Debbie Bennett owns the L & K Barber Shop in downtown Bend. And there’s a question she gets from her customers a lot.
“So what’s the story? How did it start? The belt buckles?”
And no wonder. Across from the row of barber’s chairs is an entire wall of belt buckles, carefully framed and put under glass.
Bennett says there are 386 of them. I counted. She’s right: 386.
And how did the belt buckle wall get started? It started with a guy named Lou who had a friend named John.
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Lou Bankston owned the barbershop and was the “L” in L & K. John, is John Turner, a longtime L & K customer who lives in Sisters with his wife Barbara and, for many years, owned a gift shop there.
In 1983, John commissioned and helped design a belt buckle featuring the Sisters Rodeo. He brought one in to Lou as a gift and just kept bringing them in every year for the next 27 years. They all went up on the wall.
And soon they started having company.
Kathy Bankston is the “K” in L & K — Lou’s wife and a career barber herself. She laughs about the response from other customers.
“It made for great conversation and that of course brought in more belt buckles,” Kathy says.
Lots more belt buckles. There are buckles from other rodeos, buckles from the military and law enforcement, buckles advertising whiskey and beer and cigarettes.
And many come with personal stories. Debbie says her favorites were brought in by a customer whose hair she has been cutting since he was in first grade.
“I cut his hair until he got out of high school. He went in to the Navy and on Christmas break he came home and he’s brought me two Navy belt buckles with his ship names. So those two have to be my favorite,” Debbie says.
There’s a Portland Trail Blazers 1977 NBA Championship buckle, an OSU Benny the Beaver buckle, smokejumper and logger buckles.
There’s one from a customer who worked on the cleanup crew in Alaska when the Exxon Valdez ran aground and dumped 10 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William sound.
Debbie says there is still room on the wall for more.
“We could take all those pictures down make a big old long case going right there in front of the window,” Debbie says.
Why go to all that trouble to keep the buckle tradition alive? Kathy has a pretty good reason.
“You meet a lot of people in the barber shop, very interesting people and you kind of treasure all of them,” she says.