Quite a cut up

By Mark Baker | Living Here | |

The phone rings off the hook.

One Mayland “Pete” Peterson answers yet another call, as he’s been doing for almost 46 years.

“Red Rooster Barber Shop,” Peterson says. There’s a pause, and then: “You better get your butt in here, the shop has been sold.”

And so it went on Friday at the longtime barbershop on the University of Oregon campus, where Peterson, 73, has remained a fixture since first cutting hair there in the spring of 1970.

Sometimes, though, things happen fast in this world. Nothing, not even your favorite barber, lasts forever.

“I’ve been looking forward to retiring, I just didn’t realize that things would happen as quick as they have,” said Peterson, who bought the Red Rooster near the corner of 13th Avenue and Kincaid Street in 1972 or 1973 — it’s been too long to remember.

He bought the small shop from Nathan Shields, another longtime Eugene barber. And on Monday, he sold it back to him, more than four decades later.

Peterson had hoped to stay on part time, though, at the shop that Shields said will remain under the same name.

“I told him I’d like to work two, three days a week to supplement my Social Security income, and he just shook his head ‘No,’ ” Peterson said.

“He said, ‘I’d like you out of here right away,’ and I said, ‘Well, when?’ And he said, ‘Today.’ ”

Shields, 75, who said he sold the Red Rooster to Peterson back in the early ’70s to help start Man’s World, a downtown Eugene barbershop still in existence under the Overpark on Oak Street, said Peterson called him Monday and offered to sell it back, something they discussed last year.

“He says, ‘When do you want me out of here? And I says, ‘Tomorrow.’  ” Shields said. “I’m one of these people who doesn’t like to dilly-dally around.”

Shields’ daughter, Karyn Shields, who also cuts hair at Man’s World, will take Peterson’s chair at the Red Rooster, Nathan Shields said.

Peterson has worked alongside partner Jim Lavender at the three-chair shop for the past 21 years. Lavender will remain, and several of Peterson’s customers said they’ll start seeing Lavender now for their haircuts.

“We’ve been together 21 years, and I don’t think we’ve said anything bad about each other,” Lavender said. “That’s pretty amazing, to be in the same small space and not kill each other,” he joked.

Peterson didn’t want to disclose what he bought the shop for in the early 1970s or what he sold it for six days ago, other than to say, of course, it was more than what he paid for it.

“Not a hell of a lot, but yes,” Peterson said.

And with that, many quickly had to say goodbye to a man who they’ve come to love like a father or an uncle or maybe an old Army buddy.

A final cut

During the decades, since graduating from Eugene Barber College, owned by his uncle, Charles “Pete” Peterson, in 1966, he has cut the hair of everyone from the legendary trackman Steve Prefontaine to current UO President Michael Schill (who snuck in a final appointment at 8 a.m. Friday).

Peterson, in fact, said he has cut the hair of every UO president going back to Robert Clark, who held the office from 1969 to 1975.

“He’s friendly,” said Jim Terborg, interim dean at the UO’s Lundquist College of Business, who stopped in on Friday, as many did, for what he hoped would not be a final chat. “He’s a character. He’s honest. He’s got a heart of gold. He knows everybody.”

Terborg said Peterson has been cutting his hair for the last quarter-century. “I can’t remember the last time someone cut my hair other than Pete,” Terborg said.

The suddenness of his departure left Peterson and many of his clients in a weeklong state of forlorn.

“I want to say this is the first time I’ve ever cried in a barber chair,” said Nick Leonard, 30, also a recipient of one of Peterson’s final haircuts, early Friday afternoon, “but I probably did it as a little kid.”

Peterson has been cutting his hair since he was 2 or 3, Leonard said. His father, retired Lane County Judge Kip Leonard, has also been a longtime customer, since the elder Leonard graduated from the University of Oregon in 1970.

“The first bad haircut I got was here, and the last bad one was yesterday,” Kip Leonard joked when he stopped in on Friday.

Laughter filled the shop.

Nick Leonard said he got a voicemail from Bob Newland, the former North Eugene, UO and New Orleans Saints football star, telling him Peterson’s haircutting days were numbered.

“I knew it was coming, but I thought he was going to be here awhile,” Nick Leonard said. “I just had to come in. I’ve probably had 400 haircuts in here. I can probably count on one hand the number of people I’ve had a longer-term relationship with than Pete.”

As he buzzed the hair of Leonard, a 2003 South Eugene High graduate who lives in Eugene again after going off to school at Cornell University and now works for a New York City-based luxury real estate auction company, Peterson cried, too.

“Nick has been a … as I told his dad … I can’t talk,” Peterson said, tears streaming down his face. “I said, ‘He’s been like a son or a grandson. I knew this haircut was going to be the toughest. I’ve cut his hair since he was a little kid.”

When is was over, the two shared a manly bear hug. Then Peterson gave Leonard a June 2015 Playboy magazine, and Leonard left a $100 bill on the counter.

Peterson charged $15 a cut in the end, not having raised the price in years. He charged $3 when he started in 1970.

Fixin’ Pre’s hair

Peterson spent the past week dismantling what has become like a shrine to UO sports inside the shop.

Poster after poster of some of his more famous clients (Prefontaine, former UO and Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts, trackman Galen Rupp, etc.).

“Guys were going to a stylist and that kind of stuff,” Gary Zimmerman, an early 1980s UO all-American football player who went on to a Hall of Fame career in the pros as an offensive lineman, told The Register-Guard in 2010, when Peterson held a 40th anniversary party. “And I always went to a barber, and I went to Pete. He cuts hair on the side. The entertainment value’s worth more than the haircut. You go in there and get all the hot fishing stories and all the stuff like that.”

Peterson’s most prized possession? A page ripped from a 1975 day planner. Specifically, May 29, 1975. It was enclosed in a glass frame, next to a photo of Prefontaine with former UO track coach Bill Dellinger, before being boxed with everything else a few days ago.

Written in pencil in the 2 p.m. slot: “PRE,” with a line crossed through it.

It was a Thursday morning, Peterson recalled. “Pre came in. It was a case where he’d just walk in and sign his name in the book. He signed in (for a 2 p.m. haircut).

“And then awhile later, he came back and said, ‘I want to concentrate on the race.’ And so he drew a line through his name. Anyhow, I said, ‘OK, I’ll see ya’ tomorrow.’ And he went back to doing whatever he did for the day.”

Prefontaine, a 1972 Olympian in the 5,000 meters and expected to be a top contender for the gold medal in Montreal in 1976, ran his final race at Hayward Field that evening.

At about 12:30 a.m. on May 30, 1975, he was killed at age 24 in a single-car crash near Eugene’s Hendricks Park.

Peterson tears up again when he recalls hearing the next day of Pre’s death.

“My wife came in the bathroom. I was in the shower, and she told me that Pre had died. And here I’m gettin’ really … it was really hard.”

He recalled that it took some doing, but he was finally able to convince Pre he could help him run better with the right haircut, Peterson said. “I told him, first, get that hair out of your eyes. You don’t have to keep shakin’ your head. Every time you shake your head, you lose a step, and the guy behind you gains a step.

“And I said, ‘I can cut your hair so it’ll come out of your eyes, and … It. Will. Not. Slow. You. Down.”

Pre expressed concern Peterson would cut his hair too short.

“I says, ‘I’m not talkin’ about cutting all your hair off. I’m talkin’ about fixin’ it so you can run faster. And I says, ‘You worry about how much your shoes weigh, but you don’t care about all the weight on your head!’ ”

Like many of his clients over the years, the two became close friends, Peterson said.

“He was special, but again, he’s one of many special people who have come through these doors.”

Time to go

Peterson, an avid fisherman, will surely continue to do plenty of “hot fishing stories” in retirement. He and his wife, Shannon, who met at Scapoose High School, northwest of Portland, in the early 1960s and were married the year he graduated, 1963, will continue to live in Harrisburg, in the home they’ve owned since 1970. They have two children, Tami and Robert, and four grandchildren.

They hope to travel, especially to Washington, D.C., where Shannon has always wanted to visit.

“We’re getting up (in age), and she’s got places in the world she’d like to see,” Peterson said, explaining why he decided to sell now.

He’s hoping Congressman Peter DeFazio, the Springfield Democrat and a longtime customer, or maybe Sen. Ron Wyden, whose hair he cut when he was in law school, will give them a tour of D.C.’s sites.

“I’m ready to give it up,” Peterson said. “I just didn’t think it would happen so fast.”

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkBakerRG . Email mark.baker@registerguard.com . Photographer Brian Davies contributed to this story.