Monday, January 25, 2010

Barber Shops, Now and Then

One morning, I stopped in for a visit at Larry Hedden’s barbershop. In my mind, I was immediately taken into another place and time, both fictional, and known to most of us as Floyd’s Barbershop in Mayberry.
Hedden was sitting in one barber’s chair, the other was occupied by Ernest Mashburn.
The only other person in the shop was John Coley, also sitting, but in a regular chair. It may as well have been Floyd, Gomer and Barney passing the time away. There was no urgency to the situation. I got the feeling that world problems had been discussed, if not totally solved. I was greeted amicably, offered a trim, but not a shave, or to take a chair and join the conversation. The shoe shine stand, once an integral part of the barbershop now stands vacant. “Do you even offer shaves anymore?” inquired Mashburn.
“No!” said Hedden. “No one asks for a shave anymore.” According to Google on the Internet, at one time there were 8000 barbers in the state of Iowa, however there are less than half that number of licensed barbers in the mid-western state today. Up until World War II, the shave was the main stay of barbershops, that is until the safety and electric razor took over. In the early 1950’s, short hair cuts such as the butch and the flat tops became popular, causing the barber trade to flourish.
In an earlier period of time, the old phrase, “Shave and a hair cut, two bits” became a favorite saying, and later after the war one could get a hair cut for 25c and a shave for 10c. When Elvis Presley became famous, sporting longer locks, the barbers really began to suffer for a lack of business. This was followed by the much longer hair style of the Beatles and others of the invasion of the British style of music, causing fewer barbershops, and a lot less barbers staying in the business.
Haircuts began to soar to a few dollars, and shaves only slightly less. Shops began to close, however in the city by the Ocmulgee River, one could still find a choice of barbershops and barbers, even during the turbulent sixties of hippies and long hair.
Some of the names synonymous with barbering through the years in Hawkinsville have been Southerland, Smith, Horne, Owen and Rewis. Mister Owen cut hair in the country on nhis farm. His son, Greg Owen, an antique collector has restored his father's barber shop as a sall museum.

For the longevity of barbering however, one name stood out more than any other. Her name is Elizabeth “Lizzie” Roland, four-time widowed barber, who lived to nearly a hundred-years-old. She was known as Mrs. Evans when she took over the barbershop from her deceased husband, Jim. Next, she married Terrell Wammock who cut hair part-time and repaired bicycles in the rear of the barbershop. Sometime after his death, she married Van Ellis from nearby Cochran. Widowed once more, the diminutive barber married another resident from Cochran named J. T. Roland. When one lives to become nearly a centenarian, one can expect to outlive most mates.
The very resilient barber began cutting hair in the late 1930’s and cut consecutively until she was 93, when she retired. In 1965, she was joined by a young barber who cut hair in her shop for five years. That barber was Larry Hedden.
There were three Southerland brothers who cut hair in Hawkinsville at the same time, although not always in the same barbershop. Charlie, also known as “Big Charlie,” his brother, J. B. known better as “Bud,” and Willie. After the death of his brothers, Bud Southerland and Dewey Horne went into business together, later electing to go their separate ways. Horne set up shop near, what today is known as the 341 Bypass next door to his home. Southerland stayed in the downtown section of Hawkinsville. That business, today, is Hedden’s Barbershop.
At one time, there were two barbers who were cousins, Sidney Smith and J. M. Smith. Each had their own shops, and each employed Southerlands in their business. Charlie and his brother, Willie worked for J. M. Smith, and Bud worked for Sidney Smith.
“One of the most asked questions about barbering,” said Hedden, “is where did the barber’s pole originate?”

To understand the answer to this question, one has to go back into the history of barbering. Again, according to the web site, Google, during the Middle Ages, if you were in need of surgery, you would require a trip to a barber-surgeon. Doctors were expensive and many did not practice surgery because it was regarded as a menial task. Self-help methods were not an option due to the scarcity of sharp tools.
Barber-surgeons used razors, not just to perform operations, but also to cut hair and shave beards. they also extracted teeth, lanced boils, set fractures and let blood. Unlike doctors, barber-surgeons usually had no medical training, and they dealt only with external problems. In 1540, the Company of Barber-Surgeons was created in an attempt to make training and treatment standard.
Barber-surgeons' shops were usually in the center of towns and attracted customers by displaying a red and white striped pole outside their shop. The colors stood for blood and bandages; these poles can still be found outside some barbershops today. In those days, if the city authorities allowed them to do so, some barbers would display a basin of blood outside to signify bloodletting.
Barber-surgeons continued to practice until the mid-18th century. In 1745 in London the Company of Surgeons was set up, and barbers were excluded; in 1800 it became the Royal College of Surgeons. However, many barbers retained the red and white pole outside their shops and continued to practice simple operations.
“Today,” said Hedden, “I only give a good hair cut when they sit in my chair.”

Friday, January 8, 2010


Half-Mile Dirt Tracks

NOTE: For those interested in where we stayed on Maui CLICK here for details and get ready for a vacation in paradise

VA-ROOM! VA-ROOM! Pow, Pow, Pop! VA-ROOM! VA-ROOM! The flat-head engines of the 1936 Fords were sounding off as they warmed up for the race. In the late 1940s, a group of men got together and converted the famous horse racing track in Hawkinsville to a dirt track for stock car racing. It was a forerunner to what is known today as NASCAR, a billion dollar industry. In today’s version of NASCAR, names such as Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Bobby LaBonte, and Dale Ernhardt, Junior are some of the darlings of racing fans around the country.
Long before them came names like Jessie James Taylor, Nero Stepto, Wild Bill Bennett, Ross Howard, and the twin package from Hawkinsville, Billy “Buzz” Sawyer and one of the best racing mechanics to ever turn a wrench, Paul McDuffie shown below.

The night when stock car racing began in Hawkinsville at the old harness racing track, it attracted a near capacity crowd. According to the records, there were fifteen drivers participating in the races that night with a total of sixty laps around the half-mile dirt track.

The competition was fierce in every race, yet there were no injuries. One car, driven by Ed Tyndell of Unadilla, blew a front tire causing his vehicle to veer out of control. Momentarily, he was shaken up, but returned shortly to finish the race. Sawyer, a gritty and determined competitor took first place in one race and except for a poor start, could have taken another victory later on into the evening.

According to Billy “Judge” Sloan, a mechanic who got his start assisting McDuffie, shown here with his brother, Bobby,(right) “Most drivers used Ford with the flat-head engine in those days. Drivers and their crew were known to go after their rivals with wrenches in hand if they thought they were purposely trying to run their car off the track,” Sloan said. “Pretty much, it was, ‘mess with my car, buddy, and you’re messing with me.”
McDuffie raised a lot of eyebrows when he introduced the Chevy V-6 engine that quickly caught the attention of many of the people in the sport, as well as the fans. With a Chevy that was built by McDuffie, Buzz Sawyer recorded the fastest unofficial time of thirty seconds around the half-mile dirt track at a south Georgia location. People began to sit up and take notice of the dynamic duo from Pulaski County. The quicker McDuffie could build a race car, the harder his brother-in-law, Sawyer, would drive it. It was all about speed—pushing the envelope. With a total purse for the night of $500, drivers took chances around the oval race track, slowing only slightly going into the curves, before opening up again on the straight-a-way.

In those days, young men spent a great deal of their time working on car engines. “We used to drive around the countryside looking for old cars which were no longer in use by the owners,” Sloan said. “We could buy them for very little cash, haul them back to the garage, and begin the overhaul process to convert them into stock car racers. Back then, we purchased parts from auto parts stores or dealerships, unlike today when small town drivers and car owners have to go through specialized businesses to get the necessary parts to build an engine.”
Other drivers and mechanics from this area that followed Sawyer and McDuffie were

Woody Moore, shown with granddaughter who is still racing and winning races at the ripe old age of 75, Claude and Howard King, Joe Johnston, Larry Hood and his brother, Sammy. During those early days of the 40s and 50s when Billy Sawyer was driving the dirt tracks in cars which he and McDuffie built, he worked a full-time job with the Coca Cola Company. It has been said that a funeral didn’t take place without cokes being iced down for the family by Sawyer. Fiery on the track, he had a soft spot for those in mourning. He continued to work for the soft drink manufacturer for years. His brother-in-law, however, had a certain genius for building race cars and with him, it was a passion unmatched by many.
Paul McDuffie left the city by the muddy river for a larger city by the Ocmulgee River—Macon. There he teamed up with an old racing rival, Ross Howard. They continued to build race cars while competing anywhere they found a race to be run. Seemingly never satisfied and always looking for the bigger mountain of race tracks to dominate, McDuffie moved to Atlanta, this time seeking to run with the big boys. He set up a garage and tune-up shop on Howell Mill Road in Atlanta and began to build race cars to compete with the best drivers and mechanics in the country. According to legend, many of those drivers began by running moonshine whiskey through the mountains, outrunning the legal authorities, before turning to stock cars. McDuffie was quoted as saying he got “a tremendous thrill from watching cars, which were built by him, race around the track.”
And build cars he could, as indicated not only by the sportswriters covering the action, but in addition to that, was the frequency his team entered the winner’s circle which his vehicles occupied on many occasions.

During 1958, he teamed up with, and built cars for, Glenn “Fireball” Roberts, a legend during his own time of racing. That year with Roberts driving, the McDuffie-built cars swept to thirteen victories while winning over $40,000 in prize money. The following year, the racing industry was shocked when it was announced that Roberts and McDuffie were splitting up their winning team. At first there was much criticism toward Roberts for leaving the McDuffie team. Later, it came out that Roberts was informed by McDuffie that he did not think his 1957 cars could compete in the races of 1959, therefore he informed Roberts he would be able to do better with newer cars. As it turned out, McDuffie was able to find someone later to sponsor him and buy two cars for him to race. There seemed to be a rift between the old racing partners, but they both sat down in Daytona, and McDuffie explained what had happened. Later on, the two got together again when Fireball dropped Pontiac to drive McDuffie's Chevrolet.
In 1960, the mechanical genius, Paul McDuffie experienced his greatest feat by winning the very first “World 600” race in Charlotte, North Carolina, a victory that garnered him a purse of $28,000. The Hawkinsville native was becoming recognized as the best racing mechanic in the sport with a tremendous future in front of him. Sadly, it all came to an end later that year in Darlington, South Carolina when two cars tangled in front of the pit, one crashing over the retaining wall killing McDuffie and two others. Hawkinsville and the entire racing world mourned the loss of the mechanical genius from middle Georgia.