Moffat County Locals: Al Shepherd shares nostalgia, memories of Craig long ago
Craig — Few men have the privilege of sitting down for coffee every morning with their best friend of 80 years, but for 85-year-old Al Shepherd, it’s a daily reality.
Born in Craig in 1931, Shepherd is one of the self-described “old bunch” that meets at the Cool Water Grille weekday mornings, alongside best bud Lou Wyman and at least a half dozen other Craig old-timers.
Shepherd and Wyman grew up caddy-corner from each other at Sixth and Taylor, and were inseparable by age 5.
“We were constantly together. I was with him more than my own brothers,” Shepherd said, who was the youngest of four boys.
There were the usual youthful antics, such as the time Shepherd froze his tongue to the merry-go-round, the time they rang a neighbor’s doorbell as a prank and Shepherd was chased in such close pursuit that he had to lap his house twice before he could get in the door, or the time he jumped from a tree to grab a rope swing that hung over an irrigation ditch on Taylor Street and another boy pushed the rope out of reach.
“He went right down under the water and came up and his glasses were down there stuck in the mud,” Wyman recalled with a laugh. “We had to get a rake to get them out.”
Shepherd would regularly accompany Wyman to his family’s sheep ranch for two or three weeks every summer, and when Shepherd took to sleeping on his family’s screened-in front porch even during the bitter-cold winter nights, Wyman would sometimes join him.
The boys grew up in a Craig long since disappeared, one characterized by soda fountains, dirt roads, 40-below-zero nights and lots of pickup baseball games.
“Craig was a sleepy little town of probably three or four thousand. On Saturday nights, you’d go down to Main Street (Yampa Avenue and Victory Way). We had three drug stores with soda fountains,” Shepherd said. “There wouldn’t be any parking at all because everybody was there. You’d go down there, park, and walk up and down. There were no TVs so you’d go out and socialize.”
In seventh grade, Wyman was sent to military school, but after graduating — Shepherd a member of Moffat County High School Class of 1950 — the boys reunited. In 1951, they enrolled at Colorado State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, or Colorado A&M for short (present day Colorado State University), together with four other Craig boys: Neil McCandless, Joe Wilson, Carl Conway and John Allen Klein.
Shepherd enlisted in the military and it was during his service that, after nearly colliding with his limousine, he found himself sitting next to President Dwight Eisenhower in church. He introduced himself and shook his hand and became known as the young man in the robin’s-egg-blue car. He would meet Eisenhower a second time after the president’s heart attack in Denver, in his hospital room at Fitzsimons Army Hospital where Shepherd was stationed.
Returning to Craig in 1956, Shepherd took up work in the family business, Shepherd & Sons, Inc., founded by his father in 1924. Having been once married with one son, Mark, he remarried in 1959 to his wife, Zan, and had two more children, Shawn and Kristi.
Fifty-five years of marriage and 57 years of fixing, heating and cooling the buildings of Craig, Shepherd is now retired. His wife passed away in 2015, and he sold the family business in 2013. He continues to volunteer, a habit he learned early on through his parents’ involvement in the American Legion.
After years spent with the Boy Scouts, the Jaycees (Junior Chamber of Commerce) and the Kiwanis Club, Shepherd joined the Lions Club and has now been a member for nearly 50 years. He received Volunteer of the Year from Moffat County United Way in 2015 for his years of service to the community.
And for someone who has seen so many generations of change sweep through his beloved hometown, Shepherd still loves it and believes in its future.
“I think I’ve seen four booms in my lifetime and it’ll boom again,” Shepherd said. “They’re worried about it right now, but it’ll boom again.”
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The Yampa Valley has been seeing some much needed rain to start the month of May, which is historically the wettest month of the year for the area.