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Boston: Fire Truck Chases Steam Pumper While Crowd Gathers to View SS Leviathan

After finding and enlarging this 1920s overhead view of Summer Street located in Boston, Massachusetts, a pair of Boston Fire Department trucks on the way to fight a fire became visible. On the lower side of the image (below) a fireman driving a Christie f.w.d. gasoline-powered steam fire pumper is in the lead and followed by a conventional truck and its crew.

The title of the Leslie Jones photo “Autos covered Summer Street extension,” contains hundreds of spectators, who came to view the “SS Leviathan,” their vehicles, and at least one horse and carriage. The ship captured by the US Navy during World War I was initially named the “Vaterland.” The vessel was operated by the German Hamburg-American passenger line until captured in 1917. The video below shows many pictures of the Ocean Liner while it was in use until 1934.

View another picture of the scene taken later while fire trucks were returning up Summer Street to various City fire stations.

Share with us what you find of interest in the photograph or can add to the article. The picture is courtesy of Digital Commonwealth.

  • Enlargeable sectional views of the crowd of people and vehicles who came to view the Leviathan.


19 responses to “Boston: Fire Truck Chases Steam Pumper While Crowd Gathers to View SS Leviathan

  1. Just a minor quibble on Vaterland/Leviathan – it might be more accurate to say she was seized rather than captured. By 1917, the ship had been at Hoboken for three years because it arrived right as the World War broke out, and the German authorities didn’t want the ship to be captured or sunk by the British. It remained in the (at the time) neutral United States, and was seized in port when the USA entered the war as an Associated Power of the Allies.

    The picture should date to 1923-24, when SS Leviathan was dry docked for around a year at Dry Dock Number 3 in the Boston Navy Yard, refurbished in time for its first sail as a United States Line ship on July 4th, 1924. She was never profitable in passenger service (in part because all US-flagged ships were required to be dry during Prohibition, which reduced the number of passengers who wanted to sail on them), and was out of service in the mid-30s and broken up in 1938.

  2. David,

    Interesting pictures and video.

    Just a slight historical correction. When the 1st World War started in 1914 the German VATERLAND was at her dock in Hoboken, New Jersey and stayed laid up in neutral United States until the US entered the war in 1917. The ship was then seized by the US Shipping Board.

  3. David,

    Fantastic street scene. In the first photo showing the fire apparatus the Christie looks attached to an large size Amoskeag steam pumper. The ladder truck following looks like a Seagrave. The photo of apparatus returning shows a Seagrave pumper closest to the street car. Also ahead on the left parked on the street facing the camera shows a light colored touring car with a black engine hood and light colored shell. Looks like a Franklin?

    • I think there’s another, closed Franklin too. 1917-22 Series 9 Brougham with v-windshield. Last photo upper left, side-view facing left.

    • I think the Boston Fire Museum might have that pumper (or a near-sister machine), labeled as a c.1880 Amoskeag. The only picture I see on their website is rather blurry, but the front wheel has the circular badge at the top that Christie used to mark “The Front Motor Drive Co USA” on his engines.

  4. Interesting juxtaposition of old and new, at least at the time. The steam pumper and fire truck, and at least one horse and buggy and all of those automobiles. Great photo.

    • “Juxtaposition of old and new” indeed. All those cars rapidly displacing the electric streetcars for personal transportation. It wouldn’t be much longer until the catenary came down and the tracks were paved over.

  5. According to Steven Ujifusa, biographer of William Francis Gibbs, it was Woodrow Wilson who proposed the name of Levitathan for the German ship. Gibbs would go on later to supervise the conversion of the vessel from a troop transport carrier back to a passenger liner. Later still be would give us the SS United States, a remarkable ship that to this day holds the trans Atlantic record—-three days and ten plus hours.

  6. A large number of taxis identified by their headlights mounted on the cowl most with open driver compartment are mixed in. In the fourth photo there are a few cars left of the intersection with bright-plated radiator shells which became more common during 1924-’25. On the left in third photo is a car with white tires or white wall tires and side-mounts.

  7. The Pumper is an old horse drawn unit with a Christie Front Drive conversion. Appears to be a ladder truck or rescue unit with a Chiefs car bringing up the rear.

  8. Top left with cream disc wheels appears to be a Rickenbacker sedan . A couple of taxis have disc wheels ; every thing else has wood spoke wheels. Note: nothing with wire wheels which evidently fell out of fashion after the teens.

  9. Interesting observation regarding the wheels. While scanning the right side of the photo It looks like there is a sedan with wire wheels and a interesting body with side mount spare parked with its nose out towards the street. Maybe a Brewster? Also noticed on the same side lower in the photo a loan depot hack bodied car cant see the front.

    • I think the sedan with the wire wheels is a Cole Aero Eight Tourosine and two cars nearer the camera there’s a Stutz Bearcat , it’s hardly visible in these pictures, but can be seen more clearly in other photos of this series at the Digital Commonwealth link in the description.

  10. I believe the location is looking SE on Summer Street just before it crosses the Reserve Channel on a bridge. In the fourth picture you can see that bridge, and in the upper left is a bit of the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal where cruise ships visiting Boston dock.

  11. What with the gas explosions in and around Boston yesterday, the scene depicted in the old photograph of cars scattered amidst the street and fire engines racing to the scene has undoubtedly been reenacted in nearly the same time frame as this post in The Old Motor. The Leviathan was undoubtedly recycled by the steel mills of the day, fed into the huge caldrons in Pittsburgh and turned into ingots some of which may have been sold to the fabricators of parts for the various automobile manufacturers. It’s likely then that in cars produced in 1939 and 1940 traces the Leviathon ended up in a nifty Ford coupe, a Hudson, or a Pontiac, or one of the other notable marques and instead of cutting through the rolling waters of the sea rumbled down a 2-lane country lane with our parents or grandparents who, from their seats without constraints, surveyed the bucolic view.

  12. Great photos! As a recently retired firefighter who always dreaded driving “code 3” during busy traffic times, I can see it’s nothing compared to the mess these guys are dealing with! I supposed most motorists were able to hear sirens and bells, so I’m sure it’s all relative…..

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