When the unmarried railroad workers ended their shifts at the railroad shops in Brainerd on Fridays, they often picked up their paychecks and headed straight to a nearby barbershop for a haircut and shave before going out for the evening.
Many of those single men relied on barbers like Art Johnson and his son, Bob, to make them look good for a night on the town. Most hadn't shaved for a week. Although the straight-edge blade was always sharp, it was sometimes a chore to shave through the men's coarse, thick facial hair, recalled Bob Johnson.
After 47 years of cutting hair and trimming beards in Brainerd, Johnson is retiring at the end of October and closing his barbershop.
As a teenager, Johnson swept up in his father's barbershop, then went to barber school in St. Paul to become a barber himself. For about 70 years, the Johnsons have cut men's hair in Brainerd.
Art Johnson began barbering in Brainerd in the 1930s and worked with his son until 1984. The eldest Johnson was 86 when he retired. He died in 1994.
Johnson, 68, began working with his father at their Front Street barbershop. In 1968, they moved to the East Brainerd Mall. Since 1987, Johnson has had his barbershop at 415 Washington St. N.E.
About a dozen of Johnson's clients are the same clients his father once had decades ago.
"He loved it," Johnson said of his father. "He loved people and that's what I'm going to miss, the people. We had characters back then. We still have them now."
Johnson became the first barber in Brainerd to require his customers to make an appointment, something he phased in during the late 1960s, he said. It allowed Johnson to plan his day better, and, he concedes, allowed him to play more golf in the summer months, one of his favorite pastimes.
"It was more convenient for me, and it fit my clientele very well," said Johnson. "They have busy schedules and they knew when they could get their hair cut."
Johnson is also a painter and an experienced woodworker. He built all the cabinetry in his barbershop. He enjoys crafting small carousel horses out of wood and painting them. Many of his horses, made out of basswood, are on display at his barbershop. He's made 14 of the carousel horses.
"I've always loved carousel horses," said Johnson. "As a kid, you run around the carousel looking for the best horse you could find, and if you didn't find it, you'd get mad."
Johnson also is retiring for health reasons. He's had diabetes for 41 years and felt he was beginning to get too tired to work. He and his wife, Joanne, have three adult children and two granddaughters.
Ron Worms, Baxter, came into Johnson's barbershop for one last trim last week. He said he's been coming to Johnson since he was in high school more than 40 years ago.
Father Ray Cossette said he's unsure where he'll go now for his monthly haircut once Johnson retires.
"I feel bad," said Johnson. "They're like family. They really, truly are."
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