I have an extensive collection of vintage cameras made from the 1890s through the 1980s, and I enjoy documenting automotive subjects with them, but a very small proportion of this collection would meet with the approval of serious photographers.
It’s because my favorite old cameras are the cheapest ones, preferably sold by night manufacturers who make unlicensed copies of “borrowed” models. When I bought a vintage Brumberger Thunderbird camera from the early 1960s and saw how awful it was, I knew what to do: shoot junkyard Ford Thunderbirds with it!
The Brumberger company was located on 34th Street in Brooklyn, and there is not much information available about the company’s history. Once I opened up the Thunderbird and took a look at the build, I realized it was almost identical to many very inexpensive models made by the companies in the infamous “Chicago Cluster” of manufacturers. of cameras.
I’ve taken junkyard photos with a few Chicago Cluster cameras including the Imperial Satellite, Miniature Falcon, Imperial 127, and Spartus 120. All were made with crappy materials and took blurry and leaky, and I’m sure the name-changing brands behind them have played fast and well with patents and licensing. But these cheap cameras from Chicago are far as horrible as the Brumberger Thunderbird of Brooklyn.
So, I cleaned up the Thunderbird and fixed its stuck shutter and headed to a Denver-area yard where I knew I’d find some 1960s Ford Thunderbirds. doesn’t look so bad, huh? Good, this The photo was taken with a 1980s Ansco Pix Panorama 35mm, which I brought along to accompany the Brumberger.
I managed to fire only two Thunderbird shots from the ’67 Thunderbird when the Brumberger broke. The shutter button just fell into the bowels of the camera, so I wound up the roll of 127 film all the way, pulled it out, and set up a camera repair shop photo inside a Chevrolet Astro pickup truck. I had my SK Junkyard toolbox with me, so I had what I needed to fix the Thunderbird…or so I thought.
Touching the roughly molded Bakelite shutter button had caused its retaining tab to break, but I was able to put the camera back in place. Then I put the roll of film and the take-up reel in the camera upside down, back to the start of the roll (after which I flipped the reels again and advanced to the third plane again no exposed roll) – and quickly removed the film advance mechanism.
At that point I was determined to get a full 12 photo roll of Ford Thunderbird with my Brumberger Thunderbird, so I went home, removed the film again and started making a new one film advance button from the wreckage of the old one (which probably would have broken just as quickly when brand new, just from the mighty force of an 8-year-old girl’s fingers in 1962 ). It was a lot of work for what I now realized was the worst camera I own, but we do the same with our horrible old cars.
A little epoxy, a small piece of copper tubing, a cut sewing pin and lots of futzing later and I had the film advance knob ready to reinstall. Return to the junkyard to take the remaining ten photos of Thunderbird!
In fact, I’ve visited two other Front Range yards with stock Ford Thunderbirds, and I’ve been as gentle as can be with the Brumberger Thunderbird. Here is the clearest and most decipherable photo of the whole roll.
I even managed to find an authentic 1988 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, although you’d never know that from the footage the Brumberger Thunderbird captured. Really, this camera takes worse pictures than any camera in my collection, including the Rice KrispiesCam, the VelveetaCam, the faux-Mitsubishi 35mm “Scamera”, and even the new Hit “spy camera” advertised in the fine print advertisements from 1960s comic book books.
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