Even though Bruce Soule worked most of his life in Damariscotta, he’s as Waldoboro as you can get. His family goes back at least four generations on the Bremen side of the river. For young Bruce, you made your own fun here, whether it was walking to the movie theater in Damariscotta or riding your bike everywhere or going off to hunt.
His father was a jack-of-all-trades who at different times was a cobbler, a restaurant owner (and cook), a farmer, and a carpenter. Bruce, on the other hand, found barbering and never left it, save the two years he was in the Army. He was drafted and served in Korea because his brother had been killed in Vietnam. There, he fixed the rotor heads and rotor tails of helicopters.
Most people know Bruce as a barber. Yet he was always doing something else, too. For at least a decade, he cut hair by day and renovated old ship captains’ houses in Camden by night. Then, somewhere along the line, he got into harness racing which meant running straight from the barber shop to the horses, to train them. He had five horses at one point. As each aged out, Bruce brought it back to Waldoboro and cared for them. It was a promise he’d made to his wife. In 2018, she grew ill. Bruce closed his Damariscotta shop to care for her.
But he never left barbering. He opened a shop at home, working only Fridays from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. She died some months later. And Bruce? He still keeps his Friday hours. There’s always conversation and a haircut is still $10, unless you have vegetables or bread or clams to barter.
“A really good client is someone who comes in every three or four weeks because after you do them once or twice, they don’t have to tell you what they want. You already know. So, that makes the haircut a lot easier and gives you more on the conversational end.
“The harder ones will tell you, ‘I got my hair cut in Florida, and they done this, they done that, and if you could do something of the same thing …’ And I think to myself, ‘I haven’t got an idea in hell what you’re talking about. But we’ll do it anyway.’ And then, I just fake it, and it come out alright.
“When I was first starting out, I got in pickle with my nephew’s hair. It was thick on top, and he wanted it thinned. So, I picked up my thinning sheers. But I was nervous, so I picked up my regular sheers and zapped him. Had to blend it back out, and it ended up alright.
“But after doing this 40, 50 years, it don’t make no difference what they want. I even have a few ladies that come in here. But for them, I like doing the simple cuts. Now, frizzy hair, you can sort of blend it in anywhere. Straight hair, believe it or not, is the hardest to cut. You have to be accurate because every mistake shows. That’s when you just turn them away from the mirror.
“Scissors are my favorite tool. A lot of people these days don’t know how to use them. They just use the clippers. But I think you get a better finished product with scissors. They give the finishing touch to the haircut. When I cut my own hair, I use both the clippers and the scissors. And then when I get to the back … well, there’s no way I can see the back, so, I say, ‘I guess that’s it.’ And then I say, ‘I don’t have to look at it. And, in two weeks any mistake I made will be grown out.’
“Mornings tend to be busier, but some days, you get people coming in one after the other. My favorite part is the conversation you get. With two or three in here, you can get a good conversation going. And usually, you listen. You can learn more. It’s when you open your mouth, you get in trouble. Everybody’s got a different story to tell, and everybody talks to their barber. Like somebody who tells you their darkest secrets. I think people who tell me their secrets don’t want anything. I think they just want to tell someone. They just want to talk, get it off their chests. You hold a lot of secrets as a barber. So, you keep it in your head and forget about it. Think on other things.
“I don’t remember what I wanted to do as a little child. Probably be a carpenter, like my father. I think it was because of Bill Booth that I decided to be a barber. He had a barber shop down here at his house. His wife was a beautician, and he was the barber. They were from Germany, and when he first moved here, he used to dig clams and sell them until he got his practice built up. I always liked being with him. He was a good influence. He had a relaxed atmosphere. He went out of his way to help someone who really didn’t mean nothing to him. So, after high school, I went to barber school. I liked it. It was in Lewiston, and Bill Booth actually used to come up. Then, when I worked for a barber in Damariscotta, he used to come in, take a seat, and whisper, ‘Don’t tell them I’m a barber.’
“That’s why I’d tell a young person, ‘Just follow your heart.’ I’ve always followed it. At least give that thing a shot. You don’t have to succeed at it. But if you don’t give it a shot, you’re always going to regret it. Even though you’re a complete disaster at it, you can say, ‘At least I tried.’”