When Donald McClain took Rodolfo "Rudy" Viramontes under his wing to teach him the tricks of the barbering trade, he didn't expect the young man's skills to surpass his.
When they met, he "didn't know spit about cutting hair," McClain said.
Viramontes, 38, taught himself how to cut hair after his brother bought a pair of clippers.
He started cutting his own hair, as well as anyone else who would let him.
"I just did it for the fun of it," he said. He never thought about being a barber.
Now, Viramontes has been cutting hair for about 14 years, 11 of those as a licensed barber and 10 as the owner of Rudy's Barber Shop.
The shop is filled with relics from its previous location.
Shortly after meeting him, McClain told him that if he went to barber college, he would teach him all he knew. After about three years of training Viramontes, McClain realized, "He's ready. It's time. I need to sell out to you," he said.
McClain's father, Cone McClain, was a barber and had a shop in Bergfeld Center from 1945 to the 1970s. McClain, 69, started working for Claude Crim at Crim's Barber Shop in 1961. A big oak tree marks the spot where the original shop was at the foot of the bridge on Beckham Avenue, before it moved nearby on East Gentry Parkway in 1964.
His twin brother and fellow barber, Ronald McClain, bought the shop from Crim, named it Ronald's Barber Shop, and owned it for 19 years before selling it to McClain in 1991. Because they were identical twins, McClain said he kept the name and didn't tell anyone it had switched hands, a move to keep customers. His brother went on to open McClain's Barber Shop, which he still runs today.
Viramontes was 26 when he went to barber college. McClain sold him the shop in November 2002, and he renamed it Rudy's Barber Shop.
"I had to work my way up to where I am now," he said.
Viramontes thought he would lose customers after McClain left the business.
"I told him to hold on to your expertise, and it will work out," McClain said. "He doubled my business."
McClain taught Viramontes everything he knew, from cutting hair to keeping the books of the business. "There's so many things that he does that's better than what I can do," he said. "He uses what I taught him and he developed his own techniques, just as I did when Crim taught me."
Viramontes was born in Mexico and moved with his parents to Tyler when he was 3. The oldest of four, he graduated from John Tyler High School.
He nearly dropped out of barber school because he was shy and other students seemed so confident, he said. When he thought of quitting, McClain wouldn't let him.
When Viramontes started working for McClain, he was sometimes bringing home only $80 a week. No one wanted to try the new guy, but he kept showing up.
When McClain wanted to sell him the shop, every bank rejected Viramontes because he didn't have the best credit. He had given up, but McClain told him there was one more bank to try. He was soon rejected for a loan at that bank, too, until McClain agreed to co-sign the loan. Both men had to bring the titles to their cars to the bank, Viramontes said.
The day he got the loan to buy the business, the family celebrated with a home-cooked meal, a movie and a few gifts from his wife. He calls it the best day of his life.
Since then, he has paid off the loan. Cutting hair, playing softball and raising his children are his life, he said.
"I know I'm blessed," he said.
Viramontes credited his father and mother, Refugio and Teresa Viramontes, for his upbringing.
"That's where I learned everything," he said. "That's where it all started."
And McClain taught him more than just how to properly cut hair.
"He paid dividends on my personal life. If I had problems, I came to him," Viramontes said, adding that McClain even married him and his wife.
When buying the business, Viramontes also wanted to buy the building on Gentry Parkway. After that didn't work out, he came across the much larger space on Spring Avenue and brought in all of the original elements from the old shop.
"Everything you see here is old school," Viramontes said of his shop. "I wanted to keep a little piece of home for my customers."
Opening a cabinet door, Viramontes showed off the date May 18, 1964, when the shop moved to the most recent Gentry Parkway location. He scribbled Aug. 1, 2011, underneath that to memorialize when he moved it to Spring Avenue. Although he has been there for more than a year, he just recently put a sign on the business.
Two out of the three original barber chairs are used, as well as the nontraditional waiting chairs, which McClain said came from Joy Theatre that was on Spring Avenue years ago. The bar and vintage mirrors are from the original shop.
"I wanted to keep it the same," Viramontes said. "It's a sentimental thing."
He also took a piece of glass with his logo painted on it from the outside of the former shop and relocated it inside the new store. Gifts from customers, as well as a collection of Dallas Cowboys memorabilia, line the walls of the shop.
Humberto Franco, 30, of Whitehouse, is a gas transport driver and has been coming to Rudy's Barber Shop for about 10 years.
"I guess I like the way he cuts it," he said of why he keeps coming back to Viramontes.
Viramontes believes he is one of the only barbers in town to use vacuum clippers, which clean up the hair as he cuts.
"This is cleaner, and it's faster for the barber to get to the next customer," he said.
He cuts only men's hair, aside from occasionally his wife's.
Viramontes and his wife MaDonna, 28, have been married seven years, and combined they have six children, sons who are 15, 12, 8-year-old twins and 5, and an 11-year-old daughter. Mrs. Viramontes spends her days at the shop, taking appointments, selling snacks and working on intricate puzzles that she also sells.
Viramontes said his oldest son has shown an interest in becoming a barber and is experimenting with clippers just as he did. One of his 8-year-old twins also has said he wants to be a barber or baseball player, he added.
Viramontes said he can do 20 men's haircuts a weekday and 30 or 40 on the weekends. "It gets pretty packed around here," he said. He has made Friday and Saturday by appointment only and hopes to hire two more barbers.
Viramontes has become friends with many of his customers.
"It's not only your haircut that people like," he said. "They can also like your company."
A lot of his clientele know each other and schedule times to come in as a group to socialize while getting a trim. On Sundays during football season, they watch the Dallas Cowboys play from the shop's TV.
"It's a local place just to meet up ... some people don't even get a haircut, they come to see what's going on," Viramontes said.
McClain remains a mentor to Viramontes. He visits the shop regularly for a haircut and to catch up.