A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from December 08, 2006
Shade Tree Mechanic

A “shade tree mechanic” is a mechanic who works part time, at his home, tinkering his vehicle beneath a shady tree in his yard. The “shade tree” term is very popular in Texas and throughout the west, and dates from the 1920s. “Shade tree” has been used to describe other things as well, such as “shade tree philosopher” and “shade tree barbecue.”


Shadetree Mechanic
Shadetree Mechanic is a television series that aired on TNN (now Spike TV) for 8 years in the 1990s. It featured automotive repair and maintenance tips. The show was hosted by Sam Memmolo and Dave Bowman. Shadetree Mechanic has been superseded by Crank and Chrome and 2 Guys’ Garage which air on The Speed Channel.

The term “Shadetree Mechanic” is a general term for people who enjoy working on automobiles in their spare time, usually in their own driveways, taking up basic DIY upgrades as well as basic maintenance. Amongst some people the term has also developed a negative connotation, suggesting that shadetree mechanics often cause more damage than improvement to their cars.

Amazon Online Reader
Hobo:
A Young Man’s Thoughts on Trains and Tramping in America
by Eddy Joe Cotton
Pittsburgh: Three Rivers Press
2002
Pg. 116:
The old fart was a shade tree philosopher.
Defined as: One who resists idle chatter; one who has the ability to entertain or extract deeper meaning or said “philosophy” from any situation, in any setting at any time of day; a self-proclaimed wise man; a term most probably borrowed from “shade tree mechanic.”

Google Books
The Black Knight
By Alfred Sidgwick and Crosbie Garstin
New York, NY: henry Holt and Co,
1920
Pg. 95:
“About all he’s fit for is a Palm Tree mechanic,” said the other.

“What’s a Palm Tree mechanic?” his mate inquired innocently.

“Why, a feller who goes round with a monkey-wrench and unscrews the coker-nuts, of course.” They both tittered.

Google Books
Machinists’ Monthly Journal
By International Association of Machinists
v. 39 - 1927
Pg. 741:
One hears a lot about “alley rats,” “curbstone mechanics” and “shade tree mechanics,” but do you realize why these exist?

Google Books
American Reveille:
The United States at War

By Ward Morehouse
New York, NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
1942
Pg. 165:
Boston, Georgia: “You better not trust your car to that fellow. He’s what we call a shade tree mechanic. Hasn’t got a garage; does his work...”

19 March 1942, Freeport (TX) Facts, pg. 4, col. 5 ad:
“Shade tree” mechanics with headquarters “in their hat” naturally ask less because their tinkering is worth less.
(Gulf Radio & Electric Company—ed.)

27 July 1942, Dallas Morning News, section two, pg. 2:
If the fee for joining a union were $2.50 we would be treated to the spectacle of a lot of shade tree mechanics messing up a lot of good material for the government and the construction program of defense plans would be far behind the present schedules.

27 August 1942, Los Angeles Times, “Garage Owners’ Supervision Set,” pg. A3:
Representatives of the Motor Trades Association and other large garage interests were present and said they were in favor of the ordinance; that it would put the “pepper tree mechanics” out of business and help the chap with an established garage who was “fair and honest.”

15 October 1942, Ada (OK) Evening News, pg. 7:
Even though you may just have been a “shade tree mechanic,” tinkering with machinery, or electricity, or similar activities, the Air Corps can develop this into the skill it takes to “Beat the Axis.”

26 October 1944, Brainerd (MN) Daily Dispatch, pg. 12 ad:
If you want this service, we have factory trained mechanics, no “shade tree mechanics.”

16 July 1945, Fresno (CA) Bee, pg 8:
George Le Roux, former twilight leaguer and semipro, is a fair shade tree mechanic, painter and whatnot besides being a salesman.

5 May 1953, Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Tex.), pg. 3, col. 1:
Drillers started working on the test hole Sunday, and by Monday there was quite a group of shade tree engineers offering advice, criticism and suggestions as to where the well should have been drilled, how deep it should go and what kind of water could be expected. ... “You will have to go down 360 feet to find water in this location,” one of the shade tree engineers told the driller.

8 December 1954, Albuquerque (NM) Journal, pg. 25 (Sear’s ad):
Thoughtful gift for your “shade tree mechanic.”

30 July 1957, Commerce (TX) Journal, pg. 1, col. 1:
Local officers were of the opinion color and model of the vehicle would prevent extensive joy riding, although it was pointed out that such cars are prized by youthful shade-tree mechanics who convert in to hot-rod racing cars.

3 July 1958, Commerce (TX) Journal, pg. 2, col. 1:
Shade tree beauty operators come off second best in a hair-dyeing rally staged Monday afternoon.

25 September 1958, Panola Watchman (Carthage, TX), pg. 5, col. 1:
The simple mechanism of the model “A” made it possible for any shade tree mechanic to repair it only with a knuckle busting wrench, a pair of pliers, and an adequate supply of bailing wire.

30 August 1985, Dallas Morning News, pg. 8B:
Ken Hatfield, that shade-tree philosopher of the Ozarks, begs to differ.

20 April 1986, Houston Chronicle, Sports, pg. 3:
A pearl from that shade tree philosopher, 1985 Houston Open winner Raymond Floyd.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Friday, December 08, 2006 • Permalink