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Professor cuts his own hair, saves more than $7,500

This article was published December 17, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.

After his haircut, Bruce Plopper stands by a metal barber pole at Missions Barber College in Conway. Plopper holds his mirror and almost 40-year-old electric clippers, which he has used to cut his own hair. He started cutting his hair 50 years ago to save money, and he estimated that he’s saved at least $7,500. However, Plopper said, he likes his professional haircut and will hang up his clippers.

CONWAY — Bruce Plopper’s last two professional haircuts were 50 years apart.

He didn’t become Rapunzel in the meantime; he cut his own hair.

Plopper, 72, went to a barber on Nov. 21, 1967, to look nice to meet his then-girlfriend’s parents at Thanksgiving.

For the next five decades, the Conway man cut his own hair, which he estimates saved him at least $7,500.

He celebrated the 50-year anniversary of self-styling by getting a haircut at Missions Barber College in Conway.

Plopper settled into a barber chair, where Aaron Jackson draped Plopper with a black-and-white cape with a moustache motif.

“This is your haircut? Looks pretty good,” Jackson said as he combed through Plopper’s short hair.

Plopper said the back of his hair was “kind of scruffy,” because cutting it himself is tricky.

“This feels so unusual to be attended to,” Plopper said. “Usually, it’s just the cat watching.”

Plopper said he started experimenting with cutting his own hair and that of his college roommate in 1965 at Michigan State University. The first haircut he gave the guy was awful, Plopper said.

“I cut the back of his hair 5 inches above his neck, straight across. He was a good sport,” Plopper said, adding that his barbering skills improved with practice.

Students weren’t allowed to advertise in the dorms, so Plopper put a note on the door: “Is your hair too long? Inquire within.”

Plopper charged 50 cents for his haircuts, and he had five or six customers a month. (He even shaved one student’s hairy back.)

“It was just a little spending money,” he said, and he bought things like Beatles albums with it. “Record albums were $2.99 back then.”

He’s only had two sets of clippers. Since 1980, he’s used a Scotsman-brand electric clipper, which he bought in Los Angeles.

He’s never cut the hair of his wife, Debbie, but he gave haircuts to their daughter, Kelly, 28, until she was about 5, and to their son, John, 33, until he got “too squirmy,” Debbie said.

Plopper, a retired journalism professor who taught at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said he did research to determine that he’s saved at least $7,500 by cutting his own hair.

“What I did was go to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics website to see what haircuts cost,” he said. The furthest he could go back was 1968, when the average haircut was $1.42. In 2017, the average is $29 “and some change,” he said.

The haircut at Missions Barber College cost $6, but owner Bruce Wilhite said, “It’s on me.”

Wilhite checked Jackson’s work when he finished Plopper’s hair. “He did a fine job,” Wilhite said of Jackson.

“Super job,” Plopper said.

Although Wilhite said Plopper’s 50-year hiatus from professional haircuts is unusual, Wilhite has had many young customers who have grown up having their parents cut their hair. Then they come to college in Conway and wander in for a haircut.

Wilhite has occasionally been so impressed with people’s skills that he has successfully encouraged them to enroll in the barber college.

“One thing we try to do is educate the public,” Wilhite said. “We have shirts we used to sell, ‘Keep the art alive — support your local barber.’ We are not your local barber, but we’re the start.”

Jackson and Wilhite examined Plopper’s almost 40-year-old clippers with fascination. Wilhite plugged in the vintage appliance just so he could listen to it hum.

It took just a few minutes for Plopper to get his hair cut, and he declined an eyebrow trim or complimentary mustache trim. He gave Jackson the $6 that Wilhite refused.

Plopper looked in the mirror and admired the neat line on the back of his hair.

“You can take that to the bank,” he said.

He’s decided to hang up his clippers for good.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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