SHINER, Texas (AP) _ The multi-colored boxes are lined up smartly like toy soldiers at attention, shiny, bright and emblazoned with bold lettering, ready to withstand the ravages of Mother Nature and daily pounding by consumers.

They mark the last stop in an assembly line that uses technology rivaling machinery found in the most modern auto plant. But instead of racy monograms like 300-ZX or RX-7, these squat containers carry nameplates like Times, News, Journal, Chronicle or Post.

The ubiquitous newspaper box was born in this town in the rolling farm and cattle country 80 miles east of San Antonio at Kaspar Wire Works Inc.

''We're the biggest manufacturer in the United States and I guess the world, because the United States is really the only place that uses newspaper racks,'' said David Kaspar, vice president of sales and great-grandson of the company's founder.

''We're the General Motors of the newspaper rack business,'' added Cliff Long, general sales manager.

The company estimates more than 4 billion newspapers a year are purchased out of Kaspar-manufactured Sho-Racks. About a year ago, the Wall Street Journal took delivery of Kaspar's 1 millionth newspaper box.

The first one hit the streets in February 1957, carrying the logo of the San Antonio Light. A Light circulation manager had complained that too many people were stealing papers from non-locking ''honor racks,'' so Kaspar people developed a coin mechanism and cage-type rack with a pull-down door. The basic design is still in use.

Kaspar Wire Works can trace its beginnings to the adoption of barbed wire in Texas at the turn of the century.

August Kaspar, son of a Swiss Lutheran missionary, hand-wove with a pair of pliers his own corn shuck basket from smooth wire discarded by farmers who were switching to barbed wire for their fences.

''A neighbor saw it and a neighbor's neighbor saw it and pretty soon he decided, 'I've got something here,''' David Kaspar said.

August Kaspar's next invention was a wire muzzle for horses so the animals pulling plows through farm fields could not munch on the produce being grown there.

He went fulltime with the business in 1898 and, at one time or another, the company - which now employs 525 people in a town of 2,100 - has made shopping carts, display racks, deep-fry baskets and the wire trays that hold cups in soft-drink dispensers.

''We build things we don't even know what they are,'' David Kaspar said. ''Most things we build are just part of a product.''

That is not the case, however, for newspaper racks, which are manufactured from scratch out of American-made steel specifically selected by Kaspar Wire Works.

Presses punch out components for coin mechanisms and for the boxes, and steel-cutting machines are programmed by computer to ensure straight edges. Robots spot-weld the pieces together. The steel is zinc-electroplated to help combat rust. Acrylic enamel paint is applied in automated booths.

''We want these boxes to look good for a long time,'' Kaspar said.

The workhorse of the Kaspar line is known as the TK-80 Sho-Rack, a 4-foot- high, 19-inch-wide, 16-inch-deep box that holds up to a 29-inch stack of newspapers. It weighs about 95 pounds and, depending on options like paper holders, extra-large windows and discounts to large-volume purchasers, costs about $200. Other models could cost up to $600.

''We've got 30 different models of racks, but once a newspaper gets a style everyone is used to, the newspaper doesn't want to change,'' Kaspar said. ''Nothing seems to replace the old standby.''

More than 70 percent of Kaspar's sales are TK-80 models.

USA Today, generally credited for the trend toward greater use of color and graphics in newspapers, also broke the mold in newspaper racks, pioneering its TV-like box atop a pedestal. Kaspar has manufactured more than 100,000 of them and the newspaper is the company's largest customer.

''USA Today patented the design,'' Kaspar said. ''We build it for them and to their specifications. We cannot build that design for anyone else.''

If there is a trend in the industry, it is toward modular racks, where several newspapers share a common large box with individual compartments and colorful designs.

''What we have seen is a big explosion in customers going to fancier logos on the side of the racks,'' Kaspar said.

The New York Daily News, for example, now has a bright red, white and blue box. The Chicago Sun-Times uses a yellow box with red and white letters. The Houston Chronicle is redoing 15,000 boxes at Kaspar with a new design.

Some of the paint colors at the Kaspar plant are unique to certain newspapers and have become known as Chicago White or Orlando Blue.

The No. 1 problem with all the boxes is vandalism, as thieves try to get inside the coin box mechanism, Kaspar said.

''We've got a big heavy 12-gauge housing because that's where the money is,'' he said. ''But we'll hear stories where vandals have used a cutting torch. Sometimes they'll take the whole rack away and take it home where they can work on them.''

The lifetime of a box, however, is quite long, with some in use since the 1960s.

A dozen salesmen scattered around the country service Kaspar customers and, at Kaspar expense, newspapers send technicians to Shiner, where they are put up in a Kaspar-owned guest house and where Kaspar workers train them to repair the boxes.

''We not only want to sell them a rack, we want them to be proud of it on the street,'' said Long, the general sales manager.

End Adv Sunday Aug. 17