The Overland Trail is equipped with (what is thought to be) the sole operating streamliner era railroad barbershop in the world. Once a common feature aboard the premier trains of old ... the railroad barbershop succumbed to the realities of the jet age in the mid 50s. The honor of carrying the last barbershop probably falls to the famous Super Chief, flagship of the former Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. The train, affectionately known as “The Train to the Stars”, because of its Hollywood celebrity patrons, lost several premium services on January 10th 1954 including the barbershop.

Before the jetage, the business traveler made up a very important percentage of the railroads ridership ... and they needed to arrive at their destination clean, well groomed and “dapper”, if they wanted to “make that sale”. The onboard barbershop made all that possible as quite typically, the barber not only provided the tonsorial arts at speed, but also presided over a shower bath and pressing services as well. Indeed, the Overland Trail sports a quite substantial 32 volt “American Beauty” pressing iron. An annex off of the barbershop provides a complete public shower with all of the amenities ... toilet, vanity mirror, clothes locker, sink and of course, a spacious “monel metal” lined shower.

In this new millennium, the barbershop elicits “dropped jaws of unbelief” as visitors and patrons pass down the hall way and spy the barbershop! If underway during one of our frequent public “day trips” out of Los Angeles (or the occasional steam special anywhere around the western USA), chances are good that you'll find our stalwart barber extraordinare, Earl Nickles manning the shop and providing that time honored tradition ... the tonsorial arts at speed, while transverseing the silvery rails from city to city.

I met Earl at the Orange Empire Railway Museum in the mid 80s. I found out that we shared similar railroad and spiritual passions ... and I found out one thing more ... he was a barber by trade! At the time, I was nearing completion of the lounge car (at least enough to operate) and had our maiden voyage looming (as part of the train that would be pulled by the magnificent and beautifully restored, 1927 built, ex-AT&SF steam locomotive, 3751 ... also making its public “maiden run”). Naturally, I had to have a barber aboard for this extraordinary journey (from LA to Barstow to Bakersfield and return) and hoped that Earl would be interested in a “busman’s holiday”. Although Earl was beside himself with the prospect of “cutting hair at speed”, unfortunately, he was unable to “open the shop” on the Overland's first outing as a full-fledged barbershop lounge car in decades.

Debbie's childhood friend, Eugenie Quintal had a brother in law who cut hair, John Dematos (affectionately known as “John the barber” to the Hatricks). It was John who made the maiden voyage with us and resurrected a dead tradition in grand style ... behind a steam locomotive in December of 1991.

Earl has been THE barber of the Overland Trail, but other barbers have had a chance to helm the last operating barbershop: Sandy in Oregon has made three trips, Lee Weaver several trips, with cameos by John Dematos, Doyle Henderson, Ed Holt and C. Ford Haskel.

Some have said (my thoughts as well), that the barber’s chair is the “best seat in the house” I’m closing in on 50 haircuts. Sorry, ... doubt that anybody in the world will ever break my record in the Guinness category of “hair cuts in moving railway car”.

“YOU sir / madam, are you next? Please have a seat”



copyright 2008

last updated 11/6/08