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» The Letterville BullBoard » Letterhead/Pinstriper Talk » Who is our "Shakey Jake"

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Author Topic: Who is our "Shakey Jake"
Alicia B. Jennings

Member # 1272

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Remember the stories of "Shakey Jake" the sign painter? You really don't hear about "Him" any more. Sometimes I may hear a story of someone who has passed away, but I mean in the moment. Does the modern day Shakey Jake run a plotter and a mouse? Does he still have to have a few swigs or puffs before he can get er going? And does he drive around in an old van filled with junk? Where are our Shakey Jakes?

Signs by Alicia Jennings (Mudflap Girl)
Tacoma, WA
Since 1987
Have Lipstick, will travel.

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Preston McCall
Member # 351

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I'm still painting windshields. 175,000+ to date.
Had to do some big windows over this past weekend and on Sunday I was there in the extreme winds trying to pull outlines. Shakey? You betcha. The wind literally blew the black poster and brush right outta my hand and yes, had to scrape and start over on a big block of copy. Few of us maulers left out here and no, I still do not have a vinyl machine.

Preston McCall
112 Rim Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico
text: 5056607370

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Curt Stenz
Member # 82

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Are some of those guys staring at us in the mirror each morning?

Actually I know what you are talking about. There used to be one of them around here. I tried to be a friend to him with not much success. One day (years ago) I got a call from him asking me if I could finish an installation of some plywood cut-out letters on a brick wall.

He had fallen and broken a leg. What really happened was that the old wooden extension ladder he was using to install these letters was leaning against the building standing on ice at a slight incline.

So I went and finished the install, and that is when I learned his secret technique for stud mount letters. Drill a 1/4" hole in the mortar, shove in a pencil, break it off with a tap with a hammer, hold up the letter and pound a 10 penny nail (letter stud) thru the letter, and proceed to mount the letter by pounding the nail into the pencil filled hole.

I admit to using this trick a few times when in a jam. It is rather ingenious. – R.I.P. Red

Curt Stenz Graphics
700 Squirrel Lane
Marathon, WI 54448

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Dale Feicke

Member # 767

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I think there are probably a few of these still out there, somewhere......

I remember local stories of an old sign guy in Cincinnati), who was considered a wino, folks would say, "He shook so bad, when he picked up the brush; but as soon as it touched the sign, he was steady as a rock."

Or, we all know about the Coke, Pepsi, Barq's signs that guys used to travel around and do, on "whatever." Barq's had an old guy, that I watched several times; he was very fast. If he was using a letter style that had thick/thin strokes, he'd use 2 brushes....do part of the letter with the fat one and finish with the thin. Only problem was, he wasn't good at spacing. There were several different signs around our area, where letters got smaller and more crowded toward the right border; and 2 (at least) that had lettering that ran out onto the wooden frame that surrounded the sign. Honest!

Then there was the old "quickee artist" that had an old Dodge van, a real POS. He'd go home at night and paint out several sheets of plywood, and some 4X4's and throw them in the van. The boards were always white, yellow or silver. He must've gotten a deal on 55 gallon drums of those colors, cause that's the only colors his signs ever were. He'd cruise around town, stop and tell a prospective customer, "I'll do ****** sign for you for $*** ". If they said OK, he'd go out to the van, get the 4X4's and a post-hole digger; dig the holes, mount the sign, and start lettering. The lettering was always red or black, and he had the same sloppy looking, one-stroke brush script style on every panel. Whenever you'd see him, he was always covered in paint, chewing on an old cigar.

Dale Feicke Grafix
714 East St.
Mendenhall, MS 39114

"I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me."

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Tim Barrow

Member # 576

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Been ponderin' here for quite some time to recall an old buddy may he R.I.P,... His name was "Sweet Willie",... he worked the old traveling billboard and wall crews with me and my buddy Bill Wood for over three decades,....last time he worked for me his wage expectations (dictated by him) were $50 a day and a twelve-pack of tall budwieser in cans.He refused the money for the booze as he put it he already had to pay tax on the alcohol and no way was he gonna pay income tax on it also,...those were his rules,...He would drink the beer like one would a soda or cup of cold water sipping at the can all day long,....Willie had lied about his age and joined the Army Air Corps when WWII broke out,...he'd proudly let ya know at the drop of a hat how he flew 92 missions as a tail gunner in a flying fortress over nazi germany,....he'd wake ya up occasionally shooting down imaginary Messerschmitts in the motel room 40 years later if he got hold of a bottle of something stronger than beer,.....that was one reason we tried to keep Willie off the canadian whiskey he favored,among others we won't mention here,....after the war Willie got a job on a traveling neon crew,....he used to tell me how he and his boss would travel a circuit back in neon's heyday a selling and repairing neon signs. the'd work all day then after dark they would travel 25 or 30 miles to a nearby town with a jar of moonshine and a BB gun,..."drumming up business" as he said his former boss called it,...you do the math,...

After his stint in the neon trade Sweet Willie showed up on a billboard crew and soon his path crossed mine,....by then he already had a reputation as a boozer and for being quite fearless,.... remember our third day out together and we were up about 5 stories o a 2x6 walk board and he finds a wasp nest which he promptly grabbs and tossed right by me to the ground, the wasps in hot pursuit of me, Willie, and tha damned nest towards the ground,...only got stung twice that day,....He was an excellent rigger and you could depend on him to rig and apply the background paint on a billboard or wall in short notice if there was nothing under the sign that ya didn't want painted that day,...he wasn't the neatest of painters but he could spread two or three gallons of paint in less than a half hour if the job was out in the bush,if it was in town you could bet good money the paint was going to end on something you didn't want the paint on in the first place,....awnings,parked cars,slow moving animals you name it he's get paint on it,...but as much as he could mess up he could get twice as much done in the bush and that was where a majority of our work was back then in the bush along side of the expressway,...often as not the signs had not been maintained well and there was always that one rotten board that we had to keep an eye out for and Willie was always good about finding it and coming up with a solution that allowed us to do work on any given day,when most would have turned down the job,....Willie would just grab his zipper and tugg upwards as he majically slid his feet together with the actual appearance he was getting "light on his feet" as he called it,....never had anything but some close calls when I worked with Willie and the "ground never flew up and hit us in the butt"as he used to put it,....You never knew what to expect next with Willie as he was always full of surprises,...once when we were asking for a raise the dispatcher broke into his speel about how we were independant contractors and he would neverhinder us from going out and trying to get more money from the competition,...Sweet Wille didn't miss a breath and promptly told him we couldn't afford to take the time off to look for a better job and how we would need more funds to do so,....his wit and sense of humor often as not meant keeping him at a distance from clients lest he tick them off with his matter of fact bluntness,....the truth will anger folks twice as fast as a lie and Willie had a knack for blurting out that one liner that would make a client mad,....like how it was a shame we wern't charging by the word like the classifieds if a customer had extra copy he wanted on a sign,...You never had a clue what was coming next but as long as Willie was there you knew it was coming just the same,...he also had some tall tales that he would recall at a moments notice when something reminded him of it,....I can still Hear him say,..."then there was this sign down just north of georgia and this farmer who had a red assed monkey who liked to ride on the hog's backs","that pig would squeel bloody murder every time that monkey would jump on his back,...and then there was the sign in this one pasture with the beware of bull sign,....the stories never ceased,...to wierd to be anything but true yet still hard to believe they actually happened,....and yes his hand shook like a leaf till his brush landed on the sign,....

[ January 21, 2014, 06:53 PM: Message edited by: Tim Barrow ]

fly low...timi/NC is,
Tim Barrow
Barrow Art Signs

Posts: 2224 | From: Winston-Salem,NC,USA | Registered: Nov 1998  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Bruce Evans
Member # 44

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wow, that's about 8 windshields a day, for 60 straight years

Bruce Evans
Crown Graphics
Chino, CA

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Ricardo Davila
Member # 3854

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Quite impressive !........ Bruce, I come up with about 2,916 windshields per year.... Assuming that you had painted 7.9 windshields, every single day, of each year ( including Saturdays and Sundays ), during 60 consecutive years = 175,000.

This figure, of course, does not include the required travelling time from your shop, or home, to the location of the dealer...nor it includes set-up time at that dealership, locating which units to paint, layout on the windshields, unloading of you gear, unexpected delays or what we prefer to call, "other contingencies", etc. and, of course, clean up and pick up time, after you finish......Notice that I did not include the time invested in my triumphal entrance into the office of the owner, general manager or sales manager of the dealership, to pick up my check for having accomplished my work on their windshields.

Also, consider another very probable. and important contingency.....Sometimes, the person who is going to hand you that check, wants to see what you have done to their windshields.....So, you may have to, also, invest time to walk out to the lot, with that person who is holding on to your check, until he or she is satisfied with your work.

Then, on top of the time that you have spent at that dealership, I suppose, we, also, have to consider the time spent travelling to the next dealership .....because 7.9 windshields, in one day, ain't going to cut it for any sign painter.

Bruce....I am a 76 years old sign painter, with over 45 years. or more, painting signs and I am very easily impressed by these feats.....But, let's not get carried away and forget the fact that we are just speculating, here...Don't forget that, maybe, there is another logical explanation for the accomplishment of such a feat. One of which we are not aware.


[ January 22, 2014, 12:16 AM: Message edited by: Ricardo Davila ]

Ricardo Davila
Showroom Window Advertising
P.O. Box 1376
Edmond, Oklahoma 73083

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Joey Madden

Member # 1192

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Jake died from cancer some years back, less than ten...

I still do not shake yet I can if I want to as I did during a performance at the Micro Meet some years back, right before I laid out two lines on a Lexus. The top line was around 1/32" and the bottom, 164" white on white pearl with a pale yellow, I gear myself to shake after sixty years os pinstriping

HotLines Joey Madden - pinstriping since 1952
'Perfection, its what I look for and what I live for'


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Preston McCall
Member # 351

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It is actually me, Ricardo who has painted so many windshields. I usually get orders of 100-150 windshields per client on a monthly basis. I show up and bang them out at 26 per hour. Usually one or two dealers per week. Some I have been doing for the past 25 years and have gone through many of their managers who relocate to another store and I pick them up additionally at the new place, if I am lucky. Helps knowing these guys and having been a GM before, I know many of the players and owners in this market well. When they get the boot, they know I am around the circuit alot and they keep in touch to find out who is looking for a fresh face to manage. The key has been to really get to know these guys and being a former manager myself, they assume I must know something. It also helps to get their personal email address and personal phone numbers.

I do not just rely on my windshields. W/S are about half of my commercial business. Big windows are basically the rest. Few permanent signs. Balancing the two is a good way to not get stuck in any one direction. Love doing windshields, but showroom windows are more challenging.

I also paint fine art paintings, mostly of landscapes and portraits of vintage autos. When it is nasty, like today, I paint here in my studio. Soonn to move to Santa Fe and open another art gallery, once this house sells.

It is all about 'repeat offenders'. My clients have a high rate of 'recidivism'. I do not bill them on the spot when I am done. I send them a bill the next day and I rarely ever get a late payer.

Preston McCall
112 Rim Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico
text: 5056607370

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Rick Sacks

Member # 379

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Alicia, back when you were at LATT, and would hear about Shakey Jake, you were hearing about Chuck Babbitt who lived in Costa Mesa. Chuck was also on the fire dept in his earlier years and the decorations on the trucks in his unit were fabulous.
After many years of not doing any striping, I got Chuck to come with me to one of the Conclaves (you were probably there) and he striped my brown Chevy truck. That was the last thing he put his brush to. That would have been early ninties. He left earth soon thereafter, and I've never been able to find his kids.

The SignShop
Mendocino, California


Making the simple complicated is commonplace;
making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity. — Charles Mingus

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stein Saether

Member # 430

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Shaking may be because of Parkinsons disease.
I knew an artist with that diagnose, he could not hold more then half a cup of coffee or else he would spill it, but with a pen or brush he could draw a perfect circle.
He also used alcohol, maybe as selfmedication.
Novadays, Parkinson patients is given amfetamiones as medicin.

Stein Saether
GullSkilt AS

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Kent Smith

Member # 251

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I remember Chuck striping your truck Rick and he was far from shaky. Having said that, we all knew one like Willie, Tony or the infamous "Red" Angel here. With apologies to Pogo, I have seen the future and it is us.

Kent Smith
Smith Sign Studio
P.O.Box 2385,
Estes Park, CO 80517-2385

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Len Mort

Member # 7030

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I remember reading in an old Ford magazine in the 1950's of Shakey Jake the locale stroke.

Len Mort
11 Juniper Drive
Millbury, MA
"A Good Business Sign, is A Sign of Good Business"(1957)

Posts: 811 | From: Millbury, Ma | Registered: Dec 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator

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