A Hair Recycler, Stove King and Fitness Guru

Check out these interesting interviews with Bill Black, Bob Fisher and Gloria Keeling.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
July/August 1978
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Bill Black uses hair he collects from his barber shop as fertilizer.
PHOTO: ELIZABETH GROWN
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Bill Black: Hair Recycler

Can human hair help solve the world's food supply problem? St. Louis barber Bill Black thinks so — but what on earth does he have in mind? "Hair is the best, most concentrated natural plant fertilizer you can find on this planet," says Mr. Black. "I've been using the stuff on my philodendrons and vegetables for years. It's not only high in protein and nitrogen content, but human hair contains 27 minerals and trace elements as well!"

Some folks may well think Bill is a little wiggy when he makes such statements, but others believe he's on to something really big. In fact for the past year, Mr. Black has been packaging and successfully selling his barbershop floor sweepings to a steadily growing number of believers.

"If the clippings from every shop were regularly applied to a compost heap," Bill Black tells them, "an enormous amount of nitrogen could be saved, since 6 to 7 pounds of hair contain 1 pound of nitrogen, or about the same amount of nitrogen as 100 to 200 pounds of cow manure."

Mr. Black has been researching the chemical makeup of human hair for over three years and comparing his data with agricultural reports on the effectiveness of various commercial soil supplements. And his study has led him to make the following rather startling statement: "Why, the hair thrown away by New York barbers alone could supply the entire fertilizer needs for all of India! "

While experimenting with his high-powered plant food, Mr. Black has discovered that hair is an unusually good insulation material too. "But of course you'd expect it to be a good insulator," he says, "that's why it's growing on the human body in the first place! "

Another point: Even if you don't plan to use barber clippings in your attic next winter or on your garden this summer, be careful how you discard them. "Whatever you do, don't burn those clippings," Mr. Black warns. "The burning of human hair pollutes the air with extremely toxic gases. Unfortunately, that's the way many large cities get rid of it — in huge garbage incinerators — but they're making a big mistake."

Bill Black isn't waiting around for some university or government agency to investigate his theories. He's had enough experience with hair as fertilizer — using it on plants around his home and office — to be convinced he's right. And so every evening, Bill sweeps his barber shop floor, sterilizes his collection of clippings, mixes it with sand and organic compounds, then bags and labels the concoction under the brand name Fert-HAIR-Lizer!

How do Mr. Black's customers feel about having their locks packaged and sold? "Most of them like the idea," he reports. "It's kinda like being reincarnated. I just hope they don't start charging me for a haircut! " — Elizabeth Brown.

Bob Fisher: Stove King

Bob Fisher is the product of a simple, basic rural life along the northwest Oregon coast. He grew up learning hard work and acquiring common sense from his parents who were farmers just trying to survive the depression years of the 1930s.

"I remember the chickens, cattle, pigs, groves of walnuts and filberts, and all those turkeys. We had over 4,000 turkeys at one time," Bob likes to tell his friends. "The parts of farm life that stick in my memory the most were either lots of hard work or lots of fun, but there was never a dull moment."

Bob didn't like school very much and missed many classes while working in his parents' orchard. Finally in the middle of the eleventh grade, he couldn't take it anymore and dropped out. For several years after that, he continued to help his parents then eventually started an independent logging operation of his own.

Fisher later went broke one year when his log tractor got mired so deep in the Oregon mud that he couldn't get it out for weeks. So Bob went on from there to try his hand at being a barber, millwright, and — finally — a welder. He didn't know it then, but his fortune —at last — was close at hand.

"My wife and I bought an A-frame up in the mountains about that time, and it had a huge stone fireplace," Bob recalls. "It sure was romantic, but that damn thing burned about a cord of wood a week and sucked all the warm air out of the house as it drew cold air in from the outside. I think it worked more like a refrigeration unit than a heater!"

"I just got tired of burning all that wood, and that's how my stove idea got started," Fisher says as he muses over those early days on the mountain — thinking of how back-to-nature to him meant freezing his behind off while scorching his boots in front of that mammoth fire.

Ol' Ben Franklin must have had similar thoughts one cold Pennsylvania winter nearly 200 years before when he came up with his stove idea. And Bob, like Ben, had enough sense to put his mind to work solving the centuries-old problem: How do you heat a large room the easiest, most economical way possible with the simplest, most basic firebox?

It wasn't long before Bob Fisher was kindling his stone fireplace with scraps of drawing paper on which were sketched rough ideas for his new Fisher Stove. "I just drew it up and built it," Bob says. "I knew in my mind exactly how it would work, and sure enough, when I got through welding those pieces of iron together, it did work!

"We sealed up the old fireplace — except for a 6-inch opening in the chimney for a flue — then I put that first stove in place," says Fisher. "It heated the entire A-frame, and we had 100 percent flame control. The stove was just a little slower to react than a gas or oil furnace, but we could turn the wood flame up or down anytime we wanted and we could cook right on top of it! "

Bob admits he didn't realize the significance of his invention those first few months. But soon, friends began asking him to build stoves for them. He welded each one together by hand, and his new fireboxes sold as rapidly as they could be made. Eventually, Bob turned to subcontracting, then to franchising to keep pace with the orders.

Now, just five years later, more than half a million of the units are in use throughout the world. His stove is being manufactured in almost every state, and demand for Fisher's woodburner is still growing! — Claudia Lynn.

Gloria Keeling: Total Fitness

With freedom of motion and spirit, Gloria Keeling is guiding hundreds of Maui Island (Hawaii) men and women on a "journey toward greater body and mind awareness" as one of her students describes the physical and mental fitness program taught by the dynamic Ms. Keeling.

Keeling's training incorporates many techniques from her wide spectrum of interests: yoga, discus throwing, weight lifting, running, and good ol' one, two, one, two exercises. Her students say that the schedule is "exhilarating, exhausting, and relaxing."

Competition, however, is not part of the program. No specific goal is set for Ms. Keeling's group since each student has different abilities and limitations. "Positive energy permeates the classes," says Keeling. "Everyone works together, and we support one another. We find that the texture of our lives is enriched if we spend time each day engaged in non-work oriented movement such as jumping, bending, stretching, deep-breathing, and conscious relaxing." Ms. Keeling, mother of a 17-year-old son, has often involved herself with various types of strenuous activities not commonly associated with women: Weight lifting for example . . . and discus throwing (Keeling once trained for the Olympics until her coach said she'd have to increase her weight to 180 pounds! ). "Everyone should become involved with some sort of physical/mental fitness program," Keeling says, "since problems lose importance as your body becomes more alive! Any person can come in touch with his or her total energy if an instructor has the patience to take him or her slowly through the changes." — Bonnie Mandoe.


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