ORLAND — Kim Norton has kept men in the northeastern Indiana area dapper for the past 50 years.
Norton, who went to school to be a barber and spent a year and a half apprenticing under now-retired Jim Wire, opened his barbershop in downtown Orland on Oct. 1, 1970.
“It’s not hard work. You’re not out in the weather, and you make good money,” said Norton last Friday as he cut Brady Henderson’s hair. “It’s been good. Been a good life — great people.”
Norton gave Henderson his first haircut. Now a young adult, Henderson dutifully returns and seems comfortable in Norton’s chair.
“All my cousins get their hair cut here,” said Henderson.
Around 500 regular customers come to Norton, some of them from many miles away, for a shave and a haircut. Norton says it’s probably not the hairstyle that draws them to Orland.
“I got a guy that drives up every time from Fort Wayne,” said Norton. “I think he likes the atmosphere. I think he likes being around guys and shooting the breeze.”
They talk about fishing and sports, not gossip like one might expect, said Norton.
The small barbershop has been gathering memories for five decades. The walls drip with memorabilia, some of it local, some international — everything from a bear head to a pink cowboy hat, and everything in between.
It started with a patch given to Norton 30 years ago by L.D. Thrush from the Civilian Conservation Corps.
“I stuck it up there,” said Norton, pointing to a wall that is now covered in patches.
After the CCC patch was hung, someone brought another patch. And then there were more.
“I don’t collect patches,” Norton said with amusement. “The only thing I collect is Orland memorabilia.”
But the barbershop wall collects patches, and so much more.
Among the items gifted to Norton are a large, red Pokagon Pop cooler, license plates and wildlife mounts. There is a tribute to long-time Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who during his controversial career made male inmates wear pink; a pair of pink shorts hanging on the wall bears Arpaio’s signature.
An average haircut
As Norton finished with a quick trim of Henderson’s eyebrows, Richard “Smitty” Smith walked in the barbershop door.
“Flat top?” Norton asked.
Smith nodded in the affirmative as he sat down in the chair and Norton draped him with a cape.
“I started coming here about 40 years ago,” said Smith. In those days, his hair was long, feathered on the sides and parted in the middle.
“He told me, ‘If you want a good haircut, you might go somewhere else,’” Smith recalls. Nevertheless, Smith let Norton style his 1980s coiffure. Smith said he liked the results.
Norton doesn’t do fancy work, recalling one time running an ad in The Herald Republican that said: “Just an average haircut. If you want a good haircut, you might go somewhere else.”
If you are worried about getting your hair done without the chance of interruption, Norton may also not be your man.
Saving the day
Beside Norton’s barber chair hangs his reflective yellow firefighter’s jacket and hat. His radio is always on and he is always ready to go to a crash scene, medical emergency or fire.
The call occasionally comes mid-customer.
“Sometimes the guy who is next in line finishes them up,” said Norton. Sometimes the customer just waits in the chair, or returns after Norton finishes his run.
“I’m usually only gone a half hour, 40 minutes,” he said.
Norton is the chief of Orland Fire Department through the end of the year. He has responded to approximately 9,000 calls as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician. He was instrumental in making the Orland department one of the first advanced life support fire rescue units in northeastern Indiana and helped establish the Steuben County Emergency Medical Service Reserve.
Norton received the Martin A. Werner Firefighter of the Year Award from the American Legion Department of Indiana in 1997, the Parkview Hospital Samaritan of the Year in 2004 and the State of Indiana EMS Commission Advanced/Basic EMT of the Year in 2007.
He celebrated 50 years with the department in June and 50 years of marriage to his Prairie Heights sweetheart, Mary, on Aug. 2.
“It feels like it’s been two lifetimes ago,” said Norton, who joined the department at 20 years old.
Kim and Mary have two daughters, Heather Davies, a professor at Fontbonne University in St. Louis, and Brooke Norton, a paramedic at Parkview LaGrange Hospital, and four grandchildren.
Kim is thinking about taking it a little easier, trying some woodworking and visiting his grandchildren in St. Louis more often. But he will remain one of two people always on call in Orland.
He might even sell the barbershop — to the right person. But until then, he’s going to keep offering an average haircut and an extraordinary experience at Kim’s Barber Shop in the little town of Orland.