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Sheppard forges on in changing economy

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By PAT FAHERTY

Special to the Citizen

Whether the work involves cows, clams, construction, cooking, logging or hauling, Shep's Welding has fabricated the needed components.

Products from the long-running Chiefland business reflect the region's transitioning economy.

Derwood "Shep" Sheppard describes it as a job shop that does a lot of repair work, with a store for welding supplies.

Sheppard is a lifelong Chiefland resident, whose roots go back seven generations.

The business dates back to 1975, but he has been practicing the craft since 1968, having learned it from an uncle.

The shop started as shade tree operation, moved to a lean-to, then the rear shop building in 1984. He added the storefront in 2000. 

"We've done a lot of different things," he said. "I've fashioned everything from lampshades to peg legs to barges and stuff like that. 

"There's always something."

Most of the work involves MIG (metal inert gas) welding, which leaves a clean finish.

But the product that put Shep's on the map is the hydraulic hoof trimming table. He has been selling them to dairies for their cows for more than 20 years. 

He said they used to sell them all over the northeastern United States, but now confines sales to the southeast part of the country as delivering the units was taking up too much time.

And demand isn't what it was. He used to turn out three to four tables a month, now it's down to four to five a year. 

Loggers and farmers were other early customers. "The first 20 years I was in business, probably 95 percent of what I did went straight into the woods," he said. 

The clam industry in Cedar Key prompted another line of products as the shop turned out the various equipment used by that sector. 

But those industries have waned or consolidated as the economy slowed. Now with just one employee, Sheppard said they handle whatever comes in, such as work for area builders.

And while he would like one strong category emerge that he could focus on, every job is different, requiring him to be on the job everyday to price things out.

The shop recently build a skid, that can double as float for moving core-boring equipment into place without tearing up the land. Early this week, a trailer was taking shape and a hoof trimming table was ready for delivery.

Sheppard's time commitment is also different from the early days of the shop, when he worked seven days week. Now he takes off Saturdays, Sundays and holidays and admits he's scarce during hunting season.

He enjoys hunting with his son Derwood Sheppard Jr., who is a civil engineer in Tallahassee. 

As for retirement, that's not likely, he surmised, at least for a few more years.