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Trucks Akimbo: 1939

Trucks Akimbo: 1939

September 1939. "Minneapolis, Minnesota. Trucks loading at farm implement warehouse." 35mm nitrate negative by John Vachon. View full size.


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RE: Fourth Avenue

The building labeled "Freight Station" still exists and is residential. The building just out of the frame on the left side is the original Lindsay building, also now residential.

It's lowest level can be seen in the photo added by "Anonymous Tipster" on 5/20/2010.

RE: johnhill_3009 on Tue, 05/18/2010
The Security Warehouse building is still very much standing today (and yes, residential). Unless there was another building named Security Warehouse, it's much too far away (about 250 yards) to provide that perspective.

Otis Shepard's Doublemint twins

I love the Otis Shepard illustration on the side of the truck, too. I don't have an image of that particular one, but I do have color images of two others from the same campaign:


Love the early Otis Shepard Doublemint gum billboard.

Real People

I am not certain how you all believe that this can be a model with those people in the picture. Sure, it looks a bit like toys but the people are hard to fake.

Shifty look

The out-of-focus, tilt-shifty look in many of the pictures taken with these early 35mm Leicas was due to the film not being in entirely the focal plane. You had to be very careful loading. A redesign of the camera back around 1940 took care of the problem.

Not a model

Took me a while, but before I looked at the other pictures I decided that while the angle certainly helps mess things up, what really got me was that the sizes of the trucks in comparison to that of the cars are smaller than they are today. I'm used to seeing trucks that are wider, or longer, or both. The "Wheeler Transportation" truck is what starts the whole "it's a model!" thing off for me. It looks like it doesn't belong, and, therefore, nothing else does, either.

At least until you look at the detail of the street cobbles, the weathering on the wheels, and etc., that is.

The Jack Greaves truck is the weirdest, with a bed that looks like a model bed, a person in the window that could go either way, but wheels that look like they are carrying a truck's worth of weight, which is something you never see in models.


John Vachon

Shorpy-ites will be gratified to know that a book of John Vachon's photos was just added to the Library of Congress's excellent "Fields of Vision" series--along with Esther Bubley and Jack Delano!

C&NW Freight Station

The "Freight Station" is the building seen on the right in this Street View. Below that is another shot by John Vachon of the same scene.

View Larger Map

Memo to the "model" crowd

To avoid further embarrassment you might want to check out the other pics in this series.

Supreme example

After New York's police commissioner banned trucks with advertising sideboards (like the Doublemint ad on the Railway Express truck in lower right), Railway Express Agency tried but failed to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the regulation. In the 1948 decision, Justice Douglas added that "the fact that New York City sees fit to eliminate from traffic this kind of distraction, but does not touch what may be even greater ones in a different category, such as the vivid displays on Times Square, is immaterial."

I see I'm not the only one that sees this as a model.

So I looked at the image again and came up with some reasons why I think it looks like a miniature.

The angle of the camera doesn't seem to have any effect on the miniature. I rotated it, and still looks small.

I think the main reason is the lack of any harsh shadows and bright highlights. It could be early morning, or a cloudy day. A couple of trucks in the foreground do have sun on them, and the illusion seems to fail there. The way the cars are parked may have something to do with it. They are not perfectly parked by today's standards, and the guy on the sidewalk is asking for a ticket. The softness of the details in the above half also lend to the fact that the cars look die cast, and lacking in detail of a full size auto. Lastly, the angle of the shot is from somewhat of a humans eye view if they were looking down onto a table top. That's about it.

Fourth Avenue

The "Freight Station" belonged to the Chicago & North Western Railroad on Fourth Avenue North near First Street. The building still survives, although has no railroad track anymore. Angle of the photo suggests it was shot from the roof of long-gone Security Warehouse.

1. A 1982 view.
2. Bird's eye view.


Now there's a perfect name for a transportation company.


This picture has an otherworldly quality, particularly when one views the full size version. The angles are unsettling and chaotic, and the vehicles begin to look like tiny toy model versions of their real selves. It's like a noir version of the intro to "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." One almost expects to see John Garfield step out of that doorway.


is what this almost looks like except the people and the papers in the gutter say otherwise.

Science is Helpless

Also looks like a miniature set from a "Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" type movie. I'm waiting for a lizard to stomp on some of these cars and trucks.

Something's Fishy

Okay, I'll stick my neck out. I think these are scale models; cars, trucks and building. The vehicles are all too clean and perfect. No loading docks in sight, nor one human. That was my first impression yesterday and it's still my impression today.

[There are at least five people in the photo. - Dave]

Or the Untouchables!

Which truck has the booze, and will Ness find it in time? They'll be headed back to the border for more if he doesn't!


The angle of the shot actually makes me dizzy.

A guess

Somehow I think the guy hanging out of the window in the truck in the center of this started off his conversation with "Hey Lou!"


Looks like somebody's Matchbox collection in an HO scale layout.

City life

City life in the forties. Cars and trucks had awesome designs.

Great Northern Freight Yard

I believe this is one of the freight houses behind the GN depot in Minneapolis. The yard was bisected at 4th Avenue North, where I think the 1939 photo was taken. There is one remaining building that is today used for housing.

Don't pass on the right

I found it interesting that the truck crossing the tracks only had a mirror on the right side. I though that may have been a traffic hazard till I noticed that none of the many vehicles had side mirrors at all!

The year before I was born!

Amazing that this was possible with 35mm, but if you examine the photo carefully you wil see that only the truck in the upper center is in really sharp focus.


Never mind the big Minneapolis truckers strike in 1934, in which the National Guard was called in to shoot the strikers in the streets. It's a big deal in Labor history, particularly in Minnesota. But have fun with it.

WOW, Clean!!!!

I am amazed at how clean this area and the trucks appear. Very little litter laying around and absolutely ZERO graffitti. Of course the spray paint can wasn't invented yet.


This looks like a bunch of toys. If only it was also a tilt/shift photograph.

Looks like scale models in a set.

Particularly everything from the train tracks up. The lower section doesn't have the sheen or something to carry it off.

The two guys in and around the truck don't help either.

I wondered at first

Looking at the top half of the picture I almost thought it was one of those amazingly detailed models we see occasionally, but then I saw the guy hanging out of the truck window bottom left!

Traffic Jam

Looks like a game of Traffic Jam with 30's vehicles.

Slightly Surreal

There is a definite air of artificiality here, in spite of the fact that this
is an authentic photograph of a real-life scene. Is it the rakish angle?
The floating-above-it-all perspective? It screams "scale model" as in
a contrived cityscape in a model-enthusiast's basement.


This so looks like a kid's play area with all his little cars and trucks. Hope he isn't in the mood for an accident.


I know the photo is real, but it looks like one of Michael Paul Smith's images.


Good to be able to use a word like "akimbo" any time. A wonderful word that is perfect. It just rolls off the tongue so nicely. And works well in Scrabble at times.


This totally looks like a panel from a Batman comic.

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