Remembering Rose: Cline saved many soles in his lifetime

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 29, 2011

Editor’s note: In memory of longtime reporter Rose Post, who died this year, the Salisbury Post is reprinting some of her columns. This one first appeared in the paper on Aug. 23, 1992.
Buck Cline knows it’s an old joke.
“Need your sole saved?” he asks the customer pushing his shoes across the counter.
“Soles and heels, too,” the man says. “While you’re at it.” But he doesn’t smile.
Oh well. Buck doesn’t wait.
He’s been saving soles for half a century, and he doesn’t expect a knee-slapping raucous reaction to his moment of humor. This is standard stuff, part of the scenery, a shoemaker’s staple in trade, like the whirring of the finishing machine that’s as constant as a cat’s purr, like the unmistakable aromatic blend of leather and shoe polish, like the poster picture of an old-time shoemaker at a cobbler’s bench.
Come to think of it, that old-time shoemaker looks a lot like Buck, and he’s been smiling there on the wall nearly as long as Buck’s been running Cline’s Shoe Service at 110 E. Innes St. Buck doesn’t remember when he put it up. But he knows when he hung the big landscape and wild horses on the other wall. His son, Bucky, gave that to him when he was a student down at State.
And he knows when he got that certificate behind the counter. Back in the ’40s, when he was nationally registered as an orthopedic shoe serviceman because summertime meant polio. And polio meant he struggled trying to adjust braces and build up shoes so crippled children could walk.
“That was the most trying time,” he says. “All those kids had polio, and we didn’t even have an orthopedic doctor here. I spent half my time working on those braces and build-ups. The braces would come up to here” — he gestures toward his armpits — “and the kids would have to take their clothes off …”
He’s just getting wound up good when Harold Parham comes in. Harold needs new heels, and he’s chancing Buck will still be here and put them on while he waits.
“I don’t hardly do any waiting work any more,” Buck says when Harold leaves. “Just once in a while. Used to be people would bring their kids up on Saturdays — three or four in the family — and line ’em up.” Nobody had more than one pair of everyday shoes, so they came when they could wait.
“I don’t hardly ever do kids’ shoes anymore either,” he says. Kids shoes aren’t worth fixing anymore. “They wear junk stuff.”
He’s talking now. Didn’t want to. Maybe later. But somehow he got started on those polio days and then Harold came in and waited — and, well, here we are. Everything else has changed in the last 50 years. Why not the shoe repair business?
“Used to,” he says, “if you got a job, you had to deliver and all that.” In Concord, where he grew up, he delivered in his neighborhood for C.G. Coley while he was in high school. “I’d go out on my bicycle and pick ’em up, he’d fix ’em, and I’d take ’em back.”
When he finished high school, he went downtown to work for Ralph Dry, whose brother, Charlie, had the East Innes shop here. Ralph sold out to J.S. Lee. “And then Mr. Dry up here got in bad health and bought this shop on condition I’d come run it.”
He came — and bought it 18 months later.
Those were World War II years. Gas and tires were rationed. So were shoes. People walked holes in their soles, and Buck fixed ’em. Buck and maybe half a dozen other shoe shops in downtown Salisbury, including one on each corner at the Square, that day’s “service stations” for walkers.
Buck was Melvin then. He got his name during the war along with his draft notice.
“Robert Cook started calling me ‘Buck Private,’ ” he says, but the closest he got to the rank was a physical.
“They took some blood out of my finger,” he says, “and took me out of line and fixed my bus ticket to come back home.”
He felt fine, and nobody told him what was wrong with his blood. But it was a long ride back to Salisbury from Fayetteville, and the bus didn’t stop here. When it hit town about 2 a.m., Buck told the driver to let him off at the Wallace Building.
“But when he stopped, I couldn’t get up.” The driver got the night officer from the police booth on the Square to help carry him off.
“They laid me out there on the sidewalk,” he says, and the bus went on. Just then old Dr. Glenn Choate came out of the Wallace Building — and all the doctors and lawyers had their offices in the Wallace Building then — and saw him.
“Help me get him in my car,” he told the policeman, and they sped off to the hospital.
“They took some blood, too. I had appendicitis about to rupture. They took me right to the operating room. When they rolled me in, the doctor asked me if I’d called my wife. I said yes, but I hadn’t.”
Mae was home with the children, Judy and Melvin Jr., who was to become Bucky. If he called her, what would she do with them?
“I didn’t want to worry her in the middle of the night,” Buck says, “so I had the nurse call her in the morning, and by the time she got there, I was sitting up feeling good.”
He never heard from the Army again, but the name stuck. He’s been Buck ever since.
Made in America
His best business years were 1968 to 1978. He knows. He’s still got all his records.
“People were still wearing good shoes,” he says, “and they were getting them repaired. Everything was still being made in America then. I used to have five employees and a girl in the front. Now everybody who’s ever worked for me has gotten old and died.”
And nobody wants to learn to repair shoes.
“It’s hard work,” he says. “You get corns on your hands. And it’s about like being a doctor. People don’t mind calling you at all hours and Sunday mornings to get their shoes.”
Nor are most of today’s shoes worth fixing. They’re made out of plastic.
But not Buck’s. On his feet are good-looking leather shoes that cost him $125 at Goodnight’s — and were a bargain. They’ve had five new soles.
“And Goodnight’s has been gone at least 25 years,” he says.
It’s hard to buy a pair of good shoes now.
“The manufacturers are fully determined to put shoe repair out of business by building shoes that last a short time,” he says. “But business is still good here. I’m doing all I care to do.”
Shorter hours
That’s much less than his customers — many of them second and third generation now — want him to do. His shop is no longer open from dawn to dark six days a week. Now he opens at 7:30 and locks the doors and pulls the blinds at 11 Mondays through Fridays.
And he works, fixing everything he didn’t get to that morning when customers were coming in.
“I cannot operate behind,” he says. “I’ve just got to operate to where I can see daylights.”
Mostly it’s shoes — half soles that now cost about $20 a pair for men and heels at $3.50 a pair for women.
But he takes belts up and lets them out, repairs pocketbooks, makes scissors scabbards for various manufacturers, repairs anything in leather — and eats an occasional peppermint and a peanut or two.
“Old Dr. Monk told me years ago, ‘Eat a few peanuts a day and you won’t ever have a stomach ulcer.’ I feel like I might have a stomach ulcer but I eat the peanuts.”
And he watches downtown and the world change as he stands at his old machines.
Standing itself is an occupational hazard for a shoe repairman.
“You get in the habit,” he says. “I stand up a lot at home to look at TV. My wife’ll say, ‘Sit down.’ ”
But he’s not ready to sit yet. There are still soles to save.
Buck Cline closed his shoe repair shop in 1999 and passed away in June 2005.