Note: This feature is in the Jan. TT&C 2018 issue.
Throughout his childhood, Larry received toy fire trucks as Christmas presents, and several still survive in his collection, including this Doepke Rossmoyne American LaFrance ladder truck that he found under the Christmas tree in 1955.
A sampling from Larry’s collection includes a combination of A.O. Smith, DeHanes and Toys for Collectors models.
His fascination began at birth in 1948, just as he was drawing his first breath in a New York hospital located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
“As I was being born, Rescue Company 3 of the FDNY (Fire Department of the City of New York) went screaming by and the die was cast,” relates Larry Phillips, a longtime columnist for Toy Trucker & Contractor magazine and an influential collector.
Living in Brooklyn, N.Y., the first five years of his life, he remembers regularly exploring an engine house, enthralled by the gleaming 1938 Ahrens-Fox HT pumper and befriended by the affable firefighters.
“We lived just a few blocks from Engine Company 241 in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn and as we walked to church on Sunday morning, we walked right past the firehouse,” he tells. “My dad was the visionary and he put me on the pumper when I was probably close to 3 years old and he said, ‘Larry, this is going to be you for the rest of your life.’”
The prediction came true. Larry’s career has been in close proximity to fire departments across the country. Today, Larry’s home in Jamestown, N.D., is a treasure trove of fire department memorabilia and a museum of model fire trucks, reflecting both Larry’s career and his passion for the model hobby.
Finding a second home
Larry’s father hailed from the Harlem section of New York City, while his mother was a North Dakota native. While Larry’s father was teaching at an Officer Candidate School in Fargo, N.D., the couple met at a USO (United Service Organizations) for wartime soldiers. His mother’s church group was serving food at the weekly USO functions, while his father was playing the piano.
Larry’s family lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., then moved to the suburb of Bethpage, Long Island, where a cousin was a dispatcher at the Bethpage Fire Department and invited the family to visit.
“I walked into that firehouse and it just clicked,” Larry says. “That became my second home.” He spent every waking moment that he could at what would eventually become the headquarters firehouse. He was soon adopted as the “buff,” running errands for the firefighters.
Within a year, the department bought him the traditional bright red Bethpage Fire Department jacket emblazoned with his name and fire department Maltese cross; the jacket is now in his collection.
“From then on, I was hooked and laddered for the rest of my life. The die was very, very well-cast,” he says.