Audley Vernon ‘Barney’ Barnhill

The Beginning
In most cases in life there is a beginning, middle and an end. Here is a brief story of the life of A.V. “Barney” Barnhill of Alameda. As a child, Audley lived a rough and tumble life. One of the skinniest kids around, tall and lanky he was picked on by the older and more fit boys. So, one day back in grade school, Audley had enough. He punched out the kid who was bugging him every day while at school. One punch led to another, then another and the big kid laid on the ground, nose bleeding, crying out in pain, with Audley hovering over him like a prize fighter wanting another punch. A bit wounded from the school yard fight himself, he won the respect of his buddies and others, especially the girls.

Now called Barney, not Audley, by his school buddies, he worked in a boarding house owned by his family, washing the awful sheets, changing the mattresses and getting the rooms in order for the next house guests, the chores usually done before and after school.

School bored Barney. He played drums in the school marching band and after school he hung out with his buddies spying on the girls. Grades weren’t important, fun was! During his junior year in high school Barney played drums in a small band. They practiced in a barn somewhere in the Berryessa District in San Jose. On the weekends they would play late into the night, guys and girls would wander in to dance, drink and have fun. There he played his heart out. Barney was living life to the fullest; a young buck.

While his home life drifted, both parents getting older, Barney wanted to get out. He joined the Navy, a tall skinny kid from San Jose in dress whites wanting to see the world. World War II broke out and Barney was assigned to active Naval duty in the Pacific after basic training.

U.S. Navy: Barnhill
Barney, now called “Barnhill,” spent time on a number of Navy ships assigned to the Pacific Fleet in and around 1942; serving on the USS Langley then into the thick of battle on the USS Hancock. Barnhill fought in Bonin, Luson, Ryukyus, Formosa, Philippines, China Sea and Japan.

Barney had a rather extraordinary Navy career for an enlisted man; wounded in the heat of battle, earning medals for valor and bravery and letters from Admiral Halsey and Commander R.J. Hardy, U.S. Navy: Barnhill stood fast at his post during the bombings of the USS Enterprise.

A letter from Admiral Halsey, U.S. Navy, to Audley Vernon Barnhill: “The Commander of the United States Third Fleet takes pleasure in commending Audley Vernon Barnhill, Chief Quartermaster, United States Navy.”

“Citation: For distinguished services and meritorious achievement as Chief Quartermaster on the Staff Commanders Second Carrier Task Force, Pacific from Aug. 18, 1944 to Jan. 25, 1945. His professional ability and navigational skills aided materially in the successful operations against the enemy. He remained at his battle station while under attack by enemy aircraft on numerous occasions, displaying a coolness and efficiency that was an inspiration to the personnel of the Flag Bridge. His steadfast devotion to duty, his loyalty and unceasing diligence were far above what was expected and were at all times in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

— W.F. Halsey, Adm., U.S. Navy

Authorization is granted to wear the Commendation Ribbon. Barney received an honorable discharge from the Navy as Quartermaster Third Class, earning several medals while serving in the Navy.

The Middle
Married with a young daughter, Barney struggled at finding a real job. While the Navy was in the past, the future seemed uncertain. He took up working with his father-in-law as a laborer pouring concrete, building forms, mucking and learning the trade. He worked hard, long hours to provide for his family. The pay was better than Navy pay but barely enough to provide for his family. Barney wanted more, so he studied long hours in hopes of getting a contractor’s license. Passing the test, Barney broke out on his own, now Barnhill Construction Company, out of Los Angeles.

Building sidewalks, curbs, gutters and foundations in the Hollywood Hills and Mulholland Drive proved to be challenging at best. The learning curve is steep, payroll was steeper, but the hard knocks were becoming fewer and the money started to roll in.

Barney moved his family and construction north to Niles, now part of Fremont. His business started small, jobs were tough: how do you bid, costs for materials, equipment, yet, one job led to another, then another. Barney brought the precast tilt-up concept to Northern California and created Precast Erection Company. This concept baffled most of the builders, a technique now used by all big-box construction companies.

Being an avid sailor and boat man, he purchased an old derelict boatyard in Alameda and named it Barnhill Marina and Boatyard.  He moved his construction company to Alameda as well. Being a boat guy and a builder, he spent nearly every day on his construction company and the boatyard. Then with the help of Richard Boland and a naval architect, the floating homes business started. They designed and built many of the floating homes still afloat at Barnhill Marina.

Barnhill Construction flourished, taking jobs in other states, larger business/industrial parks in the Bay Area and beyond. Barney always had many balls in the air. He travelled to Hawaii frequently for business and pleasure, business in Honolulu and body surfing on the North Shore.

Barney retired from the construction business, traveled and focused on Barnhill Marina and Shipyard Cove Marina in the San Juan Islands, which he had purchased and developed years before.

Barney lived life to the fullest. He took chances, sometimes winning, sometimes not, but in the end does it really matter?

The End
Barney died peacefully at Alameda Hospital on June 5, and had a private service at Chapel of the Chimes on June 10. He will be dearly missed by all who knew and loved him.

Barney leaves behind his loving wife, Lai Barnhill, and family members as well as memories and stories that will never be forgotten. “Heros are remembered while Legends never die.” Barney was a legend in his own right! 

“Life’s journey is not to arrive at a grave, safe, in a well-preserved body; rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out shouting, ‘holy cow, what a ride.’”