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Tank Barber Shop by Princetonboy


Tank started in my garage. I was part of a platoon of young guys who worked closely together every day. We weren’t long out of Basic, so we were making our way in the Army. To say that we shared our lives, some of our secrets, many of our hopes, is an understatement. The biggest secrets surrounded our love lives, even those spilled out sometimes.

We were in my garage one afternoon, getting ready for inspection the next day. Spit shining, polishing, pressing. Somebody said "I gotta get a haircut." Well, everybody was a little shaggy. In a moment of either bravado or utter stupidity I heard myself say: "well sit right down, Barber Jake will take you next." There was a pause, and somebody said, "are you serious?" I dragged a stool from under my work bench, plopped it down, "Who’s first?"

What came next was predictable, "you have any idea what you’re doing?...you ever done this before?....you’re not going to f*#k up my head" was the gist of it. All I said was "Who got the guts to go first?" That’s how The Tank got started.

Tom, an Arkansas boy, stood up and said "Well, I’m in.... if he screws mine up, I can shave my head, and then I’ll shave his, too." He sat down on the stool, calling my bluff. I reached behind me to a box of stuff from my dad’s, pulled out a white sheet, snapped it open and wrapped it around his neck. Then the clippers, Oster 76 was emblazoned on them. I turned them on, and they ground away. "Wait a sec, they need oil." So, a little 3-in-one like my dad used to do and they purred like a sewing machine. The box had another set of Wahl clippers, and red attachments. Everything you would need.

"So how much of a haircut do you want?" Tom said "well, you know, like when we go to that place up near the main gate." "A little-bit on top, and short on the sides, right?" He nodded, and I confidently put a number 3 guard on the clippers, turned them on, held the back of his head with my left hand, and pushed the clippers straight down the middle. And so it went. When I got the top cut, I removed the guard, and clipped the sides, leaving some hair at the top of each side. Then I came back with the clippers and my comb, making the transition from side to top. I took the Wahl’s and oiled the blade, opened the cutters, and tapered the back of his neck, finishing with the cutters closed and there it was. My first "never tell them—haircut. I carefully removed the white sheet, shook out his dark brown hair, and said "Anybody else?"

Andy was next on the stool. "Buzz it all same length." The rest followed suit. The only difficulty was Jerry who had more of an Ivy-league cut. By the time I got him on the stool I was feeling pretty confident, and he turned out fine. In an hour I cut everybody’s hair, somebody asked, "what do we pay you?" So I said.... today it’s free. Bring beer next time you come over. If this is something we do all the time, we’ll figure it out.

That’s how TANK BARBERS began. We were assigned to a Tank unit. And word spread, so Saturday and Sunday afternoons I was in the garage cutting hair. I did a little Craigslist shopping and found a chair, got some trimmers for the short hairs on the back of the neck, and several real Barber capes that could be easily washed. $5 bucks a cut. Within a month I had recouped my expenses.

When it was time to re-up, I decided that barbering was a better path for me, so with the G-I bill, I enrolled in Barber School and did my time. I apprenticed with some cool guys on the other side of town, first doing simple cuts and kid’s buzzes. Later, they let me do more complicated cuts. In the end, I completed my apprenticeship, stayed with them for a few months to build-up hours, and took my license exam and passed with flying colors.

All along the way Pamela " my girlfriend " was after me to open my own place. She was sure I would do fine, I just needed encouragement. So, with my license in hand (she actually got it framed) I began looking for a space. We found a small building not far from our home, on the highway to the Army Base. Water, electricity, bathroom in the back, everything I needed. One wall was long enough for me and, if I wanted, for another Barber. Pam and I cleaned and scrubbed; we painted the walls and put down black and white linoleum tiles. A friend helped with the sinks and drains and waterlines. I found towels and Sani-strips online. I got a couple of Craftsman mechanic’s benches. She found waiting chairs at a flea market, and I traded my old barber’s chair for a newer model. I discovered one of those spinning barber poles for the front.

We set the date for the grand opening. Put out flags that said BARBER SHOP, I sent e-mails to all my buddies from the service and told them to come. Finally, the day arrived, my new sign was unveiled, "TANK BARBER SHOP." There was actually a line for first haircuts at The Tank!

I was lucky, I guess. It turned out to be a great location, word of mouth spread, walk-ins started as soon as we opened, I was busy all day, I usually had to turn off the spinning barber pole in the afternoon just to get out by six. By the fourth month I knew I would have to get a helper, and as I was making that decision, Tom " my first "customer" from that day in the garage - stopped by. It seems he also had been bitten by the barber bug. He’d been to school, was looking for a place to apprentice and get his hours. "Have I got a deal for you.... "I told him. We shook hands, and two weeks later we rolled in his new chair, and the next morning Tom went to work.




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