Rex Rogers Has Been A Barber Since WWII
Step into Rex’s Barber Shop on Fort Street and there’s a silly clock, its numbers scattered, with the words, “Who cares?” And who should care about time when you get a fascinating history lesson or charming chat included with your haircut?
Rex Rogers has been cutting hair longer than most Draper residents have been on earth. Clipping away, he tells tales of losing his boyhood savings of $27 in the Great Depression, serving in WWII, riding the range with cowboys, and befriending Native Americans in grade school. On the domestic front, he can talk tomatoes—how to grow ‘em, can ‘em and cook ‘em.
“I’ve been there, done that,” he says about his life. “I think back on all the experiences I’ve had. You couldn’t even buy them now…”
Haircuts were less than a dollar when Rogers started cutting hair in Draper, a “farming chicken town.” His shop has graced Fort Street since 1958, its wood-paneled walls covered in Union Pacific calendars, photos, cartoons, hand-tied flies, and a framed $2 bill. There are three barber chairs, including a pint-sized chair for little ones. Leather razor-sharpening straps dangle on the side. Rex married a Draper girl, the late Faye Day, whose family owned the Day Barn now situated near the library.
His style says no-nonsense practicality: a blue zip-down shirt, a Band-Aid taped across the bridge of his nose, and sensible brown shoes dusted with hair clippings. Three of the fingertips on his left hand are missing after he blew them off with a dynamite cap when he was little. “I knew it’d go bang, so I set it off in my hand.”
A quiet 10-year-old sits in a barber chair ready for a cut. “How do you want your hair?” Rex asks. When the boy doesn’t reply quickly enough, Rex answers for him, “Short.”
Rogers was born in the central Utah town of Kanosh in 1923 and survived on a farm. “You didn’t live on a farm back then, you survived,” he clarifies.
He started cutting hair in 1943 while serving at a Naval pilot training base near Yuma, Ariz. His real job there had him checking off each plane fit for combat. Out of necessity—there was a long line of enlisted men in need of a haircut—he volunteered with no prior experience to be a barber.
“They told me to put a sign up that read, ‘Free haircuts’ and that’s how I started.”
He never made so much money, he jokes, as the men would give him a 25-cent tip for the “free” cut.
In his years, he’s seen, styled and cut it all. Boys and men in long hair, shag cuts, buzz cuts, flat tops, rooster tails and The Beatles hair-dos. He’s had a mother come back and “roast him” after he gave her teenage son a mohawk. “I tried to talk him out of it…” He doesn’t see too many young men at his shop anymore. They’d rather go and have young ladies at fancy shops “doll them up.”
Rogers loves his job because of his customers, many of whom have been coming for decades. He does them all a good service, he says, by “improving their looks.”
There’s no retirement date on his calendar. “It is therapy for me. I never get bored. Every customer I do is different, their hair is different, all the conversations are different. I have to shift my profession and expertise on everyone.” Many customers come in to problem solve and ask his opinion, in addition to their haircut.
When he isn’t working, Rogers enjoys skeet shooting and baking oatmeal cookies enhanced with dates, walnuts and orange zest, which he delivers about town. An avid gardener, he grows celebrity tomatoes, his favorite variety because “there is no core in ‘em.” This past summer he had 70 plants growing and at harvest season, canned 55 pints of chili sauce (his grandma’s recipe), 60 quarts of tomato juice and 25-30 quarts of stewed tomatoes.
“Fresh tomatoes are good for you, but cooked tomatoes are even better,” is his advice, although not a secret to his longevity. You have to ask him that in person.
Haircuts at Rex’s cost $10 now. But the history lessons—plus an oatmeal cookie if you’re lucky—from a man who has “been there and done that” are more than worth the time.
“I’d go through it all again as much as I suffered. Wow, what an experience I’ve had.”