Drexel Findley looks back on barbering career in Plattsburg
Plattsburg barber Drexel Findley cuts the hair of Greg Tinnen, who enjoys a case of Boost.
Drexel Findley was raised on a farm in Allendale, Missouri, where normally the sons of farmers stick around and follow in their father’s footsteps. That was not the case for Drexel. He didn’t dream of bushels of corn, beef prices or litters of pigs. No, his lifelong dream was to be a barber after graduating from the high school in nearby Grant City.
“My dad wanted me to go to college, but I wasn’t cut out for that,” Findley said. “I always wanted to be a barber and knew that was the direction I needed to head.”
It was 1960 when Drexel received his high school diploma. He worked for a time with his father on the farm, but soon headed to Kansas City to learn the barber trade. In those days, barbers were required to serve a two-year apprenticeship and he found a barbershop in King City, Missouri, where he could fine tune his trade.
He learned of an opportunity opening up in Plattsburg, so he and his wife, Martha, took off for a new life. On Easter Sunday in 1964, they moved into a house that would be their home until 2009.
The shop location was in the heart of a thriving business community on Plattsburg’s Main Street. Retail stores, appliance stores, variety stores, Western Auto and several car dealerships helped bring clients to town. Drexel’s warm and engaging personality allowed him to get to know his customers well. Like a good bartender who remembers what his customer likes to drink, a good barber has to remember how his customer likes his hair cut. Not just one time – each and every time.
Drexel’s personality and memory fit perfectly in the bustling capital city of Clinton County. The barber shop proved to be a hub of activity for youngsters and the older clientele. They offered more than just haircuts, straight edge shaves and shoulder and neck massages.
“We had a good business with pinball machines and soda pop machines for the kids,” he recalled. “In those days, parents could drop off their kids, two or three sometimes, to get haircuts. It was a different day back then.”
It was a first-come, first-serve situation at Drexel’s Barber shop. This situation sometimes led to the youngsters getting free haircuts when a busy businessman didn’t have time to wait. Drexel said that Bob Mick used to come in and he would quickly offer to pay the next in line to move up the pecking order, as did Cliff McFaddin.
“Cliff liked to get a haircut and massage and he would offer to pay for the youngsters waiting in line. There were some really happy youngsters when they got a free haircut,” Drexel recalled.
Not all days were busy, so Drexel’s was a place to get into a game of ‘cutthroat pitch.’ He said playing cards was a love of their Pepsi driver, Roger. When the card game was on, he would park his Pepsi truck right in the middle of Main Street and play cards. He also helped a fellow barber, Jim Plowman, get his start, allowing Jim to serve his two-year apprenticeship there. The lessons learned there must have paid off, as Jim continues to operate his long-time barbershop in Lathrop. \
When Saturday nights rolled around, Drexel and his wife would have dinner at Gardner and Ditto’s restaurant across the street from his barbershop. There they were treated to the home-style, delicious cooking of ‘Tootie’ Gardner. A small steak, potato, salad and drink would set you back $1.75.
“Tootie was a heck of a cook and it was a treat for us on Saturday night after a long week,” he said.
In those days, segregation was the order of the day, so dining was not open to people of color. In Plattsburg, there was another option, so often times Drexel and his wife would frequent Tillman’s Barbecue. The proprietor, Jack Tillman, was a talented man in the concrete business and likewise with his barbecue.
“We really liked it that we could all sit together and have something to eat and have a conversation,” Findley said.
Times changed and business slowed down as hairstyles trended longer with fewer haircuts. Therefore, in 1975, Drexel shut down and tried his hand at selling insurance. The first person he met in Plattsburg was insurance salesman Russell White. They became close friends and remain so today. However, unlike Russell, after a few years, Findley came back to the profession he loves.
He changed his location to the west side of Plattsburg on 116 Highway. The building was owned by Herman Vanover and they shared the space. The location proved to be a good one and his business grew. Once again, it was the right spot to get a good haircut, share some good stories and work on solving today’s problems.
“I’ve made a lot of good friends and I’ve lost a lot of them along the way,” he said. “I enjoyed the friendships and we had some great discussions and ways to solve today’s problems.”
Solving the world’s problems is just one aspect that has made it clear to Drexel that it is time to hang up the shears, and for good this time. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down his barbershop and with the dramatic changes needed, he knows his time has come to move on.
“The requirements are just too dramatic,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed it and I’m sure going to miss it.”