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Shelton is an artist with a passion for trains

CISCO - Howard "Jimbo" Shelton, retired from railroad work 20 years ago, but he still cannot get rid of his passion for tracks, cars and steam engines.

And since, at 78, he can no longer do the work he once loved, he does the next best thing. He draws trains, lots of them.

"It keeps you from drying up. I draw awhile, then I speak awhile, and that seems to get the job done. But if I hadn't of went to drawing, I'd have gone crazy," Shelton says.

On his living room walls are two long examples of his work. Shelton cuts large, four sided cardboard boxes into strips about 10 inches high and 8 feet long. Along the length of these he draws engines, cars, tracks, power lines, cross ties, smoke coming from the engines, and the caboose.

"Trains today don't have a caboose," he says with some disgust. "But my drawings always do."

Dozens of other cardboard train drawings lie against a wall. Shelton's wife, Sally Jo, is a pleasant, tolerant woman, but seems just about out of patience with a house overflowing with train art.

"If you had looked at them as much as I have, you might not want to see any more of them either," she says.

"No, she doesn't want them," Shelton responds, but none of that seems to matter to Shelton, who worked mainly on track maintenance for the Texas and Pacific Railroad for 34 years. He just keeps right on drawing and coloring.

The family home is just 50 yards from the rail tracks that run through Cisco, which is just fine with Shelton, but his heart dwells in the past of the caboose and steam engine.

"I can't hardly stand the sound of the whistles of those diesel engines. They just don't sound like the steam engines. They just don't sound right at all," he says.

Shelton says he has drawn all his life and always derived pleasure from it. The bulk of his art is trains, but he also has a passion for cowboys, the kind of cowboys heroes who dashed through the Old West on white horses, wearing white hats, and doing good deeds just for the sake of justice. Among the several such Shelton drawings, one shows the masked Lone Ranger seated on his galloping Silver, whose four feet do not touch the earth. Their mission, obviously, is urgent.

Shelton says his technique is simple.

"I sit and think awhile, then I go get my pencil."

It is a technique that has apparently worked well. Shelton has sold a few of his cardboard trains and says he is getting better with age and practice.

"Every year, you improve a little," he says.

He can draw, he says, just about anything, but he is bedeviled by his one inexplicable artistic failing.

"I don't understand it. I just can't seem to draw a fish. I can draw cows and horses and everything. I just can't draw a fish," he says.

Abilene Reporter-News
Ken Ellsworth