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updated: 9/13/2013 7:43 AM

Catlin man sees society's changes

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  • Chuck Inman, 77, sits in his chair waiting for a customer at his barber shop in Catlin. Inman is celebrating his 50th year in the tonsorial arts.

    Chuck Inman, 77, sits in his chair waiting for a customer at his barber shop in Catlin. Inman is celebrating his 50th year in the tonsorial arts.
    Associated Press

Associated Press

CATLIN -- In Chuck Inman's barber chair, you get a good haircut and a good conversation.

This month, Inman is celebrating his 50th year in the tonsorial arts. Actually, he's been in Catlin a relatively shorter time -- only 47 years. Before that, he was in Tilton, and before that, high school in Paris.

He is a barber who does house calls.

"Chuck has always taken special care of his older customers," wife Hila says, and he knows everybody's stories.

When you interview Inman from the chair, you end up getting interviewed. For $10, you get a good haircut and a guy who has learned to listen -- and it's cheaper and less DUI-able than talking to a bartender.

For instance, he asks me where I had lived before. I mention Portland. A brother of his lived there. That turns into a long conversation about Mount St. Helens, the Washington state mountain that blew its top in 1980.

Cutting and styling are so ingrained in his hands that he actually listens to you when he talks.

"He tries to be a sympathetic ear. He lets you talk if that's what you want," says Kay Smoot, who shares a building in Catlin's crossroad with him. Her husband Ronald has been a customer of Inman's for decades.

"It's quite an accomplishment to stay in business that long," says Smoot, who owns a floral and gift shop.

Jenny Canaday, who brought cookies in for Inman's 50th year, says it's being a people person that keeps him cutting hair.

"The customers just love him," she says.

Former Oakwood High School football coach Marty McFarland starting coming to Inman for haircuts in 1970, when he was hired to teach and coach in the Catlin school.

He needed his hair off his shoulders and off his ears for the new job. And that's what his athletes got when they went to Inman.

McFarland later favored a burr cut.

"Chuck even bought a special razor for me," says the coach, who has the enviable problem of hair that's too thick.

The friendship has surpassed 40 years.

"I've been through his surgeries, and he's been through mine," McFarland says.

The coach has had hip surgeries, and the barber has had heart procedures.

Inman sold his building, which formerly housed a bank, to the Smoots seven years ago and started to wind down a little. He still works Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, but full retirement is not a near-term prospect.

"I'm pretty healthy," he says.

The lifetime's worth of cutting isn't all Inman has done.

Styling hair is a second or third career for the Vermilion County native, 77.

He sold shoes for a while. He also worked as a timekeeper in 1957 at an Esco Electric Steel factory in Danville

"When they laid people off, I got talked into barbering by a friend," he says.

He originally worked in a three-man shop. The state required 1,872 hours of cutting hair and barber college, as well as a 27-month apprenticeship. Barbers were unionized then, adding to the standards.

But he caught on pretty quickly, and he enjoyed the work.

"I like working person to person, talking to people about all different things," he says. "I like being my own boss."

Barbering was a man's world, and many men can remember the old days when barber shops might have a copy of Playboy magazine on a low table.

This was when men didn't cut women's hair -- and women didn't cut men's.

McFarland told the barber he was charging too little for a haircut at $7. Now, it's $10.

A haircut cost you $1.50 in 1963 when Inman started out -- unless you wanted a flat-top.

The GI-inspired variation on the crew-cut was popular at the time. Astronaut Gus Grissom sported one. One of Detective Dick Tracy's villains was named Flattop.

The flat-top was somewhat more challenging than other cuts. So flat-tops cost $1.75.

It was Inman's job to make the flat cut look good on men who didn't necessarily have the head to fit it.

There was the occasional "pointy-shaped" skull.

"It was hard to do on a man with an egg-shaped head, too," he recalls.

Inman doesn't have to think back too far; some of his customers still like flat-tops.

But they were going out of style in 1964, when he had a year in the business and the Beatles were near the start of their world dominance in music, movies, humor and hair.

The Beatles nearly killed the men's hair business.

A circa-1970 newspaper headline in his album asked if the barber pole was going to become extinct. Inman still has a small version of that pole near the door of his shop.

But he had to adapt to survive. First, young men didn't want to get their hair cut as often, or at all.

He remembers a dad who brought in his teen son for a forced haircut.

"The father grabbed the trimmers," Inman says, but he handed them back to the professional.

"After that, the kid wouldn't get into the car with his father. He walked all the way home to Tilton," about 4 miles away.

"I was one of the first in Vermilion County to go to Chicago to study men's design," he says.

He tried beauty school techniques on his family.

"At one time or another, everybody in the family had perms," Hila Inman says. They "have been blessed" with two daughters, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Perms aside, a stylist has to learn a lot of styles.

There's the crew cut, the mullet, the Ivy League, the bowl cut (Jim Carrey in "Dumb and Dumber"), the buzz cut, the Caesar cut and the comb-over (if Donald Trump ever shows up in Catlin).

Trump would be an earful for any stylist.

But Inman doesn't just listen. Before there was Google, you could learn a lot from Inman.

He knows everybody and keeps up with events, buying The News-Gazette and the Commercial-News every day.

The regulars have come back for decades. The shop doesn't take appointments. People drop in on the days he works.

"Farmers come in out of the fields," he says.

Norman Tranchant hangs around the shop, chatting after getting his ears lowered.

"I've been coming here since 1970, and I plan to keep on coming here," he says.

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