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A Cut Above the Rest

Shipp giving his great-nephew, Gage England, a haircut before his school picture day in 2021. Photo submitted

By Katrina England


Hart Co. News-Herald


If you know James “Pee Wee” Shipp, you know that on any given day, you can find him enjoying his well-earned retirement on the golf course or out in the middle of the lake fishing for crappie.

However, few others could tell the tales he can of his years as a barber in the military.

Shipp first went into the military in 1959, though he’d been a barber at Fort Knox before he was even drafted.

“I had an uncle, Ira Druen, and he was a barber at Fort Knox and was manager of a barber shop,” said Shipp. “When me and Bobby Druen got out of barber school, we asked him if he’d get us a job over there, and he did. That was in 1958.”

After Shipp was drafted into the army, he was sent to the Nike Hercules Missile Battalion in Alaska.

“The battalion was located near Eielson Air Force Base,” said Shipp. “As a matter of fact, our barracks were on base, but the missile site was out on the mountaintop.”

The Army guard station where Shipp stayed was only big enough for a chair and a phone. Location: near Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. Photo submitted

Shipp served as a security officer working out of a small shack, which was only big enough for a chair and a telephone.

Once he returned home, he went back to cutting hair at Fort Knox, while his wife, Olivia Shipp served as a nearby beautician.

“I was cutting hair before I was drafted into the army, and up until about 2 weeks before I got out,” said Shipp. “I went right back to work where I left. They kept my chair open.”

Shipp was actually inducted a second time, on October 10 of 1961, during the Berlin Crisis. This time, he worked in the supply room with the National Guard Unit from Bowling Green.

In the mid-1960’s, he cut the hair of Cincinnati Reds left-handed pitcher Billy McCool, as well as Chicago White Sox Shortstop Ron Hansen, both professional baseball players who were both beginning their military duties.

At times, Shipp even ventured out to throw a baseball with Jim Frye, who was, at the time under contract as a right-handed pitcher with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I don’t think Jim Frye ever made it to the Dodgers, but he was under contract,” said Shipp. “I’d get out there in the street at the barber shop, and when they’d come in, I’d catch him. He’d throw the ball so fast, it went through my catchers mitt one time. I got scared and I quit catching because I said if I missed that ball and it hit me, it would kill me.”

He also cut the hair of University of Kentucky basketball center, Thad Jaracz, when he was inducted into the Army.

“That’s where my guard station was at on the big mountain, and the missile site was right there behind me,” explained Shipp of the photograph. “Our barracks were on base, but the missile sites were out on the mountaintop.” Photo submitted

“I cut 99 heads of hair at the reception station one morning before breakfast, and I ate breakfast at 8:00,” said Shipp. “I started to work at 5 in the morning, and I ate breakfast at 8:00…I also worked at the reception station for 2 years. That’s where you’d get your first haircut, and where you were inducted into the army.”

Once, when a young man with long hair came in for induction, Shipp asked him if he wanted to keep any of his hair. Thinking he meant on his head, the young man excitedly said yes. Shipp aggravated him and told him to hold out his hand.

“That was back when everybody had long hair,” he said.

Shipp also cut the post commander’s hair once, and then had the honor of taking him fishing at Nolin Lake.

After he left the military, Shipp cut hair in Hardyville near the crossroads.

“William Devore had a clothing store, and he had a room in the front that was set aside for cutting hair,” said Shipp. “I started over there in 1972, and I quit in 1976.”

On May 1, 1976, Shipp started working with the Department of Fish & Wildlife, where he had a full career and retired in April of 1997.

Occasionally, he still gives haircuts to family members, and he always seems right at home behind a chair with a pair of clippers.

It also leaves one to wonder, if he cut 99 heads of hair in a matter of 3 hours one day, how many haircuts did he give during the decade and a half that he was cutting hair? And how many soldiers and notable people did he meet along the way?

“I was cutting hair before I was drafted into the army, and up until about 2 weeks before I got out,” said Shipp. “(After returning from Alaska) I went right back to work where I left. They kept my chair open.” Photo submitted






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