Charleen Shipp: Train Maker

Trainmaker Charlene Shipp with her niece, Paula Winchester (photo by Nan Chisholm)

Ninety-four-year-old Charleen Shipp grew up as a tomboy on a farm outside Booneville, Missouri. She loved nothing better than to shadow her father all day long, completely absorbed as she watched him build gates or a shed, fixing just about anything and running the family farm.

“My father could do most anything,” she said, during a recent visit to her home in Shawnee. Shipp obviously has inherited his talent for woodworking. And just like her father, she has a workshop in her garage; quite a variety of tools are arranged on a pegboard behind the large worktable.

Shipp received a B.A. in instrumental music from Central Methodist College as well as a master’s degree in music education from the University of Michigan. Along the way she married and had a daughter; they lived on a farm that bordered her childhood home. Shipp taught music and organized high school bands for 33 years. She relocated to the Kansas City area about 17 years ago after her husband died.

Shipp spent the shutdown constructing her longest train ever of 28 cars. (photo by Nan Chisholm)

The trains’ unusual cargo ranges from wood chips painted to look like coal, to automobiles and army tanks, Hershey’s Kisses and former cookie cans. (photo by Paula Winchester)

Trains had impressed her as a child. She remembers waiting for seemingly endless numbers of railroad cars to pass on Booneville’s railroad bridge, admiring their forms and colors as they sped by. That experience may have helped inspire her to create trains for younger members of her family. During the shutdown, she spent a year constructing her longest ever, its 28 cars fashioned of wood and recycled elements. Shipp estimates that she spent about $60 for wheels but had a source for well-priced lumber. Many of the other elements were repurposed or given to her by friends.

In between the engine and caboose, there are some charming conveyors of unusual cargo. Former cookie cans are employed as carriers; a clear plastic jug serves as a railway aquarium. There is a zoo car with three tigers behind its wooden bars (Shipp’s favorite), and an open-top hopper carrying coal (a clean variety concocted of black-painted wood chips). An observation car resembling a double-decker bus accommodates 20 extremely interested tourists. One open container is filled with smooth rocks while a sand dollar graces the top of the pile. Meanwhile, automobiles and army tanks, corn and soybeans, Hershey’s Kisses and M&Ms are all traveling in style in their own cars nearby.

Shipp still plays the piano and gave an impressive mini concert, concluding with “Let Me Call you Sweetheart.” She will turn 95 on Independence Day 2022. Her only regret? She wishes that she had traveled more. Mode of transportation not specified.

Nan Chisholm

Nan Chisholm is an art consultant and appraiser of 19th- and 20th-century paintings. After a long association with Sotheby’s, she founded her own business in 2003. She has appeared as a fine art appraiser on “Antiques Roadshow” since its inception in 1995.

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