Brooklyn Boro

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

September 18, 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:

We end the week with seven vehicles that were involved, in one way or another, in fire protection, and one last vehicle that represents the Red Cross, an organization that helped when the first seven were unable to succeed.

Ready to roll: Fire rescue truck, undated

These specialists fully earn the title often applied to New York’s Firefighters: “New York’s Bravest.” While actually fighting the fire requires extraordinary skill and bravery, the people on this truck – then and now – are at even greater risk when they enter the burning structure to help get victims out.


Back in time: Before the combustion engine, c. 1936

This early fire-fighting vehicle was part of a Brooklyn parade in the winter of 1936 or ’37. With a very limited water supply, speed measured in “horsepower” (literally – one horse), a dubious alarm procedure – especially if the fire was not nearby – and mostly wooden structures, it was no wonder that fires were horribly frightening and destructive.


The Bravest at work: Scary sight, c. 1935

This truck was in a photo that was posted on June 8. But it was a very busy scene, and a view from much further back. This is the only picture I have of an actual fire, but I unfortunately have no information about it. Though no flames are visible, this somewhat close-up look gives us a small indication of what firefighters are up against.


Ladders galore: Test of new equipment, June 11, 1936

You may recall a picture that looked like these, posted back on July 15. I snuck it in then to illustrate the look of the bridge in the background. But the ladders really are the story. The city had just gotten a delivery of 32 new engines, 12 of which were these hook-and-ladders. They elevated a man to 85 feet in 20 seconds, which seems impressive even now. The final picture above shows all 12 of the new arrivals, each with a passenger swaying in the breeze. The topmost picture above shows many of the other engines lined up in the foreground, with only a couple of ladders in action behind.


Just in case: Red Cross on parade, undated

This modified and dressed-up flatbed has a unique look. The Red Cross made itself as visible as possible, supporting other groups’ events to educate the public about their role. And that role was “just in case” – in case the efforts of all the other first responders weren’t enough, the Red Cross provided back-up, as it had for about 75 years when this picture was taken and has for over 80 years since.

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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