I was probably in first grade and not Kindergarten at the old Central School on Vine and 100 West in Tooele. Mom wouldn’t let me walk home from summer Kindergarten and its milk and cookies even if we had taken a nap on our blankey under our desks each day.
By first grade, I was “big boy enough” to walk east up Vine Street, through downtown, next to the train tracks and through the old Clegg barn with its horses and cows to my home on Highland Drive.
I was almost cured of being a “big boy” who could walk home by myself. I had just crossed Main on the south side of East Vine, when a blood-curdling, heart-stopping clangor of noise assaulted my eardrums from one of the shops I was so bravely walking past. When I came to my senses and realized I wasn’t in danger, I looked to where the ruckus had originated from, and there, on his barber chair, sat Joe Beck blustering away on his trumpet waiting for the next head to cut.
I never did get my hair cut by Joe Beck, but I came to respect and know him quite well years later. I was just weeks home from a mission to Sweden for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when my bishop asked me to teach the adult Sunday school class. It was the only adult class at that time and was held in the chapel because there was not another room big enough to house them all. That year, the topic of discussion was the Old Testament, a book of scripture that I hadn’t used much on my mission, and had only read once in my life, and that was in the Swedish language. I had been taught that you accept all callings in the church, so I feebly accepted and showed up that first Sunday. On the very back row sat Joe Beck, who knew very well his Old Testament, and could spout chapter and verse when he boomed out his responses to questions I asked to draw the class into the discussion. I left that first Sunday very aware of my shortcomings and vowing to never again experience the embarrassment I had that day. I spent the entire next week studying the Old Testament and other resource materials at every available second. When I, a little less feebly, sneaked into the chapel that next Sunday, I was much better prepared to do battle and gave a pretty good accounting of myself. Each week became just a little improved over the last week, and I ended up really enjoying teaching the class and being able to almost keep up with Brother Beck. In fact, I gained so much delight from that experience that I eventually ended up teaching in the public education system as well as the Seminary and Institute programs of the Church.
I came to also have a partiality for Joe Beck for another reason later. After my wife and I failed miserably at vegetable gardening, he brought us up to his master garden and taught us a thing or two, and then sent us home with the encouragement that if we needed help again we were to just ask. I never did learn to graft different fruit trees together like he did, but we really became quite proficient at eating the deliciously fresh fruits and vegetables he taught us how to produce.
I do remember, as a boy, getting my hair cut from Dollar Brown, Butch Porter, Frank Beecher, John Drietzler and Robbie Robinson. There are probably others who I can’t recall at this time. My little brother went to Trade Tech for barbering, but didn’t do much with it. His best friend Glen Porter is still a barber to this day. Anymore I trim my own head with one of those kits, and my wife finishes the back of my neck with a sometimes rusty razor blade.
In pioneer times, barbers were lots more than simply barbers. In fact, their history goes back 6,000 years to the Egyptian Nobility, who cut hair with sharpened obsidian knives or oyster shells. Eventually barbers practiced barbering, shaving, dressing wounds, pulling teeth, surgery and even blood letting. George Washington died in 1799 at the age of 67 after his barber/surgeon drained his blood to help a vocal cord infection. Barber poles are red and white and sometimes blue. Red for blood, white for bandages and blue for veins.
In Tooele pioneer times, it would have cost about $20 to set up a proper barber shop, which was a 10-foot by 12-foot room consisting of a straight-backed chair with a crutch-like head piece, a basin of water, bar of common soap, brush, and enough towels for one towel to service every 10 to 12 customers. But then haircuts were only 5 to 10 cents, and shaves were 3 pennies. I can’t remember the cost of haircuts when I was a kid, but it surely must have been more than a dime.
As pictured, the Tooele Pioneer Museum houses a newer-style pioneer barber chair complete with barber pole and instruments to cut hair, shave beards, pull teeth and perform and bandage various wounds. It is not known if barbers still practiced blood letting in the middle 1800s.
Come visit the Tooele Pioneer Museum on Pioneer Square at 47 East Vine next to the old stone Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum. Each Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. you can peruse not just old barbering equipment, but all kinds of pioneer and Native American equipment, apparatuses, stories and photos. Our new email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Tours other than Fridays and Saturdays can be arranged by calling Museum Director Tim Booth at 882-1902 or 830-3076.
Darrell Smith volunteers time as the publicity director of the Sons of Utah Pioneers Settlement Canyon Chapter. He also works as a docent at the Tooele Pioneer Museum. Smith can be reached at email@example.com.