more episodes could be ordered.
“It’s a little weird being followed around by cameras while you’re working, but I’ve always been a ham,” he said. “Some of my guys run and hide from the cameras, but I’m running my mouth, but I’ve always been a bullsh****r.
“It was an experience, and it’s fun and sort of surreal to think it’s going to be on TV.”