James Thomason was angry at the corporate world after losing his job as course manager at a golf club, so he stopped shaving as a sign of rebellion.
Now 18 years later, the Talking Rock, Georgia, man has transformed that former banner of defiance — a luxuriant silver-gray cascade of facial hair framing a broad smile and flowing well down his chest — into his flag of freedom and opportunity.
“The Lord told me losing that job was a good thing, because I have other plans for you,” Thomason said as he settled into a chair to tell the tale of the Mountain Man Beard Co. vendor booth now at Black Hills Harley-Davidson in Rapid City.
Thomason and his sister, Dina Lowe, brought their 6 x 12 trailer from the mountains of north Georgia to the Black Hills of South Dakota for their first visit to the Sturgis motorcycle rally.
Their line of beard oils, butters and other grooming accessories, all produced by Thomason and his family, are sold under the slogans “No beard too tough to tame” and “One beard at a time.”
Thomason didn’t intend to get into the whisker business. His line of products was born of a need to tame his own growing beard.
At first, he tried women’s hair-care products, but the shampoos removed the natural oils a beard needs to be manageable and healthy.
He started experimenting with different blends of essential oils, which turned into a long process of trial and error.
“It was disaster after disaster, but I was hard-headed enough to continue,” Thomason said.
He finally settled on a base of hemp oil, grape-seed oil, sweet olive oil and java oil (just don’t ask about the proportions — that’s a secret) with different scents added.
He started selling his beard oils at flea markets and to whiskered friends, gradually expanding his line to include beard soaps, mustache waxes, handmade white pine beard combs and a selection of moonshine-pickled cucumbers.
Finally, the Mountain Man Beard Co., overtook his main line of work, a lawn-care business.
“We found out we could make a better living with less employees selling beard oils,” he said.
Thomason said his products are designed to style and shape a beard without cutting it. Thomason will trim his own 10- to 15-inch long whiskers, but only “when it gets down to my dinner plate,” he said.
The biggest mistake most men make with their long beards is what he calls “yankin’ and thinkin’,” the two words rhyming when spoken in Thomason’s north Georgia drawl.
“Guys have to stroke their beards when they’re trying to think of something. That puts skin oil into the beard and turns it into a handle-bar grip,” he said.
Whiskers are hollow, he said. His beard oils, applied sparingly, keep them hydrated.
The oils also make a beard smell good and shine, do away with dandruff, and suppress (but not cure) psoriasis underneath the beard, he said.
And this hint is especially for bikers: a shiny beard is easier to comb the bugs from, he said.
Thomason rides a motorcycle without a windscreen to enjoy the feel of his beard flowing in the wind.
“When I was using the women’s hair stuff, I could ride for 50 miles and my beard wouldn’t move,” he said.
James and Dina are set up in the parking lot at Black Hills Harley-Davidson in Rapid City for the 77th Sturgis rally, which officially started Friday.