McCordsville Barbershop Still Chugging Along Nearly Four Decades Later
Photographer: Ron Wise
When you walk into McCordsville Barbershop, you become more than a customer. You become a friend — possibly for life.
Owner Gary Wiley has cultivated a rather unique business, with respect not only to the physical surroundings of his establishment (he cuts hair inside an actual converted train caboose), but also to the long-term relationships he develops with his all-ages and, in some cases, multi-generational clientele.
Wiley has been working his shears for 51 years, and the spark of inspiration that eventually prompted him to cut hair for a living dates back even further to his days as a young boy growing up on a farm in Falmouth, Indiana.
“When I was about seven my grandmother asked me what I wanted to be, and I said a farmer like dad and grandpa,” Wiley recalls. “She told me I’d rather do something that was cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and when I asked what that might be she got ‘barber’ out of her mouth before grandpa shut her up. It stuck with me, and there was a strong power of suggestion there.”
Wiley started cutting hair back in the mid-1960s and settled into his current location in McCordsville almost 40 years ago. After a few decades improving his craft and growing a list of loyal customers, Wiley decided to make a unique change to his professional surroundings. A part-time job cleaning out train cabooses in Brown County during his years in barber school had inspired Wiley to someday conduct his own barber business in an authentic train caboose, and in 1995 he set to work sourcing one that he could convert.
“One Sunday morning my grandson was playing with toy tracks and a caboose and set them in my lap and that lit the fuse even more,” Wiley says. “I heard about one that was available down in Evansville, so I paid for it and got it moved up here.”
Wiley has since created an old-fashioned visual aesthetic that is both welcoming and slightly whimsical throughout his place of business. Mannequins are posed inside and outside the shop to greet incoming customers, and several murals including a Norman Rockwell barbershop quartet replica adorn the interior walls. And, of course, there’s an authentic barber pole outside.
It’s a kid-friendly destination as well, complete with an adjustable Thomas the Train barber chair, an oversized checkers station and a train room in which an electric toy train can be put in motion remotely at any time by Wiley for visiting youngsters.
“The kids will stand on the bench in the train room and I tell them to pull on their ear to start the train, and then I can start it with my remote,” he says. “Then they’ve got to push on their nose to turn it off. I try to make it fun.”
Perhaps no better testament to the loyalty of Wiley’s customers is the fact that much of the artwork and mannequins that fill the shop were provided by his clients and their family members.
“I haven’t done any of this myself,” Wiley says, adding that his son Andrew now cuts hair at the shop as well. “I’ve gotten a lot of help, and my customers are the best. I have one guy who I’ve cut for 51 years. One of my customers’ wives came in here and did the murals, and other customers made the mannequins.”
Wiley says word of mouth remains his best means of advertising, and he still gets clients from as far as Chicago and Fort Wayne interested in coming to the caboose for a trim. He doesn’t take such interest in his business lightly. He even goes so far as to make house calls if a customer falls ill.
“There are several generations within families that have come, and I’ve cut the grandfather, the son, the grandsons and then their sons,” Wiley says. “That’s what keeps me going, connecting and being friends with all of these people. I enjoy people and learning about their lives. You start to become part of the family.”
McCordsville Barbershop is located at 7745 North 600 West. Call 317-335-9207 or visit mccordsvillebarbershop.com for more info including hours of operation.