• Brooks Locomotive Works history

  • Discussion of steam locomotives from all manufacturers and railroads
Discussion of steam locomotives from all manufacturers and railroads

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  by Richard1
Dunkirk Evening Observer
Nov. 1, 1939

Locomotive Plant in
Dunkirk Was Started
70 Years Ago Today
Brooks Works Was Begun Nov. 1, 1869
and Was Merged With American
Locomotive Co. in 1904
Today, Nov. 1, 1939, marks the 70th anniversary of the organization of the old Brooks Locomotive Works in the city of Dunkirk.
While many of the present employees of the plant here recall the halcyon days when locomotives were turned out by the hundred, but few Dunkirk residents remember the early history of the industry.
The completion of the New York & Erie Railroad, with its western terminus in Dunkirk, was celebrated May 14, 1851, with President Millard Fillmore, his cabinet and many other notables present. At the time the railroad was the longest one in the world, extending over 445 1/2 miles.
The transportation company established in Dunkirk a machine and repair shop known as the New York & Erie shops. The industry, large at the time, added several hundred persons to the city's population.
Close Shops Here
Dismay was general throughout the city when in October, 1869, came an order from Jay Gould, president of the New York & Erie railroad, to close permanently the firm's shop in Dunkirk and to remove the machinery to other localities.
It was then that Horatio G. Brooks came to the rescue of Dunkirk. Mr. Brooks was a practical machinist. He had spent six years as a locomotive engineer on the Erie railroad, six years as master mechanic of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad, three years was superintendent of the western division of the Erie railroad and finally had been appointed superintendent of motive power and of machinery of the entire Erie railroad.
Brooks Works Started
He resigned his position. His next step was to lease the Erie shops and to establish a locomotive manufacturing concern which began its corporate existence Nov. 1, 1869, under the name of Brooks Locomotive Works. Mr. Brooks was president and Marshall L. Hinman was secretary and treasurer of the company which struggled bravely for success during the first 10 years of its existence.
During the first month it was in operation, one locomotive was completed. One was also the total output for December, 1869. In January, 1870, two were built and in February, one; the total production during the first 12 months was 27. Gradually production was speeded up and during the year ended December, 1872, 73 locomotives had been constructed, an average of six a month.
Financial Panic
Business continued good until the great financial panic which began in September, 1873. Only six engines were built in 1874, and 10 the following year. Production went up and down through the next few years but even years with increased output told no story of prosperity at the Brooks plant because orders were being filled at the bare cost of materials and labor to keep the men employed while officials waited hopefully for more active business.
In 1880 Mr. Brooks was so impressed with the prospect of better business conditions that he began the construction of additional buildings and the purchase of more modern and improved machinery to meet the demand for new and more serviceable equipment.
The wisdom of his foresight was soon fully demonstrated since during the year ended December, 1880, the Brooks works completed 100 locomotives. In 1881 the total output was 146 and in 1882 it was 203. This activity came to an end and the records show only 45 engines were manufactured during the last six months of 1883.
Another Depression
Like other concerns, the Brooks company struggled under adverse conditions during the following three years. In 1884 but 73 locomotives were built, in 1885 the total was 27 and in 1886 it was 37. A fairly prosperous period followed until 1893 when the country underwent another "depression." Business gradually picked up until in 1900 a total of 317 locomotives were turned out at the Dunkirk plant.
Mr. Brooks resigned the office of superintendent in 1885 and J.H. Setchell was appointed and held the position until Aug. 1, 1888. Mr. Brooks continued as president until his death April 10, 1887. He was succeeded by his son-in-law, Edward Nichols, who died Jan. 7, 1892. At the time of the election to the presidency, the office of vice president was created and Mr. Hinman was chosen.
Gross Vice President
Upon the election of Mr. Hinman to the presidency on Feb. 13, 1892, Robert J. Gross was elected vice president. On June 9, 1887 Theodore M. Hequembourg was elected secretary. Mr. Gross hd entered the employ of the Brooks company in March 1882 as traveling agent, and later served as agent.
David Russell was foreman of the organization in 1896 and was advanced until he became general superintendent on July 1, 1898. Harry C. Hequuembourg entered the employ of the Brooks works as bookkeeper in 1890 and was later appointed cashier. When the plant was merged with American Locomotive Company Mr. Hequembourg was made purchasing agent for all plants.
The American Locomotive Company took control of the Brooks works in 1904 and the plant enjoyed its greatest years of prosperity during the next quarter century.
Good Old Days
The number of employees working on locomotive construction reached a peak of 3,600 at one time and the weekly payroll amounted to $125,000. On occasion the plant turned out three complete locomotives in one day and the record month saw 62 manufactured.
During World War I when the the Dunkirk plant was manufacturing shell casings the number of employees reached an all-time high of 4,800. Production slumped during the business recession of 1920 and 1921 following the end of the war. The last locomotive to be turned out at the Dunkirk plant was manufactured in 1929, the year of the start of the great depression.
Numerous drastic changes at the plant followed during the next 10 years. A diversified list of products including oil refinery equipment and pipe has been manufactured. All units of the local plant were moved to buildings east of Roberts road and nearly all the structures west of that street were demolished to reduce the company's annual tax bill.
Prospects Bright
Recent announcements by Alco president, William C. Dickerman, indicated a more prosperous future is in store for the Dunkirk plant. Greater emphasis on manufacturing and engineering at the Dunkirk plant is predicted by the president. This move, he admits, will result in substantially augmenting the personnel here. Latest rumors regarding the president's announcement are that a portion of the engineers and draftsmen now working in New York City, will be moved to Dunkirk.
There has been a substantial increase in orders recently for theDunkirk unit and with the changes in view, the amount of business is expected to be boosted rapidly.