God knows that shifting gears ain’t what it used to be
I learned to drive that 55 just like a queen, three on a tree
"Three On A Tree" refers to a 3-speed column shifter.
My 17 year old son asked me what Miranda Lambert is referring to when she sings about a "three on a tree" in her new song, "Automatic". I laughed at the irony of his question knowing well that his not knowing what it means is part of what makes "Automatic" so memorable.
The column mounted three speed began appearing in America in the late 1930s and became common during the 1940s and 1950s. Balky, bulky and clumsy compared to floor mounted transmission shifters, "three on a tree" added much needed interior space to vehicles and allowed for someone to sit in the middle of the front seat without being unencumbered by the gear shifter.
Nostalgia is nothing new and everyone's nostalgia is personal to them and them alone. Shared nostalgic moments can only be shared to a point since people experience the same things differently.
There was no "automatic" available on Chevrolet's 1955 pickup, only three and four speed manual transmissions. That fact serendipitous to the song or brilliant writing? We'll probably never know for sure.
One person can have wonderful memories while another has a completely different view of the same occurrence. Same is true in traumatic situations where some are all but unscathed whiles others, sadly, have a difficult time dealing with the psychological consequences.
Chevrolet didn't offer an automatic transmission on their pickup truck line until 1960.
Waxing nostsalgic about shifting a brutally crude device like a "three on a tree", especially in a 1955 Chevrolet pickup, more than likely for the protagonist in "Automatic" has more to do with the memories it conjures up than the actual shifting. Then again, everyone's nostalgia is personal to them and them alone.
It all just seemed so good the way we had it
Back before everything became, automatic
Photos: Screen captures from Miranda Lambert's "Automatic" video via youtube.com