By Babs Rodriguez
Photos by Ralph Lauer
A career naval officer and his wife collect things shiny and briny for a landlocked home office.
“It’s almost like walking into a kind of museum,” Mark Shobe says of the home office his wife created for him. “It holds a lot of memories for me.”
The Shobes are a Navy family, and Linda Shobe’s objective was to create a space that told her husband’s story. Mark’s service on submarines took them coast to coast in the United States as well as to a base in Japan. Now the empty nesters — they grew up in Fort Worth, met in fifth grade and have been married for 44 years — call acreage near Benbrook home.
The couple’s two-story house, built 22 years ago, has an industrial farmhouse feel. Filled with an intriguing mix of art, antiques and found objects, it showcases an interior look influenced by a visit to Thomas Edison’s laboratory decades ago. For Mark, a software engineer, all things related to science and technology hold an appeal. He feels this leaning is inherited from grandfather James Edison Shobe, an inventor (with several patents to his evocative name), who once built a tractor from scratch, fabricating everything but the tires. “That gene got passed down to my father and to me. I can remember, as a teenager, wanting to build a mock-up of the Apollo spacecraft with friends, to see if we could live in it for a few weeks.”
Mark never got to live in a space capsule, but he did spend 23 years working and sleeping in steel tubes. Inspired by father Clinton Shobe’s WWII naval service and career as an aeronautical engineer, Mark enlisted in the Navy’s submarine advanced electronics program, completed his college degree while in the service, and eventually retired as a CWO3 (chief warrant officer, 3rd level) in 1995. After becoming an expert in computer systems training and enterprise software at Occidental Chemical in Dallas, he went to work for Tarrant County as a consultant for the installation of the same program, and he now works full time for the county.
Linda, who recently retired after 20 years as the floral designer for home furnishings store Domain XCIV, is a studio artist. Many of her large paintings have allegorical overtones, whimsical to edgy, compatible with collections of found objects, scientific bric-a-brac and comfortable furnishings. The couple share an eccentric taste in decor, but when their son and daughter vacated the upstairs bedrooms, Linda focused her artistic vision on converting one of the two bedrooms to tell Mark’s story.
She began by painting the walls a lovely deep teal, so dark it is almost gray. She liked the color for its deep-water resonance and for its appeal as a backdrop for bright and shiny collectibles.
“So much of the hardware on ships is brass because the sea air doesn’t corrode the material,” she says. The hunt for nautical memorabilia — hard to find in Cowtown — made Linda an expert at shopping eBay.
Mark’s one request: He wanted to display his dad’s WWII naval uniform, and it’s now under glass and framed. “I wanted nautical flavor,” Mark says, “and I am also drawn to old technology, a nod to Grandfather Shobe. But beyond all that I wanted the space to be my small tribute to my dad and to all the others who served before me, especially those in the submarine force.”
In his career, Mark experienced submarine life at the extremes, serving on the largest missile-carrying nuclear submarine as well as the oldest sub model in the fleet, a 576 GUPPY-class named the USS Darter. That diesel-electric sub, similar to those used in WWII, was used for patrolling the Pacific from the base in Japan, where nuclear ships are banned. “I got a taste of what that crusty, grueling life on the old subs was like. This office is my tip of the hat to what those guys endured.”
Linda pulled together ships’ brass gauges of mysterious provenance, but one used to measure a ballast tank’s capacity is definitively from a submarine. She repurposed the centerpiece desk from elsewhere in the home, painting the pickled-pine antique reproduction with ball and claw feet a matte black. At Domain, she purchased a steel curio cabinet to house memorabilia, including a photo of Mark’s father as a proud 17-year-old in his Navy uniform. Intriguing collectibles include a vintage rangefinder used to estimate the speed and range of incoming aircraft and a model of the USS Darter.
The old cameras that Mark collects are everywhere, including in the floor-to-ceiling bookcase that holds a boatswain’s (bosun’s) pipe, a silver whistle used to convey orders, a compass repeater from a submarine and a collection of heavy pottery cups with pour lines that reflect a safe level for swashing liquids. A bright brass clinometer features a bubble suspended in fluid and is used to reflect a sub’s angle of ascent or descent — the source of the WWII submariners’ nickname: “bubbleheads.”
Sitting atop a small rolltop desk found at David’s Stove Shop in Parker County is a vintage megger box, designed to hold a device used to determine whether a wire is running live current. Mark loves the gadget; Linda loves the seasoned wood box. Nearby, a computer desk is painted the same shade as the walls. “I wanted to make it disappear,” Linda says of the purely functional piece.
Every night, after dinner, Mark retreats to his compact office. The couple agree, it’s Mark’s perfect world. “That’s why I made sure there’s a comfortable chair in there for me,” Linda says, laughing. Mark says, “I live on a computer during the day, and I live a computer life at night. That’s always been my stress reliever. It is a comfort to come up here, sit back and relax, and peruse camera deals on eBay. It’s what I do; I have always been that kind of nerdy person.”
Dark, cozy, filled with gauges and gears, the room seems only to want for a periscope. “We’ve discussed it,” Linda says. But Mark notes that it also lacks a diving klaxon, the instrument that makes a diving sub’s loud and distinctive “aooogah” sound.
“A really hardcore sub collector would want a working one,” he says. “I feel like that would make my collection complete.” Linda prefers that they continue running silent.