By Tony Parra
James “Babe” Morgan has hung up his clippers. After 56 years of working as a barber, he’s no longer sharing stories and weather reports with his customers.
Morgan has been working for the last 16 years of his career at Herb’s Barbershop on south Main Street on the downtown square of Portales. He has spent 47 of those 56 years cutting hair in Portales.
At 78, he said the barber business was taking a physical toll on his body and he’s decided to go into real estate.
“It’s hard on your body,” said Yantie Love, who worked as a barber with Morgan. “You’re on your feet all day and your arms are in the air all day. I understood why he decided to retire.”
Morgan put the final touches on his final haircut the day before Thanksgiving. He has since been working for Morgan Real Estate, which is owned by Morgan’s nephew.
Morgan said he worked with more than 50 barbers during his career in Portales, Logan, Roswell, Las Vegas, Nev., and in the Navy.
He said Love and Herb Hartsell — the shop’s former owner who’s now deceased — were two of the best barbers he ever worked with. Love is so good that when Morgan’s nephew, Hubert, goes to the barbershop, he bypasses Uncle Babe and has Love cut his hair.
Hubert Morgan, who owns Morgan Real Estate, said he used to shine shoes for his uncle when he was 12 … until he got fired.
“I figure it gives me a chance to get even,” Hubert joked about having Babe work with him. “He said he fired me because I was tearing up his equipment, but I think it’s because I wanted to go watch an ENMU (Eastern New Mexico University) football game and he wouldn’t let me.”
Babe Morgan got his start as a barber shortly after joining the Navy. He spent 25 months at Pearl Harbor, arriving about 2 1/2 years after the beginning of World War II.
Morgan said he and a friend were guardsmen when they were told the Navy was looking for two people who wanted to become barbers. He continued the profession when he returned to civilian life.
Now Love is the lone barber at Herb’s.
“It’s lonely without Babe,” Love said. “Babe was absolutely the greatest.”
Love said she is cutting 30 to 35 heads of hair each day and is looking for a replacement for Morgan.
Morgan said he enjoyed his time as a barber in several cities but enjoyed his time at Portales the most. He said he’s going to miss his old friends that entered the barbershop for a haircut and conversation.
“Portales people are the best in the world,” he said. “I’m going to miss it, but I still drop by every once in a while.”