March 2016
Homeplace & Community

A Life Well Lived

 
  In 2005, Shane Etheredge wrote a novel about logging. He wanted to preserve the stories he had heard while working in the logging and wood business in Clarke and Wilcox counties. He sent a signed copy to then-President George Bush, who wrote a personal thank-you note to Etheredge.

Shane Etheredge follows his passions.

Shane Etheredge has always loved to work with his hands. In high school, he and his friend, Dan Deas, ran their own junkyard. Many neighbors would give the teens old cars to work on. The two young men would sometimes strip the old cars and sell the parts to make extra money. Other times, they would repair the automobiles and sell them at a profit.

An honor student, Etheredge had his pick of scholarships to any college he desired. Instead, he chose to attend Hobson State Technical School (now Alabama Southern) in Thomasville and study to be a mechanic.

"My high school teachers could not believe that I didn’t want to go to college," Etheredge recalled. "I always told them that the world needs good mechanics as much as we need good doctors and lawyers."

Etheredge made the decision to follow his heart and do the things he loved. When the local Ford dealership offered him a job, he quit trade school and went to work. From there, he moved on to a job with Pine Hill Auto, Truck and Tractor Repair. Here, he would work under Toby Williamson, a man he calls his mentor.

"In the early ’80s, training was not as good as it is now,’ Etheredge explained. "The Internet was not available and self-help books were limited. I wanted to work on all kinds of machines and not limit myself to one area, and this is what I got to do with Toby Williamson."

In 1981, after his uncle died, Etheredge travelled to North Carolina to help his aunt, who had been left with a small farm. This farm was his mother’s birthplace, so he stayed until another family member was able to help.

When he returned to Alabama, he was self-employed for a short stint before taking a job with Luther Spires Chipping. Logging was really booming at that time, so Etheredge stayed busy working on skidders, log trucks, loaders and other logging equipment. The company hauled chips for McMillan Bloedel in Yellow Bluff. Using an old chipper that had burned and one that had been used for spare parts, Etheredge and some of his co-workers built a chipper that could grind a 28-inch tree and chip over 2,000 cords a week. Etheredge stated that this job kept him busy maintaining all the equipment because the parts wore out so rapidly from the continuous wear and tear. Nevertheless, the hands-on experience was exactly what he had wanted.

 
Shane, right, says Toby Williamson became his mentor, teaching him about all kinds of engines and allowing him the freedom to work on many different projects to learn all he could. “Mr. Toby is a good man who taught me a lot about mechanics, but he taught me more about life!” Shane stated.  

In 1996, Etheredge accepted a job with Boise Paper Company, working on heavy equipment. Then, in February 2014, he took a job as Service and Parts Manager with Thomasville Honda-Polaris.

From the early ’80s, Etheredge had always been interested in technology. From its earliest beginnings, he was interested in learning all he could. Now, the advances he has witnessed amaze him.

"We can resist technology for a while," he laughed. "But soon, we all have to embrace it. You can run from it, but it’ll catch up to you.

"My job here at Thomasville Polaris-Honda is a learning curve every day. Even our chainsaws are computerized now. The federal government requires emission standards for both chainsaws and weed eaters. This is a challenge for the manufacturers and for those of us who work on machines."

Etheredge has felt a close kinship with the logging and paper wood industries. Through the years, he had heard thousands of stories told by those who have worked all their lives in this business. Concerned that these stories might be lost, Etheredge wrote a novel in 2005. He called his book, "A Logger’s Dream." The book was loosely based on some of the characters he had met and many of the stories they had shared.

 
  Shane and Judean Etheredge enjoy rescuing and rehabbing animals on their farm in Sunny South. People bring them hurt or abandoned animals, and the couple works to help the animals so they can be released or adopted.

"I wanted to record some of the old stories and show how things have changed through the years," he explained. "The wood products industries are the backbone of our economy in Clarke and Wilcox counties. Now, these industries have been computerized and touched by technology. They don’t even look like they did 20 years ago."

He sent a signed copy of his book to then-President George Bush, who wrote him a personal note. He proudly cherishes that note.

Etheredge never regretted leaving technical school to get hands-on training, but he had secretly wished he had earned some sort of degree. He remedied this by starting a degree program in theology from Andersonville Theological Seminary in Camilla, Ga. He quickly earned an associate degree, and then decided to go farther. He has now completed a doctorate in theology. He pastors Bible Baptist Outreach Church in Thomasville, a small church for those who don’t feel comfortable in more traditional worship centers.

Etheredge’s wife, Judean, also earned her doctorate degree in pastoral counseling from ATS. She runs Autumn Olive Outreach, a family counseling service. Her office is located on their farm. She has also written many books.

 
After reading the book, “Alabama’s Covered Bridges,” Shane and Judean visited all the bridges mentioned in the book. He then came home, designed and built his own covered bridge across a lake on his farm.  

The Etheredge farm, located in Sunny South, is a veritable animal haven. Since Judean is a certified wildlife rehabilitator, the couple has taken in hundreds of abused, rejected or sick animals, from Jacob sheep to all kinds of birds and chickens. They currently have eight dogs that had been abandoned and a wild mustang that had once been adopted and then discarded. The animal, now over 28 years old, has lived on their farm for many years and seems like family. The couple love and respect animals and open their hearts to all of God’s creatures.

Even though Etheredge is self-taught in many areas, he loves a challenge because he always wants to learn something new. He is especially interested in solar and other alternative energy sources. In fact, his home is partially solar-powered. He has built his own gasifier engine because he feels there will be a time when this source of energy will be needed again. He installed a wood boiler to heat his home and his wife’s greenhouse and office.

When Etheredge first moved to his farm, he planted a grove of pine trees. After these trees were ready to harvest, he cut them to build two cabins, one for his wife and one for himself. He chinked the logs with mortar, hauled stones from Washington County to build both fireplaces and laid down flooring, retrieved from an old home he had bought and torn down. Judean now uses her log cabin as a writer’s sanctuary. Etheredge has decorated the walls of his cabin with family memorabilia such as his grandfather’s old banjo and numerous saws. He uses his cabin for reflection and study.

The Etheredges also bought and restored an old sharecropper home, called the Holliman Home. The home had been built around 1850, and Judean’s great-grandparents had once lived in it. The home had an unusual interior fireplace that was shared in three rooms. To move the house, Etheredge had to take down the fireplace, move the house and then rebuild the fireplace using the original bricks.

Many things can spark Etheredge’s curiosity. For example, after reading the book, "Alabama’s Covered Bridges," by Tom and Dess Sangster, Etheredge was so inspired that he and Judean travelled to see each bridge. After this, he designed and built his own covered bridge across the lake on his farm. He used trees that had been struck by lightning. He prepared the boards with a band sawmill he had constructed. Etheredge called his bridge Lightning Bridge. Ironically, a few years later, this bridge was struck by lightning, starting a small fire. Since there was only minimal damage, he quickly repaired the bridge. Later, he wrote the Sangsters telling them how much their book had inspired him and including a picture of his own Lightning Bridge.

The Etheredges are also amateur archeologists. They go on digs with the University of South Alabama Archeology students at Old St. Stephens, located in Washington County. St. Stephens was the location of the first capital of Alabama. The couple has been working on a spot that was once the Globe Hotel. They have unearthed Spanish reals, nails, pottery, old bottles and other treasures. Etheredge once found a spoon with a manufacturer’s name on it. Curious, he went online and traced the name to a company in England operated in the 1850s. All the finds from St. Stephens are carefully catalogued and taken to a museum, located on the campus of the University of South Alabama in Mobile.

Etheredge still spends time tinkering with old cars. A few years ago, he built a Model A Street Rod and installed a computerized fuel injection engine in it. He once drove the vehicle daily, but, now, he and Judean take it for pleasure rides through the back roads of rural Clarke and Wilcox counties.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "The purpose of life is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well."

Shane Etheredge has definitely "lived well." At a very young age, he had the courage to follow his heart and the conviction to do what he loved. And in doing that, he has made a difference and found true happiness!

Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville. She can be reached ad This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..