James Smith, an auto and truck mechanic who claimed he could fix any vehicle that "rolled, rumbled or rumba-ed" his way, died Monday of heart failure at his West Baltimore home. He was 64.
Mr. Smith prided himself on being one of the few mechanics who made house calls, often trudging out in the middle of the night to help a stranded motorist. He didn't advertise, and he received customers by word of mouth.
"It was a business for him, but it was a major service to a lot of people because he not only came to where they were but fixed their car and often without not having to get it towed," said Leon Hadler, a longtime friend. "And his price was usually negotiable."
Mr. Smith was also known for his generosity during the Christmas season.
About two weeks ago, Mr. Smith gave presents to several area youngsters -- which he had done for the past decade, neighbors said.
"Since he didn't have any children, this was his way of being a father to youngsters who live here," said Katie Robinson, who lives near Mr. Smith's Longwood Street home in Walbrook. "The kids would all crowd in his house, and he'd give them all presents. I think he was more happy than the children.
"All of the kids around here used to like him -- and not just nTC because of the toys at the holidays -- but because he used to give them rides around the neighborhood in some of them wrecks he fixed," she said.
Mr. Smith did most of the mechanical work in his back yard, which was something of an automotive parts shop, with brake shoes, alternators, wheel rims, spark plugs, oil pans and tiny light bulbs strewn everywhere.
His adjacent garage was so crammed with tools it could not hold a car.
"He did his work on the alley and sidewalk," Mr. Hadler said. "If it was cold or rainy, he'd try to squeeze in there somehow and work, but mostly he was outside. People always were there. He told them that if it rolled, rumbled or rumba-ed, he'd make it sing."
Said Tasha Genel, a neighbor: "His yard and part of the alley has always had car parts everywhere. Everyday, sometimes as early as five in the morning, he's out there working on something or fixing a motor or transmission."
Though Mr. Smith was a mechanic, his own car was loud and sounded as though it was "near death," neighbors said.
"It was the most piecemeal car you could imagine," Ms. Genel said of Mr. Smith's Cadillac with rusted rear panels, missing side-view mirror, cracked windows and a trunk kept closed by a padlock. "You would think that someone who was as good at fixing cars would have something better than that thing."
A native of West Baltimore, Mr. Smith learned automotive repair from Carver Vocational Technical High School, where he graduated in the late 1940s. He served in the Army during the 1950s.
Upon his discharge, he worked for several automotive repair shops before starting to do work privately in the early 1970s.
Services are scheduled for 10 a.m. today at Calvary Temple Church of God, 3018 W. North Ave.
Mr. Smith is survived by two sisters, Lorraine Morgan and Della Gooding, both of Baltimore; and many nephews and nieces.
Pub Date: 12/20/96