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Our Towns: Old-fashioned barber retires after 52 years, countless haircuts

  • Tom Gullage cuts a client's hair on Wednesday morning, July 24, 2013 at his barber shop, Tom's Barber Shop in downtown Franklin. Gullage spent his last week before his retirement cutting the hair of many of the loyal customers he's had over the last 52 years as a barber. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Tom Gullage cuts a client's hair on Wednesday morning, July 24, 2013 at his barber shop, Tom's Barber Shop in downtown Franklin. Gullage spent his last week before his retirement cutting the hair of many of the loyal customers he's had over the last 52 years as a barber.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Tom Gullage's appointment book for his barber shop in downtown Franklin is filled with the names of many of his regular customers. As people left, he continued to schedule them appointments for a couple of weeks down the road with the barber that will take over his shop after his retirement. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Tom Gullage's appointment book for his barber shop in downtown Franklin is filled with the names of many of his regular customers. As people left, he continued to schedule them appointments for a couple of weeks down the road with the barber that will take over his shop after his retirement.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Tom Gullage cuts a client's hair on Wednesday morning, July 24, 2013 at his barber shop, Tom's Barber Shop in downtown Franklin. Gullage spent his last week before his retirement cutting the hair of many of the loyal customers he's had over the last 52 years as a barber. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Tom Gullage's appointment book for his barber shop in downtown Franklin is filled with the names of many of his regular customers. As people left, he continued to schedule them appointments for a couple of weeks down the road with the barber that will take over his shop after his retirement. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

After 52 years and more than 200,000 haircuts, Tom Gullage put down his clippers yesterday for the very last time. And his scissors, his straight razor, his strop and every other tool it takes to run a good, old-fashioned barber shop.

“When I was 14 is when I decided to do this,” he said. “I always enjoyed sitting in barber shops and waiting for my haircut and watching the barbers with their scissors and smelling the barber shop.”

Gullage has run Tom’s Barber Shop, a single-chair shop, at 321 Central St. in Franklin for the last 13 years. But his first gig as a barber started in 1962 on Park Street in Concord at the American Barber Shop. In 1969, he opened his own shop

in Contoocook. He stayed there for 12 years, then did a five-year stint as a jail guard, where he also cut hair. In 1986, he returned to the trade by opening another shop in Tilton. Construction eventually forced him to move, landing him in Franklin.

He officially retired yesterday at age 69. He tore the rotator cuff in his shoulder last year and will need a second operation soon to repair it. This spring, he decided it was time to retire. The injury doesn’t affect his ability to cut, but it causes a lot of pain.

“When I start with the first customer the pain starts, and it just gets worse through the day. Otherwise I’d probably keep cutting hair till I’m 80,” he said.

A number of New Hampshire’s famous political figures have sat in Gullage’s chair for a trim over the years, including the late U.S. senator Warren Rudman when he was a young lawyer and former governor Sherman Adams, who also served as President Eisenhower’s chief of staff.

Beyond the famous faces, Gullage has built a loyal following among men looking for a nice, clean cut. Jack Carhart of Hill has been coming to Tom’s Barber Shop every six weeks since it opened in Franklin; Mark Bigelow of Sanbornton has been there every three to four weeks since Gullage opened in Tilton in the ’80s; and Frank Robbins brought his now 22-year-old son there for his first haircut and has been coming ever since.

What keeps them coming back?

“Attention to detail,” Bigelow said, as Gullage carefully shaved the hair around his ears.

Gullage maintains what he calls an old-fashioned barber shop. He starts the cut with his clippers, then uses his scissors to trim. Next comes the straight razor, which he said many barbers don’t even use anymore. A strap made of leather on one side and canvas on the other, called a strop, hangs from his barber chair, a 1961 Koken. He uses it for stropping the razor, the action of removing any burrs created from stray hairs.

“You use the canvas side to bend the burr back, then the leather smoothes it. That way you’re not scratching,” Gullage explained. “And you still need to use a stone to sharpen it.”

His successor, a young man from Boscawen named Joe Fournier, will operate the shop in the same way. Gullage is leaving everything but his clippers and radio behind for Fournier, including a date book full of appointments for next week. In a way, handing the store over to Fournier is a symbolic bookend to his career as a barber – his first boss when he became a barber in Concord was also named Joe Fournier, although the two aren’t related.

Many of Gullage’s customers said they plan to give Fournier a try. After all, Gullage trusts him.

“I’ll give the new guy a try, if Tom’s okay with him,” Robbins said.

Gullage and his wife Gail plan to put their Northfield home on the market and build a cabin on land they own in Pittsburg. Maybe they’ll spend the winters down south, he says. In his future, Gullage sees lots of fishing and woodcutting. One of his grandsons recently asked him if that future also includes haircutting.

“He said ‘Papa, you gonna cut my hair when you’re retired?’ And I said no, and he says ‘Why not?’ And I said ‘I’m not gonna cut another head of hair when I retire, I’m all done,’ ” Gullage said.

After 52 years, does the thought of putting down his clippers make him sad?

“No. At first it bothered me, but then you put it in your head that, well, you’re gonna have to do it anyway, so you just change your way of thinking, that’s all,” he said. “I’m excited.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @kronayne.)

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