Barber shops on passenger trains?

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Barber shops on passenger trains?

Postby SouthernRailway » Sun Jun 10, 2018 2:21 pm

I'm curious to learn more about long-lost "luxuries" such as barber shops on passenger trains, which were on some long-distance trains at least just after WWII.

How did they work; did the railroad employ the barber or just lease space to an independent contractor? Were the prices high? When did this vanish? And what other long-lost luxuries did post-WWII streamliners have that no longer exist: I see that some had secretaries?

No wonder they eventually lost money.
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Re: Barber shops on passenger trains?

Postby Gadfly » Sun Jun 10, 2018 3:06 pm

SouthernRailway wrote:I'm curious to learn more about long-lost "luxuries" such as barber shops on passenger trains, which were on some long-distance trains at least just after WWII.

How did they work; did the railroad employ the barber or just lease space to an independent contractor? Were the prices high? When did this vanish? And what other long-lost luxuries did post-WWII streamliners have that no longer exist: I see that some had secretaries?

No wonder they eventually lost money.


One was the "news butch" who sold magazines, newspapers, sometimes cigarettes, cigars and candy. Some paid for the privilege, others were invited to walk the aisles as a convenience to the passengers. Dunno that that particular amenity lost $$ for the companies, tho.
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Re: Barber shops on passenger trains?

Postby ExCon90 » Mon Jun 11, 2018 3:14 pm

I don't know who employed the barber, but it seems likely that he was employed by the Pullman Company. A West Coast railfan organization has, or used to have, a preserved car from (I think) the City of San Francisco which had a barber shop. On some fantrips they engaged a local barber so that if being shaved in a barber shop on a moving train was on anybody's bucket list they could experience it on that trip. On the back of the chair there was a pair of pads similar to those on a dentist's chair to hold the passenger's head steady through the interlockings -- or maybe the barber paused during the rough spots. The barber also braced his elbow on something solid; a necessity, since he used a straight razor, commonly used back in the day and popularly referred to as cutthroat razors for some reason. Exciting ...

The train secretary (almost certainly male, to observe the proprieties) would have been a railroad employee -- plenty of railroad employees took shorthand in those days. Pullman porters also did pressing en route, presumably for tips rather than being paid extra by the company.

I don't know about the prices, but everything else in Pullman cars was modeled after -- and priced accordingly with -- services provided at top-notch hotels.
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Re: Barber shops on passenger trains?

Postby Ridgefielder » Thu Jun 14, 2018 11:32 am

SouthernRailway wrote:And what other long-lost luxuries did post-WWII streamliners have that no longer exist: I see that some had secretaries?

The 20th Century Limited had both a manicurist and a ladies' maid. I think some other flagships (like the Broadway Limited or the Capitol Limited) had the same. And pretty much every train that carried a club or observation car had a bartender.
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Re: Barber shops on passenger trains?

Postby Jenny on a M2 » Sat Jul 14, 2018 11:06 am

Wow, having those two services on board would have been so convenient. I would be mildly concerned about hitting some rough track while the manicurist was trimming my cuticles, however. That would leave a mark. :P

Does anyone know if the barber only performed shaves or did he do haircuts as well?

I would doubt there was a ladies' hair stylist on board because I couldn't imagine even my expert stylist cutting my hair on a moving train, nor would I want her to attempt it. I'd imagine the feelings were the same amongst the female passengers of that time. Then again, I wouldn't have any issue with her doing a wash/blowout/style (no cut) because if the train rocked hard and things were ruined she could always start over; not so if half of my hair was accidentally chopped off. :P

So I guess there could have been a ladies' stylist on board who just offered a reduced set of services. I'd be curious to know more from anyone who might either have memories of these trains or books on them. :-D
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Re: Barber shops on passenger trains?

Postby RenegadeMonster » Tue Jul 31, 2018 11:33 am

I'd imagine having a barber on a train would not be possible today. Insurance companies wouldn't want any part of covering liability on the train because it is in motion.

And the RR insurance company would require the barber to carry his own insurance so they are not liable.

I'm guessing these luxury services ended long before insurance had their say in ending them.

It sure would be interesting if this service existed again but I can't ever see it happening.
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Re: Barber shops on passenger trains?

Postby Conductor Bill » Thu Nov 29, 2018 1:18 am

A subject near and dear to my heart! I have been thrilled to own the Overland Trail (former SP 2981) for 31 years. As far as I know, the last operating railroad barbershop anywhere. As a writer above noted, it has always been important to me to have a barber cutting hair on any special train we were involved with (last year's New River Train may well have been our last account the current Amtrak debacle), as I felt it was a significant part of railroad history.

I personally never missed an opportunity and have been shorn by at least a dozen different barbers, with, perhaps, 50 haircuts performed at speed. My first thrill was the maiden public voyage of the former Santa Fe 3751 from Los Angeles to Bakersfield ... our maiden voyage as well and we had a barber aboard cutting hair ... I was the first one in the chair and had the time of my life recreating history (I have read that the Super Chief may have been the last train offering such services and that may have ended circa 1957).

The most memorable experience: the Overland had been a part of the Reno Fun Train for 13 years or so (dance car) ... on a whim for the 2016 season, one trip only, I sought permission from Key Holidays to invite a barber along. With permission granted, I (and a number of other passengers as well) enjoyed the tonsorial arts performed over Donner Pass aboard a car that was originally built for the very route!!

It seems that many of the nationwide premium trains (the ones patronized by the well heeled business traveler) carried a barbershop (say from the turn of the century up until the 50s) and provided a number of services well received by the aforementioned business traveler (not that he was the only partaker). On board the SP 2981, for example, a traveler could visit the barber, and partake of a shower, a haircut and leave a suit behind for pressing ... all dandy and ready to step off the train, hail a taxi and make his 11:00 appointment in his destination city!

The Overland Trail, BTW is a classic club lounge built by Pullman Standard in 1949 for Southern Pacific's San Francisco Overland. It features the barbershop, of course, but also a quarter circle bar and a stunning streamline modern, 39 seat lounge.
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Overland Trail barbershop.jpg
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Re: Barber shops on passenger trains?

Postby ExCon90 » Thu Nov 29, 2018 3:20 pm

Thanks very much for posting that; it really fills in some details. Isn't that the car that's painted in the Overland scheme on one side and the Daylight scheme on the other, on the theory that who sees both sides at the same time?
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Re: Barber shops on passenger trains?

Postby Conductor Bill » Thu Nov 29, 2018 4:50 pm

Yes, we carried two schemes for a while, it was fun, but the daylight scheme was not well done and did not last long before the car (that side, anyway) looked terrible.

Another photo with Jason Thorpe presiding over the chair.
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