Bob Egely cuts John Harrison’s hair using his high-tech barber chair designed and constructed by the University of Victoria.

Bob Egely cuts John Harrison’s hair using his high-tech barber chair designed and constructed by the University of Victoria.

Barber Bob’s back on the job

Bob Egely, Enderby's Bob The Barber, is back cutting two years after having his legs amputated due to medical complications...

Bob’s Barber Shop is back in business.

Bob Egely never doubted that it would be. The Enderby barber had been cutting hair for more than 40 years when he had to have both legs amputated above the knee due to medical complications in 2010.

He conducted his first haircut in two years Thursday to test drive his new, specialized barber chair.

“This chair is the talk of Enderby. It’s huge,” he said as he demonstrated the high-tech chair made by the University of Victoria CanAssist Team, which has allowed him to get on with the job he loves.

“It never crossed my mind that I wasn’t going back to work. I said I was going to to this, I just didn’t know how. There’s nothing you can’t do  if you want to put your mind to it. I’’m so happy that I’m able to carry on and do my thing,” said Egely, 67. He had the basic idea for the chair himself but had no idea how it could become reality.

“The old barber chairs were made of cast iron and had ring around the bottom. I thought maybe there could be some kind of saddle that could move around. This looks like a small space ship. The chair for the client is a barber chair and the chair that I’m sitting on is like a small satellite that goes around it. This is fantastic.”

Egely’s son got him in touch with the CanAssist Team, which develops and delivers technology which help improve the quality of life for people with disabilities, including being able to work. A  team of engineers, Darcy Lane, Paul Green, Carl Spani, Brandon Fry and Mike Lewis made the chair for Egely.

“I was very excited to work on this project to put the engineering components together so that the chair would do what Bob wanted and be safe,” said Lewis, who was in Enderby Wednesday with the team, including Tanya Switucka, customer relations, to install the chair.

The team consulted with Egely on what he needed the chair to do — reaching his tools and moving at different angles up and down and around the client. Then the members put their mechanical and electrical engineering expertise to work. Egely is able to control the chair with one hand and transfer to and from his wheelchair independently. As far as the team knows, this is the only chair of its kind in the world. It weighs about 400 hundred pounds and is bolted to the concrete  under the floor.

The chair is battery operated so that Egely will not be stranded in a power outage. Funding for the development and construction of the chair, about $65,000, was through the Equipment and Assistive Technology Initiative, a program supported by the federal and B.C. governments.

“This chair is such a great thing for me. I didn’t know what to expect but I know it’s all going to come back to me and I’m going to be busy again. I’m happy with it but I can’t say I’ve been unhappy about what has happened to me. You play ‘em as you get ‘em — the cards you’re dealt,” he said.

Egely did his first cut for old friend, John Harrison, 92, who will be helping him around the shop.

“It feels good to get a haircut from Bob again. I can do things to help him out like get coffee and do the banking. He’s a great guy and a good friend,” said Harrison.

Egely recalled his early days in barbering. “The hairstyles were short, the same as now. My first haircut was what I called a rooster tail for a guy and he was happy as hell with it. Then we came to long hair. The short haircuts are the easiest but you can’t hide your mistakes in short hair. I guess my favourite cut to do is the brush cut. I remember the first day I was in business in Enderby — I was doing a shave with a straight razor on a man and there were eight ladies outside watching. I could tell more stories but I don’t want to tell all the town secrets.”

Egely expects to be keeping clients from Enderby and the North Okanagan looking good for a long time to come. He’s signed a five-year lease for the shop location.

“I can’t thank the team here enough for what they’ve done for me and I thank everyone who’s here to celebrate the chair. I’m very happy and thankful. I can do everything I did before. It’s almost like having legs,” said Egely.

“I can hardly wait until Tuesday when we’re open for real. People are telling me it’s about time I got back to work. No appointments. Just come in and if you have to wait a few minutes you can have a coffee and sit and bs with the boys.”