Today he owns two motorcycles, or did until one of them was stolen while he was flying in Vietnam for the National Guard and the second disappeared Christmas Eve while he was at Frayser rink. Both were Harley-Davidson Sportsters, which he describes as the second-largest but fastest models in the line. He put a lot of work into his stolen bikes and deplores the police attitude toward his loss: "They can't be bothered." His contempt for motorcycle outlaws is less casual.
"I'm against people like the Hell's Angels. Not because of the way they look. That's their business, if they want to let their hair grow into their eyes so they can't see, and then run into trees. What I'm opposed to is the image they give anybody who rides a motorcycle." He has been asked to leave restaurants in Memphis when the proprietors have seen him drive up on his Harley, but his ardor for the big machines remains undimmed. "I want a machine that will let me head for Nashville at 75 miles an hour and go all day," he says. "Foreign bikes just blow."
Every man requires an outlet for his artistic talents, and Shackelford has found his in painting motorcycles. There are those among the Shackelford coterie who feel, indeed, that his creations on the fenders and fuel tanks of local machines are worthy of display in a Manhattan gallery. As with so many facets of his many-faceted existence, his motorcycle painting started by accident. "I tried to get my bike painted a couple of times," he recalls, "but I could never find anybody to do it. So I just borrowed the equipment and started in. It worked out pretty well."
It worked out so well that other people began asking him where he had gotten his bike painted, and when he told them it was a do-it-myself job, he was asked to decorate theirs. "The more I painted the better I got," he says, "and finally I got pretty famous for it. One boy shipped me his fenders and tank and stuff from Vietnam. That's my furtherest customer."
Shackelford also decorates motorcycle helmets, cars, trucks and anything else that lends itself to his startling designs. "Two or three years ago I painted my own motorcycle and got first place in the World Auto Show in Memphis. I painted one motorcycle for Elvis. He's had it painted in California, even had custom-upholstered seats. He'd loaned it to somebody, and they took a spill, so it had a lot of scratches. I restored it for him."
Shackelford is busiest in the wintertime, when motorcycle use is at its nadir. "People don't want to let loose of their bikes for a week in the summer," he explains, "and it takes me at least that long to do a job." He mixes his own paints out of raw pigments and clear acrylic, so that no two designs are alike. "No question about somebody ever running into another cycle the same color," he says. "No way."
One of his paint jobs is now a Memphis tourist attraction. Some time ago the city of Memphis took over responsibility for the famed World War II bomber, Memphis Belle, which is on display there. The Air National Guard has taken on the job of restoring and repainting the old B-17, and Shack was the man who wielded the restorative brush.
Like motorcycling and McKellar Lake, the Air National Guard is an object of passionate loyalty to Shackelford. He joined it shortly around the end of the Korean War and is now a loadmaster on C-124 cargo planes, with a rank of staff sergeant. His specialty makes the work "real good" (a loadmaster supervises but does not load), and his rating assures him a living income. "I make as much as I want to, and I enjoy working here. It's not like the Marines or the Navy Reserve, where all they do is drill and read books." He enjoys the opportunity to travel that the ANG gives him, and he's covered a lot of territory for an erstwhile Tennessee country boy. "I've been every place except the Communist countries," he says. "All over Europe, Australia, Taiwan, South America, Vietnam, Italy, England, Germany, Holly Springs." Holly Springs?
No streak in the Shackelford character runs deeper than his need to invent things. When ordinary recreations pale, he can be counted on to devise new ones. When he spots an industrial tool that intrigues him, he finds a recreational application for it. He is a kind of Thomas Edison of the pleasure cult.
For instance, he is probably the only man outside NASA who owns his own kite based on the Rogallo wing. He is certainly the only man on McKellar Lake with a parasail. But if one Shackelford innovation demonstrates this facility best, it is shallow-water shark killing, a sport he discovered one season on a trip to the Bahamas. He was with a young lady at the time, and after getting to Tampa by motorcycle they caught a plane for Eleuthera Island, where Shackelford was struck by a daily ritual at one of the local ranches.