A barber with bang Town legend: After nearly five decades, customers aren't gun-shy about returning to the chairs under Clif Simns' antique muzzleloader.

October 27, 1995|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

ROCK HALL — An article Oct. 27 in The Sun on Rock Hall barber Clif Simns should have stated that Mr. Simns has been a barber for 67 years and has been married to his wife, Rebecca, for 65 years.

The Sun regrets the errors.

ROCK HALL -- The barber pole is small and a little faded. No matter -- everybody in town knows Clif Simns will cut hair for $3 in his small white shop on Sharp Street; he's been doing it as long as anyone, including him, can remember.

Mr. Simns, a lifelong resident of this remote community at the tip of Kent County, has been a barber for 46 of his 92 years and has no plans to retire. The state doesn't keep records of licensees' ages, so it's hard to tell if Mr. Simns is the oldest working barber in Maryland. But "it's a good guess," says Kathleen Harryman of the State Board of Barbers.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"I was barbering three years before I got married, and I've been married 43 years," Mr. Simns says in his soft voice.

Business stops temporarily -- no one has come in to sit under the antique 8 1/2 -foot, 72-pound punt gun that hangs over the mirror ** where Mr. Simns wields the clippers. So he rests in the barber chair while the afternoon sun dapples the worn linoleum and a soap opera plays quietly on an old black-and-white television.

"That gun right now is up for sale," Mr. Simns explains. The oversized firearm is a muzzleloader -- uses a pound each of shot and powder -- and he has had it about 30 years.

The gun is somewhat famous locally -- one city councilman remembers it from childhood trips for a haircut. "When I was little, I used to get my hair cut in there and I was always afraid that gun would fall on my head!" says David Jones.

If the gun is a local institution, so is its owner. Mr. Simns has had a full and varied career. Decoy carver. Retired waterman (his son Larry is president of the Maryland Waterman's Association). Boat builder. Fishing guide. Former newspaper photographer. Hunter. Horse trainer. Former town movie censor.

He knows everybody, and folks here say more than a little local politicking has been known to happen in the dusty shop just down the street from the fire hall and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

"It's a hotbed of politics," says Michael Downes, Rock Hall's town administrator. "They all go in there. Before it hits the street, it hits Clif Simns' shop."

But, in the way of small towns, the politics don't show much. Instead, there's just a steady trickle of people in the shop all day long. Some get haircuts. Others just stop by to say hello.

"You've got to watch him," jokes town police Sgt. E. F. Williams as he puts his head in the door for a quick greeting.

After he leaves, the door opens again. Gus Durante, a customer of 40 years' standing, has come in for a trim. He sits in the chair under the gun, and Mr. Simns carefully drapes a blue-and-white striped bib around him before turning on the electric clippers, surprisingly steady in his veined hand. "Not too high in the back," Mr. Durante says, and Mr. Simns nods.

As gray hair drops to the floor, Mr. Durante asks, "How many haircuts you given?" Mr. Simns thinks for a moment before replying, "I'd like to know!" The two men chuckle together with the ease of long association, and the talk turns to decoy carving, something Mr. Simns does a day or two a week.

Mr. Simns finishes up and Mr. Durante stands to glance at himself in the mirror. "Good for another thousand miles!" he concludes. He lingers a while before paying Mr. Simns $4 and departing to finish cutting the grass at his house near Rock Hall.

The door bangs again. It's the state licensing inspector, Clarence Schneiders and his wife, Helen.

"I don't like getting near that gun!" Mr. Schneiders says as his wife reaches up over the mirror to get down Mr. Simns' license. They chat as Mr. Schneiders glances around the shop and checks off the inspection form. "I come down to see his decoys," Mrs. Schneiders explains. She and her husband live in Elkton and he inspects barbers in eight counties on the Shore.

Does Mr. Simns pass? Of course, although Mrs. Schneiders says of the shop in a conspiratorial aside, "This one's unusual."

The Schneiderses should know. They've been inspecting Mr. Simns' shop for 15 years. The first year they came in, they were finding a few violations amid the band saws, wood stove, coyote pelt, gun, wood shavings, wooden decoys and general clutter of a long life's work. Until the vice president of the local bank spoke up from his spot in the chair.

"He said, 'You can't fail him -- he's cut my hair ever since I was a kid!' " Mr. Schneiders explains. And that was that.

Mr. Simns doesn't even look at his copy of the inspection form before folding it and putting it behind the cash register, where it joins old pictures, faded business cards and dusty papers.

"I know it's not all right, but I'm not going to worry about it," he says with a shrug.

A blue Volkswagen bug pulls into the parking lot. George Stieler has just driven up from Chestertown to have his hair cut. Why, Mr. Simns, 15 miles from Chestertown?

"I love him!" Mr. Stieler explains as he enters the shop, another satisfied customer taking part in a Rock Hall tradition.

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