Big heart, tiny ways: meet Baileyton’s Orby Shedd


Orby Shedd at his home in Baileyton / W.C. Mann

BAILEYTON – There is a man named Shedd whose accomplishments are well-known in east Cullman County.  State Rep. Randall Shedd . . . is his nephew.  Orby V. Shedd is a quiet, unassuming man who has made a name for himself by giving attention to little things; his lifelong hobby has been producing detailed miniatures, from tiny tools to complete buildings, from discarded materials.  This week, he sat down with The Tribune to talk about his work and the life behind it.

“Back to my childhood,” began Shedd, “I built a little chopping axe.  When I was just a little old bitty kid, I built one, and everybody got amazed about it.  I’ve always thought of it, and I started building different things when I was younger.  After I retired, I just made a hobby of it.”

When Shedd talks about retirement, you might need to ask him “Which time?”  He’s done a lot of things, and officially retired twice.

Shedd served a short stint in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.  Remaining stateside through the conflict, he worked in training operations at Fort Campbell, Kentucky as a member of the 3rd Armored Division, and at Fort Benning, Georgia with the 11th Airborne.  When asked if he enjoyed jumping out of planes, he chuckled and responded, “Not really.”

Shedd had been a boxer since his teen years when, according to son Dale, he owned two pairs of gloves: “one for him and one for anyone who wanted to fight him.”  He earned extra money in his Army paychecks by putting on matches for entertainment at military installations.  A lightweight class fighter, he was never defeated, though a Golden Gloves champion from New York once fought him to a declared draw.

After he was discharged from the Army in Kentucky, Shedd relocated to Nashville, where he took his G.I. Bill to barber school and opened his own shop after graduation; staying there until 1972, long enough for an official retirement through the barbers’ union.  Shedd also took to building and remodeling houses with his own work crew.  He was an active Freemason, at one point serving as Worshipful Master of a Nashville lodge whose members included a number of country music’s high rollers.

Early on in his Nashville days, he met and married the young lady who would spend the next 65 years of her life as Mrs. Minnie Beatrice Shedd.  She was true to her vows; in 2017, she proved that only death could part them.  

Returning with his wife and children to Alabama in 1972, Shedd settled in Baileyton where he built his family a house, dug storm shelters for numerous homes around Baileyton, and went to work for the Alabama State Highway Department, now the Alabama Department of Transportation.  From that agency he earned his second retirement.

Then he graduated from high school.  Shedd earned his GED at age 64, then went on to earn credentials from Wallace State as a social worker, alcohol and drug abuse counselor, and mental health technician.  He worked in the field for a short time with doctors at Woodland Hospital in Cullman.

He finally got around to pursuing his hobby full-time.  Shedd couldn’t recall even a ballpark figure of how many miniatures he has made over the years, but did note how far they have gone.  His works are displayed at the Arab Historic Village, Baileyton Town Hall, and at various churches, businesses and schools around the county.  There’s one at the Capitol building in Montgomery; appropriately, it’s of the Capitol building.  One of his pieces even made it into a private collection in Australia!

Shedd’s work can be incredibly detailed, and is also quite environmentally-friendly.  One of his rules for his projects is to use recycled scrap materials.  

“It has to be this way,” explained Shedd.  “It has to be out of a throw-away material that nobody would want: matchsticks, toothpicks, popsicle sticks.”

In his living room are many works, most prominent among them a model of his wife’s childhood home.  It features:

  • matchstick walls
  • toothpick window frames
  • popsicle stick trim
  • carpet remnant lawn
  • bored well with a 9-millimeter cartridge case for the shaft pipe and the aluminum collar from a pencil eraser for the bucket.
  • hundreds of “tar paper” shingles hand-cut from sandpaper

How much money has his craftiness earned for him over the years?  None.  Shedd has never charged any person or group for any piece he has made for them.  

“God give me the talent for it,” said Shedd, “and I said I’d charge nothing for it to nobody.  I’ve never charged any for anything.  If I had to take pay for it, I wouldn’t make it!  I’ve just always enjoyed building, and after I retired here, I just did it as a hobby.”

The Shedds had two children, five grandchildren, several great-grandchildren and even one great-great-grandchild before Mrs. Shedd’s passing.  When asked what he would like people to remember about him, Shedd paused for a moment, then responded, “Well, that’s a hard question.”  Glancing at his son Dale, he continued, “I lost my wife the early part of last year, and lost my daughter this December, and I guess I’d say I’d like people to know I had a great family.”

Collections of Orby Shedd’s miniatures may be viewed at Baileyton Town Hall and the Arab Historic Village.

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