EDS NOTE: This is the fourth article in a weekly, multi-part series retelling some of Don Wright’s history in Greenville as he remembers it.
Until 1996 little attention was paid to this hillbilly in blue jeans, cowboy boots and a baseball cap as he came and went in his old beat up cars.
During this time I discovered real estate. Everywhere I went an opportunity would show up. I was a bottom feeder. If it wasn’t an absolute steal, I passed.
I was always at the right place, at the right time. I’m going to prove it by telling you of some well-known people that are still alive.
On a real hot summer day I was driving through New Paris and stopped at a gas station with a garage to get a Mountain Dew. I overheard the landlord of the station telling his renter that he could buy the place or he would close it up. He said he had a heart attack and was liquidating all of his problems. The renter told him he wasn’t buying and walked away.
“I probably wouldn’t have the money, but I’d like to hear what you’re talking about,” I said to the owner.
He said, “Come outside, I want to show you something.”
“I own that gray double back here behind the station. I own the white single and the green triple. Down the street in the other direction you can see from here I own a three-bedroom home with a large barn behind it. I want to sell all of them,” he said as he pointed down the street in both directions.
He quoted me a price.
“I could never borrow that kind of money,” I told him.
He wanted to know how much I could borrow. I gave him a ridiculously low figure.
He asked if I had $500 on me. I did.
“Give me the $500 now and if you get the loan, I’ll sell them to you. If not, I’m keeping your money,” he said.
He wrote two contracts on a napkin that was on the counter of the gas station and got a witness to sign them.
I took the contracts to Gene Rismiller at Second National Bank. We both thought the man was nuts. Gene got a check for the amount. He wanted to go with me. We were both shocked when we pulled up to the man’s office in Brookville. He had a huge office with a couple of million dollars of artwork inside. He was there with his lawyer..and the deeds.
This guy invented something that you hook on the back of a truck to lay cable. He had just sold it to the TV stations in Lima and Kent, Ohio for $25 million each. My deal was peanuts.
Gene and I went to New Paris to look at the properties.
“Give me the deed to the gray double and you can keep the rest,” he said.
I left there with clear deeds to a gas station with garage, two three-bedroom single houses and a triple. Think this is a lie? Ask Gene.
One morning I was standing in line at the Empire restaurant. Don Leis was in front of me.
“I have a 167-acre farm on the Palestine Richmond Road that you should buy,” he said.
He wanted $167,000 for it.
“I’ll give you $100,000,” I said as we paid our bills.
When I got back to the office that afternoon my secretary, Pat Rademachir, told me Don Leis had called and I now owned a farm. I had to call Don to find out how to get to it. Today, the farm is appraised for $693,000. Think I’m lying? Ask Don Leis.
Now, I’ll tell you about my most profitable being in the right place, at the right time.
Hillbillies get homesick for the hills. When I get that way I have to go back to the Kentucky mountains. It’s where I recharge my batteries.
As I left Lexington on the Mountain Parkway I saw a young man hitchhiking. He was carrying a sign that said “U.K. student.” I picked him up. His home was near Salyersville.
As we traveled he told me he worked part-time for the university on a project trying to identify the area of an oil fault from West Virginia that crossed Kentucky and on into Missouri.
Since he was only a few miles off the parkway I drove him to his home. Before we parted, I gave him a business card and asked him to send me the information when he got it. Two years later, I received a laminated map in the mail showing where the oil was. It crossed Morgan and Wolfe Counties where I was familiar with.
After receiving the map, I began running ads in the Morgan and Wolfe county weekly newspapers saying I was a hunter wanting to buy a farm to hunt on. No buildings, just cheap, bare ground. I ended up with 1,000 acres in the two counties.
Today, I have 16 oil wells in Wolfe County and five natural gas wells in Morgan. These are not Texas-style gusher wells; these are shallow wells where the oil seeps in.
Five-hundred, eighty-five acres of my land in Morgan County is three minutes to a public dock on the 36-mile long Paintsville Lake. No one can build on the shoreline of the lake. My neighbor is the Army Corp of Engineers. Another neighbor is a country music park. Acre lots around the music park sold out at $10,000 each.
People hassle me all the time to buy lots so they can build on them. I can’t sell for two reasons. One, I don’t want to give up any of the oil rights and secondly, I don’t want to pay taxes. I got all of this because I picked up a hitchhiker that day.
In the last 25 years, I’ve sold enough timber to recover all of my original investment and then some. But, here’s the good part. Three years ago, a Texas oil company was in Morgan County buying oil leases for $300 an acre. I went to one of the meetings. They said that 2 miles deep under Morgan and Wolfe Counties there is an ocean of oil.
They told me that it wouldn’t be developed in my lifetime. They said Kentucky roads with their hills and sharp curves couldn’t handle the drilling equipment they needed to bring in or the equipment to transport the oil out.