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THE WET, HAPPY LIFE OF MARVIN SHACKELFORD
Charles Gillespie
January 12, 1970
This branch-water bon vivant and world champion marathon water skier is accused by some of having entered his second childhood. Shack and his fun-loving friends deny this with vigor, asserting that, at 34, he has never left the first one
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January 12, 1970

The Wet, Happy Life Of Marvin Shackelford

This branch-water bon vivant and world champion marathon water skier is accused by some of having entered his second childhood. Shack and his fun-loving friends deny this with vigor, asserting that, at 34, he has never left the first one

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"They had a big chicken house where some of the birds died every day," he explains. "They'd throw the carcasses off a cliff into the Atlantic, and the sharks would swim around and wait for the feast. Some of them got to 20 or 30 feet long. Sometimes the farmers would catch a boa constrictor in the chicken coop, and they'd toss that over the cliff, too.

"Anyhow, we got the workers to throw the chickens down on the ground instead of off the cliff," Shackelford continues. "We'd bait these huge hooks at the end of five-eighths nylon rope with four or five chickens. Then Becky, this gal, and some local people and I would get in the water—just us and the rope and the sharks—and we'd play tug-of-war with them until we could get them up on a sandbar and stab them to death.

"We went back two or three years, then Becky and I broke up, and I didn't have anybody to go with."

Shackelford was inspired to build his kite based on NASA's Rogallo wing when he read about one in a magazine. Though details were secret, the article included an artist's conception of what one might look like. Shack conducted his own tests and "on about the 40th try" began to get the hang of it. Eventually he built one he claims would outfly any kite in the world. His parasail was created in a similar way. After reading about one, he wrote the inventor and got a set of directions. He then handcrafted his own, which he still rides around the lake hitched either to a jeep for dry-land sailing or to the back of his inboard for cruising over the lake.

In addition to inventing things, he likes to fix them. He cannot abide something that doesn't work, witness his Princess telephone. One Christmastime he was wandering through a department store and noticed a box full of broken slot cars waiting to be discarded. Shackelford purchased the lot, 50 in all, for $5 and after a few hours' work had 47 of them running. He then constructed a racing layout that took up most of Shack's Shack, and the McKellar marina was alive with the whine of slot-car engines for the next several weeks. Finally he grew tired of the sport and gave the set to his nephews.

"In spasms," Shackelford is an expert pistol shot (60 bullets through the heart from every position while qualifying with a service .38), and new fields always beckon. Recently he has been devoting much of his time to his radio-controlled airplanes. He likes to find lonely spots to fly them, but usually ends up attracting a crowd of a couple hundred people before he's through. Memphis is not exactly Disneyland when it comes to rival attractions.

Last August Shackelford entered his first formal radio-controlled airplane competition, at a time when he had only two months of experience with the complicated craft. Nevertheless, he won the Class A stunt division, beating out a veteran of five years' experience. "I thought that wasn't too bad," Shack says with becoming modesty.

To such a one as Marvin Shackelford, the earth must seem a place of limitless variety and charm. No challenge must seem beyond him, no bauble so trivial that it is not worth picking up. Still, for all his models and telephones and water skis, he is not fulfilled. "The world is fading fast for the individual," he says. "If somebody really wants to kick the doors open on something, there's just not anything left. They've got too many restrictions on everything these days.

"You know," he concludes, "if I could have done anything I wanted to, it would have been to be the first man on the moon." Yet, one wonders: could Neil Armstrong have water-skied almost a thousand miles—with or without a big toenail?

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