Scanning business records that he had collected, Mel Young tried to figure out just how many heads of hair he had cut in his 53 years as a barber.

The numbers are staggering — 261,820 haircuts. That's just under 5,000 a year, nearly 100 a week and an average of 19 per day.

"I cut a lot of people free," Young said. "I cut the Mormon missionaries that would come to me and I'd give them a haircut. And when I go to a nursing home and give them a haircut, I don't charge them."

Young, who will turn 83 later this month, hung up his clippers for good Dec. 28. He had been working with Tina Lohman at Clip Joint, which is now located on Applegate Street in Philomath.

"I cut hair for so long that when people come through the door, I know what they want," Young said. "And I've learned not to cut it too short because I can always take it off. Young people haven't learned that yet. It takes time."

The art of conversation is also important.

"You have to listen and when you listen, you tell them how you feel," he said. "People who sat in my chair have come from all walks of life — psychiatrists, doctors, lawyers."

In fact, Young said he was able to talk to many of those customers in a way to get himself some free advice.

"Then they get out of the chair and they pay me," he chuckled. "That's pretty good."

Born and raised in Centralia, Washington, Young served in the military before ending up in Eugene in the 1960s. He first worked for a couple of car dealerships.

"Then I had a bad day ... where everybody was on me and I thought, 'You know, I want to be my own boss,'" Young said. "I got my hair cut at the barber college and they kept telling me, 'Hey, go to barber college. You'd be a good barber.'"

So, Young quit the dealership, enrolled in school and picked up a night job at a lumber company.

"I'd check in at midnight and punch out at 8 o'clock in the morning, go home and shower, go to barber college by 9, get out of barber college by 5, go home, eat dinner, go to sleep and my wife would wake me up at 11:30 and I'd go punch in at midnight. That went on for a year."

Back in those days, Young said you had to go through a two-year process — one year in the classroom and another working as an apprentice.

"And then you had to go back and take your tests all over again," he added. "I wanted it so bad; I didn't flunk any of my tests. I got good grades all the way through and I was happy about it. When you want something bad enough, you'll get it."

Young ended up on the campus of Oregon State University in 1967 cutting hair at the Memorial Union. He worked there until 1971 when the barbershop had to cut its staff because "all the kids were growing long hair, protesting the Vietnam War."

That year, Young fulfilled the desire to open his own business.

"I went out and started Mel's Barber Shop on Circle Boulevard and I was there for 30 years," he said.

Young, who lives in Corvallis, had planned to retire several years ago, but one of his customers, an attorney named Bob Ringo, convinced him in 2000 that he needed to open up a barbershop in Philomath.

Young remembers how it all fell into place.

"He looked me right in the eye and he says, 'Mel, you're too young to retire. I'm going to build a building in Philomath and I want you to open a barbershop,'" Young said. "I said, 'I don't want to do that, Bob.' So he left."

About a week later, Young said Ringo was back with the same pitch. Then he showed up a third time.

"He said, 'I want you to go with me. I want to take you to Philomath.' ... He parked out on Eighth Street and there was no building there, just a raunchy-looking lot," Young said. "And he got out of the car and opened up the back and I said to myself, 'He must want me back there.'

"He rolled out the plans for that building that's there now and says, 'I want you to put a barbershop right here,'" Young added. "And I said, 'OK, Bob, I'll do it for you. But I'll only do it for a couple of years.'"

Of course, he stayed for more than a couple of years. Young said he didn't have a lease and said Ringo "let me work there as long as I wanted to work there. He was good to me."

That's how the Clip Joint got started. Lohman entered the picture just last year when she walked into Mel's Barber Shop in Corvallis and submitted a resume.

"About a month later, he says, 'yes, hang your stuff up and get to work.' From there, it's come to this and it's awesome," Lohman said. 

Young sold the business to Lohman in June and she moved to its current spot at 1112 Applegate St., with a reopening date of Aug. 15.

"I never thought I would own a barbershop. It's a lot of work, a lot more than I thought," said Lohman, who has worked in the field for several years. "Every gamut of hair-cutting, I've done it, so this is where I belong and this is what I love."

The Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce did a ribbon-cutting Saturday, a special event that also served as a retirement farewell for Young. In fact, Young passed a symbolic key to Lohman as part of the ceremony.

"Barbering was good to me — the people were good to me," he said. "I was very successful and I'm going to miss Tina. She's so good, she's a good person. Of course, I miss a lot of people that I've barbered with."

Lohman feels the same way about Young.

"Mel is an amazing man and I love him," she said.

For the time being, the second chair at Lohman's Clip Joint will remain empty.

So, what's next for the new retiree?

"I don't know but I'm not going to sit at home ... I'll get out from under my wife's feet," Young said. "I don't want to hear her say, "I want you out of here by 8 and in by 5.'"

But all kidding aside, Young does have his eye on a couple of activities that he really enjoys.

"I'm not looking back, I'm moving forward," he said. "I like to garden, I like to cook. As a matter of fact, I'm making a surprise thing (dinner) today for my wife. She doesn't know what I'm up to. I like to cook, I can cook anything."

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