A walking, talking history book

Memories abound for Craig man who has been around the block a time or two

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With a nod or a raised hand, Al Shepherd easily can recognize most of the diners who enter the Golden Cavvy restaurant on any given day of the week.

As a fixture at several informal coffee breaks among people who gather there, the Craig native can rattle off more than just news of the day -- his knowledge of Craig's history and its inhabitants is flush with anecdotes.

"Prior to TV, this street would be packed with people and cars all week," Shepherd said, motioning out the restaurant's window that faces Yampa Avenue. "There were three drugstores that all had soda foundations that were open until 10 p.m. In Craig, if you wanted something, you could most likely find in on the main street. I miss that."

A self-described "semi-retired" owner of Shepherd & Sons Inc.-- Craig's oldest retail business of 80 years -- Shepherd's life is riddled with coincidence s and stories, some of which extend beyond the confines of town.

A baby of The Great Depression, Shepherd was born in Craig before the construction of a hospital. During a rash of fires in downtown Craig, Shepherd remembers exiting down a slide-like fire escape from the middle school on Breeze Street to watch the action. He was a student in the second (1950) graduating high school class from its (then) new building, the today's site of Craig Middle School. You could almost drown in the parking lot of the school, he laughed, as huge mud puddles preceded a paved lot.

"You had to be careful not to get stuck," he said.

Shepherd -- who graduated high school with some other well-known Craig natives such as veterinarian Neil McCandless and Lou Wyman, who is spearheading the Living History Museum -- went on to college at what is now Colorado State University. There, six students from Craig were roommates in the basement of a Fort Collins home.

During a funeral in Kansas City for his uncle Jessie Love, Shepherd met President Harry Truman. Later, after being drafted into the Army during his senior year of college, Shepherd met President Dwight D. Eisenhower by nearly crashing his car into the president's limousine.

When the president sat next to Shepherd in the Georgia church the following day, Shepherd introduced himself. The president said he remembered Shepherd's blue car and the near collision.

"I think we about met yesterday front end to bumper," Shepherd said he told Eisenhower at the church.

In1956, when Shepherd was an Army sergeant stationed at the Fitzsimmons Hospital in Denver, Eisenhower was admitted after suffering a heart attack. Shepherd sought out the president and the two talked about hunting and fishing in Colorado, Shepherd said.

"When I walked in the door, (the president) said 'You're the one in the blue car,'" he reminisced.

Shepherd married in 1954, and the couple had a son, Mark. Shepherd said he and his wife divorced two years later. He later married Elizabeth Ann, commonly known as "Zan," and the couple has two grown children.

A longtime Lions Club member, Shepherd is the first person to twice serve as the club's president. A member of the organization for 35 years, Al is trumped only by his father's 40 years with the club.

The experience has afforded Shepherd nine trips to the club's national conventions, some of which are held overseas.

He's proud of his service and the club's work to help the community. Recently, Shepherd said the club offered an eye screening for 101 preschool children.

"I was tired after that," he said.

Taking part in the family's heating, air conditioning and plumbing business has been a lesson in adaptation, Shepherd said.

He remembers his father employing ditch diggers that would work for weeks on a site to ready holes for pipes. That work now can be done quickly with heavy machinery.

The business now deals mostly with installing new, more energy efficient furnaces. The heaters that used to lose about 60 percent of their heat today are made up to 96 percent efficient.

"Just with the fuel savings, it can pay for itself in a few years," he said.

A burgeoning history buff, Shepherd is passionate about his family history. He's determined that a member of the Shepherd family has been involved in every war since 1640, but none have died from battle. Other historical tidbits include Shepherd's grandfather, who was an editor of a Missouri newspaper. Shepherd said he is charged with starting the movement toward initiating ' compensation laws. One of Shepherd's three brothers, John, is responsible for spearheading the emergency call number 911 and Shepherdstown, W. Va., -- as you can guess -- is the likely birthplace of the Shepherd's family, he said.

"I've got that one pretty well down, but it's not fastened yet," Shepherd said.

Shepherd, who started in photography by shooting high school sports for the yearbooks, affirmed his love of the art, albeit accidentally.

While hunting elk as a boy, a large bull came within a few feet of Shepherd, giving him ample opportunity to make the kill.

"I thought, 'I can either shoot him with a gun or a camera,'" Shepherd said. "I've never picked up a gun since."

A lifetime of photographs and memories are stashed in shoeboxes, items that Shepherd says he needs to organize. That may happen when he can find a free moment.

"I've got too many things to do," he said.

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