Brooklyn Boro

Kaufman’s Brooklyn: Eight photos from the ‘Vehicles’ collection

September 17, 2020 Phil Kaufman
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My father, Irving Kaufman (1910 – 1982), was a professional photographer who started in Brooklyn in the mid 1930s working for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He captured thousands of images of Brooklyn through the 1950s. I have recently digitized a great many of them. My father’s profile can be found here.

This week’s theme:

This week’s display will be a little different than any of the previous ones. As you can see, the category is “Vehicles,” and judging by the one image you just saw, the vehicles will not be run-of-the-mill passenger cars.

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Even though my father rarely took pictures of just vehicles, and only then because they were unusual or noteworthy for some reason, cars turn up often his photos. Using the simple definition of “vehicle” — a thing used for transporting people or goods, especially on land — I realized I had dozens of images that included them.

Most of the time those images were buried in a photo that was highlighting something else. So, I had to crop and zoom some images to make the vehicle the prominent item. Sometimes the resulting picture lost some clarity and will appear grainy. A few of the pictures this week have been displayed before, with the focus on something else.

As suggested above, I avoided routine passenger cars. There is a group, however, that I will display later this week that I call “Cars.” It shows normal cars being used for non-routine purposes. The other kinds of vehicles featured later in the week will be commercial trucks, other especially heavy vehicles and, finally, fire-specific vehicles.

Even for the non-car-lovers out there, I hope you find these photos fun to look at.

Today’s photos:

Today’s pictures are of trucks. Most are just close-ups from street scenes of “ordinary” trucks that look more than ordinary because of the perspective, or the setting, or a distinctive framework or construction. A few have stories to go with them. And, except for the first and last photos, we’re back in the early days of my father’s work, the 1930s.

Three in one: Fulton Fish Market, January 21, 1941

I love the atmospheric look here. The fog shrouds everything but the basics: wet cobblestones, a long receding structure, and three vehicles – truck, car and houseboat. No story here; no details. Just a scene. To my taste, this is my father at his best.


Old truck, heavy load: Coal is fuel too, undated

It says Fuel Oil, but it looks like this truck is carrying coal. This is a zoom-in from the end of the block, looking down a long quiet street. The truck dominates the scene from a distance, but I thought it deserved a close-up.


Quaint look: Moving vans haven’t changed much, undated

At least their basic function and cargo shape haven’t changed much. But the squat look and the lighting make this image interesting.


Truly custom-made: Horseshoe truck, c. 1935

You may recall seeing this truck before (May 14). But this time we take a closer look, leaving out the blacksmith who is standing on the sidewalk to the left, and closing in for a better view of the interior. The assistant inside the truck, easy to miss in the wider view, is clearly visible now, as is some of the needed equipment – anvil, forge, supply of horseshoes, maybe the coal carrier and water barrel for cooling on the left. All had to fit and leave room for work, which must have been sweltering in there with the forge fired up, even on a cool day, which this wasn’t.


Special-purpose vehicle: But for what? undated

This truck has 1930s written all over it, and I love the look. It’s clearly designed for something quite specific, but too specific for my minuscule construction-site knowledge. It looks like the sides can’t be closed, but that seems implausible. Anybody have any idea?


Strange scene: One big vehicle, several small ones, undated

Though the truck, with its unidentified cargo, is my intended focal point, I had to show much of the rest of the scene as well. What’s happening here? Wheelbarrows and carriages abound to cart off packages taken from the truck. It’s too public – and too openly photographed – to be some dubious distribution activity. (“It fell off a truck.”) Plumbing supplies in a sack? Alas, my father left no clues.


Transparent truck: Central Library construction site, September 1, 1938

This strange looking vehicle sits almost inconspicuously in one of the “Construction Scenes” shown last month (August 7). One reason it doesn’t stand out is because you can see right through it. It must have carried large construction materials (lumber is a good possibility), so the vertical posts were enough to prevent spillage. But I don’t think they make ’em like that anymore.


Meat fleet: Hygrade distribution, 8/25/60

These last vehicles seem almost modern. The trucks are lined up to take cured meat from the distribution center on Broadway, near Bedford Avenue and the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge, to delis all over Brooklyn. Remember Hygrade hot dogs?

An index of Kaufman’s Brooklyn posts may be found here.

Irving Kaufman’s profile may be found here.

I invite you to submit comments, memories, images of Brooklyn, and especially any additional background information you can supply about the photos posted here to [email protected]. I’d also be glad to supply information about buying prints of any of the images seen here. Many of my father’s images are also available for viewing and purchase at All prints purchased will be the product of professional scanning and editing.

Weekly collection 20: Photos from the ‘Vehicles’ collection

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