3:06pm: Hotline with Dave Weekley

Remembering Buck Harless

Buck Harless. Photo by WVU.Buck Harless once told me a story about his early days in the sawmill business.  He described how he had to go from bank to bank, trying to get loans to meet payroll.

Harless, like every up-from-the-bootstraps entrepreneur, knew well the challenges of owning and operating successful businesses.  In West Virginia, he did it better than anyone, making himself a millionaire many times over and, in the process, creating wealth and prosperity for others.

His passing this week at the age of 94 marks the end of a remarkable life.

Harless was born in Logan County,  orphaned at an early age, and raised by relatives in Mingo County.  He bought his first sawmill with a couple partners not long after high school.  Within a short time, Harless had bought out the others and was opening more sawmills.

He expanded into coal mining, manufacturing and even real estate, building multi-million dollar companies, employing hundreds of people.

Along the way Harless gave away money to every imaginable cause; colleges and universities, hospitals, civic organizations and sometimes just someone who was down on his luck.  He built a 65,000 square foot community center in Gilbert, complete with a swimming pool, a gym, conference center and health clinic.

Harless had a keen interest in politics. Candidates curried his favor… and his money.  In the 2000 presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, Harless led an effort that raised $275,000 in the state for Bush, an amount that stunned the campaign.

Bush won West Virginia, marking the first time a non-incumbent Republican had carried the Mountain State in 70 years.

Naturally, Harless made some enemies along the way.  Critics would derisively call him a “coal baron” or a “timber baron,” implying imperiousness.   Anyone who ever spent time with Harless knew that was an inaccurate description.

Despite his success and wealth, Harless never forgot his roots. He lived in Gilbert, took many of his meals at the local diner, continued to go to work every day well past retirement and was know by most folks simply as “Buck.”

He also refused to accept full credit for his success.  “Anybody can be successful if you have good people working around you,” he told the Logan Banner in 2011.  “There’s no such thing as a self-made man.  There’s always somebody else helping.”

Buck should know, considering how much he helped others.



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