Shear excitement: A barber tells his story
No appointment? No problem at Powers Barber Shop in Carlton. Ever since the barber shop originally opened in 1880, it has never had a telephone. They take appointments on a first-come, first-served basis, according to longtime owner Darold Powers.
Powers moved to Carlton in 1954 and bought the small business in 1960 when he was 24 years old.
“I came to Carlton in the fall of 1954 with the intention of leaving in the spring. I am still here,” said Powers. “In 1960 I went to the First National Bank of Carlton to buy the barber shop from Herb Huard. The price was $800. Lester Johnson, the president, asked three questions: ‘Who is your father, how much down payment do you have, and do you have any operating capital?’ The answers were, George Powers, no and no.”
Johnson loaned Powers the money to buy the shop as well as $500 operating capital. Powers noted there were no additional fees tacked on to the amount.
“Some of the things about the good old days were actually good,” Powers said.
Powers also served in the Army, Reserve and National Guard from 1954-1996. He credits his wife of 59 years, Hilde — who passed away in 2016 — and their daughter, Dawn Browne, for keeping the home front going while he was deployed. He also gave credit to Clarion Williams for keeping the barber shop going for him while he was gone.
Williams had owned the shop at one time before Powers. He treated it like his own and took care of it for Powers each time he was deployed. Williams continued to cut hair until he was 90 years old, according to Powers.
Powers was deployed to Norway for winter warfare training in 1980 and 1994 for a few weeks each time.
“Norway has the best winter troops on the planet,” explained Powers. After a long pause he added “And the Finns did OK too.”
He was there during the Winter Olympics and the military did their own version of the competition.
Powers was the oldest competitor at age 57 and competed in the biathlon, a combination of skiing and shooting. He finished 12th out of 96 competitors (although he admits as an instructor he had a bit of an advantage).
His only child, Dawn Marie Browne, 56, also works at the barber shop.
Browne decided to follow in her mom’s footsteps and become a cosmetologist more than 10 years ago. She and her husband moved back to Carlton and Browne joined the family business.
Browne cuts hair for most of the women and children, while Powers cuts most of the men’s hair.
“I enjoy working with my dad, we get along pretty well,” Browne said, smiling affectionately at her father. “I think it's great.”
When Powers bought the shop in 1960, haircuts were $2. Now they are $13.
There are several people who have been coming to the small shop since Powers bought it. Coral Phelps, a veteran from Wrenshall, was coming to the shop even before Powers bought it 56 years ago.
While Powers admits his job is enjoyable, he also likes history, performance vehicles and diving.
Powers was on the Carlton Fire Department from the 1960s until the early 1980s. For many years he was a part of the dive team and a scuba diver instructor.
“I thought it would be fun,” he said with an impish grin.
Powers prefers diving in Lake Superior rather than the ocean. He has been diving on the east side of Florida, but the water is not as clear as Lake Superior because of the salt content, according to Powers.
He describes the underwater view of Lake Superior as surprisingly clear and panoramic.
Powers particularly enjoyed exploring old shipwrecks; his favorites are the old lumber boats off of Isle Royale National Park.
Powers’ love of performance vehicles has included about 26 motorcycles over the years. The last one he owned was a Honda Valkyrie Interstate, a six-cylinder, six-carburetor bad boy. Powers drove that one until 2015, when he sold it to a fellow American Legion member.
“It was impressive,” Browne said.
Powers organized Cloquet American Legion Riders, a group of veterans and veteran family members who are motorcycle enthusiasts. They organize fundraising rides that benefit veterans as well as help support the Cloquet American Legion.
The American Legion began after World War I ended and is the oldest military organization, Powers noted.
In fact, because of the amount of time he spent there, his wife used to jokingly tell him he should have his mail sent to the Legion instead of home.
“I haven't been there since last night,” Powers said with his infectious grin, admitting that for many years his wife sent his Pine Journal subscription to the Legion.
Although Powers no longer drives motorcycles, he still loves performance vehicles. In 2015 Powers said he was looking at “old people” vans when another vehicle caught his eye, a 2014 Hemi Charger. He couldn't resist the power of the Hemi.
“The vans didn't look like fun at all,” said Powers with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
Powers was also a member of the Carlton County Historical Board. He is proud of the fact that his barber shop is now the oldest business in Carlton since the old feed mill was demolished.
Powers enjoys collecting and displaying historic artifacts in his shop. Several wooden shelves hold neatly organized old railroad lights, an old clock from the train depot in Wright as well as several military items that are spaced on the walls.
Powers is also proud of his family's military history. Several of his ancestors fought in the American Revolutionary War and 42 of his relatives lie in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in New York City, N.Y.
Powers’ favorite revolutionary war story is about two of his relatives: Sergeant Abraham Storm, who was born in 1743, and Betsy Flannigan. Storm owned a tavern after the war; Flannigan was his helper. According to the book written by Powers’ cousin Roger L. Jewell, “The Sawmill River Valley War,” Flannigan invented the concept of “the cocktail” by decorating the drinks of the young soldiers with rooster tails.
Another relative story was about a 19-year-old named Lieutenant Jonathan Odell, born in 1756. According to the story, Odell was a daring and respected soldier. One of Odell’s more interesting escapes happened after he scared Tory marauders away from a woman’s home, then stayed to comfort her. The Tories came back with friends and the story goes on to say that Odell couldn't find his britches, so he put on one of the woman’s petticoats. After that the local road became known as Petticoat Lane.
“As soon as I read that I called him up and he said, ‘It's been documented,’” Powers said.
Powers likes to collect historical photographs and has one from 1912 of his barber grandfather, Roy Powers, on display in his shop.
You can find Powers reclining in a barber chair as he patiently waits for clients on any given day.
The father/daughter team work well together. Browne keeps the shop going so Powers can work as much or as little as he wants. Powers’ goal is to be the oldest barber, meaning he will have to work until he is 91 years old to pass up Williams.
Friends and neighbors often pop in for a cup of coffee and just hang out.
“A barbershop is not just for haircuts,” said a neighbor who lives in the building with her orange cat, Michael. “People come to visit … and sometimes cats come visiting.” Michael sat nearby and added a meow every once in awhile.
As closing time at the shop neared, one last customer poked his head in.
Mark Vandervort has been coming to the shop for 35 years, and got his first haircut at the Powers Barber Shop in 1981.
As he came in, Vandervort began regaling the small group with a recent encounter with a few college women when he was out to breakfast in Branson, Mo. The tall, white-haired man was enjoying his breakfast when he noticed two college women looking his direction and whispering.
Vandervort demonstrated how he quickly sat up taller, puffed out his chest a bit and straightened his snow white locks. Soon the young women headed in his direction.
“I’m thinking, oh boy, so I stand up straight and look good and sure enough they both come over to the table,” the animated Vandervort said to his laughing audience at the shop with a few added details.
Then the young women stopped and one of them told Vandervort that she just wanted to tell him they were going to vote for Bernie Sanders and they thought he looked so much like Sanders.
“It totally burst my bubble!” Vandervort said as everyone in the shop roared with laughter at his story.
As Powers finished with Vandervort, closing time had come and gone.
The small group grabbed their winter coats and shut off the lights, still talking as they went out the door into the cold winter night.