Decades of cuts and conversation
WHEN EARNIE BAKER BEGAN barbering in 1961, most of his customers were asking for flat tops or ski jumps.
The ski jump was basically a burr with a tuft of hair left sticking up in front which—when stiffened with a dab of Butch hair wax—somewhat resembled its name.
More than six decades and many hairstyles later, Earnie Baker, at 83, is still barbering full-time. His cluttered appointment book contains names of several customers who drive from two counties away for scissor cuts and conversation at his one-man shop, the Hair Corral, on a side street just off U.S. Highway 127 in west Frankfort.
“The reason I’m still working is I enjoy what I do,” he says. “I’ve got people that come back every two weeks just for conversation.”
At one time, his shop was on the Capital Plaza, near the heart of downtown Frankfort, and had five barbers. Its location made it a popular stop for several Kentucky governors and other high-ranking state officials. The shop relocated in 2018 as the Plaza was being cleared for other development, but some of the governors who’d been his customers followed Baker to the new location and kept coming for haircuts several years after leaving office.
On his wall hang photos of seven Kentucky governors who once were regulars: Lawrence Wetherby (though he was already out of office), Bert Combs, Edward Breathitt, Louie Nunn, Wendell Ford, Julian Carroll and Paul Patton.
Baker recalls that Nunn was likable, easy to talk with, and may have had the thickest hair of any of the governors. Combs always enjoyed talking about eastern Kentucky, where both he and Baker had grown up; Combs in Clay County, and Baker in rural Laurel County, where his parents farmed and were consumer-members of what now is Jackson Energy.
Over the years, more often than not, the conversations in Baker’s shop have been interrupted with laughter regardless of who was in the barber’s chair. He recounts the day his friend, the late Bill Jennings, came into the shop while Patton was getting a trim.
“Governor, with all your money,” said Jennings, “it looks like you could afford to get a good haircut.”
Baker says none of the governors ever asked his political affiliation, though most did ask for his vote, and occasionally one would ask his opinion about an issue facing the state.
Wetherby liked to talk about hunting, and Ford, Carroll and Patton had down-to-earth personalities and could tell good stories, Baker recalls. He remembers Breathitt as pleasant but quiet. All the governors usually tipped him, and Carroll used to bring him a country ham every year.
Among several other notables who’ve sat in his chair was former University of Kentucky basketball star, Bill Spivey, who was one of the first 7-footers to play college basketball.
Then there was the small boy whose hair Baker was cutting years ago when the youngster looked up and asked: “Where do you work?”
BYRON CRAWFORD is Kentucky’s storyteller—a veteran television and newspaper journalist known for his colorful essays about life in Kentucky.