Devoted barber part of Americana


It was raining hard. The man running in the blue windbreaker and tan pants jumped a puddle on Main Street just across from the Murphy Theatre as the wind blew and the cold rain fell. Another man with an umbrella ambled just ahead of a woman who was scurrying from one building to another trying to evade the blowing downpour.

The runner seemed oblivious to the rainstorm. He was an athlete. Athletes train in inclement weather. He even ran from his home in Lakewood to his barber shop in the Fife-Bosworth Building at Main and South streets from time to time. This man, however, had been out of high school for thirty years at the time. He was almost 50 years old.

Blowing rain didn’t dampen the spirit of the man who had suffered a concussion while playing against the Washington Court House Blue Lions in a mid-season high school football game, and only stayed home for a week because his mother made him.

The man was Dale Inwood, the longtime barber and good friend to many of us.

The Fife-Bosworth Building was made for postcards. The building, built in 1872, was a perfect setting for a barber shop, with its old time character. It was a perfect fit for Dale, and Ed Adams who manned the second barber chair.

When our son, Greg, was a little boy we would walk past the red, white, and blue barber pole spinning outside Dale’s shop entrance.

We bounded up the stairs, and opened the doors into a world like no other. The majestic mirrors looked like they had hung in the Long Branch Saloon in an earlier time. The barber chairs were large and plush, with comfortable seats and extraordinary maneuverability.

A mixture of tonic bottles lined the marble counters. We saw containers of Vitalis, Brylcreem (“A little dab with do you!”), and positioned high on the wall in the back was a large sign that said, “Ask for Wildroot.”

We didn’t mind that the shop wasn’t air-conditioned. When it was hot, Dale and Ed just propped open the doors. The place smelled like a barber shop. The smell of shaving cream and talcum powder, migrating together with the smell of the Three-In-One oil that greased the clippers. The aroma of pipes, cigars, and cigarettes were common in those days, and became ingrained in the wood like incense in a church.

Greg’s name for Dale was “Dale the Barber.” He would ask Dale to put a little “Butch Wax” in his hair. Although Greg didn’t get a flat-top cut, Dale always complied with good humor.

Greg would watch with wide-eyed amazement as Dale placed the hot foam lather carefully around my hairline, sharpened his razor on the strap, and smoothly shaved around my ears and neck. Greg’s eyes grew bigger with each stroke of the razor.

“I love when Dale the Barber massages my head after he cuts my hair,” Greg would say. I think Dale knew Greg enjoyed the extra touch and gave him a little extra attention.

I remember one afternoon when Dale walked across the street to the Sheriff’s Office to see me. He was downcast. Someone had stolen his barber pole from the front of this shop. The theft was such a cruel thing to do, particularly to someone who took such pride in his profession.

Not everyone has the temperament to be a barber. It is hard work. Men who sit in the chairs for a trim have interesting stories to tell, and appreciate a good listener. Like bartenders, barbers hear a myriad of stories.

Politics, sports, and family were discussed openly and freely in the barber shop. The old men told the best stories, and everyone from the kid in fourth grade to the middle-aged farmer laughed at them.

Dale could keep a confidence. Mike Brown, like his father Paul before him, shared inside information about the Bengals with the likable barber. A few days later we read about it in the big city newspapers. Dale also knew about the business climate and politics in Clinton County.

“How do you think the election will come out?” I would ask him. Most of the time he was accurate within a few percentage points of the result.

Dale was more than a barber. He was then, and remains, devoted to his church, family, and his community. He is a sensitive and caring man.

He retired as a barber a few years ago. Then one day his phone rang. One of the barbers at the Oak Barber Shop needed help. Dale came out of retirement to work to help his former competitors through a difficult time.

Peter Welch once wrote, “I live in a small town. Small merchants make up the majority of small businesses. It is the mom-and-pop grocers, farm-supply stores, coffee shops, and barber shops where people connect, conduct business and check in on one another.”

In our small town, many checked in on each other in Dale the Barber’s shop for years. We are glad we did.

Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.

Pat Haley

Contributing Columnist

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