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  Brooks (cont)



 


ACT I
Steam expert Eric Delling was Brooks' first chief engineer. He modelled the Brooks automobile after the Stanley pot boiler two-cylinder engine, rather than the more sophisticated, and more costly to produce, Doble. The car was initially offered in sedan and touring car body styles; only sedans, set on a 122-inch wheelbase chassis, appear to have been built on a production basis. The standard colour was black. Even so, Brooks was an expensive car; the sedan listed for $3,885 when entry-level Pierce-Arrows could be purchased in Canada for $3,800.
Brooks cars were visually distinguished by their fabric bodies, built of Meritas brand cloth by the American Auto Trimming Company in Walkerville, Ontario. Meritas was a composite of wire netting, two layers of wadding, canvas and an outer layer of two-ply artificial leather. There were no metal body panels. In the early 1920s, fabric automobile bodies were made popular by a British company, Weymann. They offered distinctive, often chromeless, body shapes with a matte exterior finish behind a hood of shiny paint. Equally important, the fabric body's relatively light weight improved a car's power-to-weight ratio and lowered the car's centre of gravity to improve stability. Brooks styled its fabric bodies as though they were metal, using a conventional three-window sedan shape with a Detroitish quantity of brightwork. The banding about the sedan's rear quarter was probably a bit conspicuous for the time; suggesting an elegant coachbuilt berline.
Many technical points of the Brooks resemble the Stanley steam car - a pot boiler started by a Bunsen burner. The Brooks was a bit sturdier than a Stanley - the pot boiler was wrapped in three or four miles (depending on the report) of piano wire to eliminate the danger of explosion. Even so, if the main burner went out, fuel could go into the smoke stack, exploding when the burner was relit. The car's main technical flaw appears to have been the smallness of the boiler - 20 inches made too little steam to carry the car's 3,800 pounds comfortably above 35 or 40mph. One assumes the smaller boiler size helped quicken the steam making process, but the tradeoff in performance was severe. Yet, once underway, steam's attributes came forward - no need to shift gears (unlike an internal combustion engine whose torque is dependent on RPMs, a steam engine always operates at maximum torque) with the wonderful smoothness of the engine. The lack of creaks in a fabric body completed the ensemble for a delightful ride.
An English representative, Dennis McCormack (who gave addresses at both the Western Motor Co. in Coliseum, Bath and 35 Blandford Street in London), was active in 1924. Plans were announced to import the cars into the United Kingdom by the Spring of 1925. One of the cars was shown at the October 1924 London automobile show, "Olympia," in space #134, almost facing the main exhibition entrance. Autocar magazine visited the stand and called the car a "handsome carriage," pointing out to its readers the plush velvet seats inside and "nicely rounded corners" of the exterior. The British price was 996 pounds, when a sleek Itala sedan cost 800 pounds and a six-cylinder Packard could be purchased for 775 pounds. That explains why nothing appears to have come from the effort. The Brooks steamer made no subsequent appearances at "Olympia."
Interestingly, the Brooks did not debut at the Montreal Motor Show, held downtown in the Morgan Building, until January 1926. The company took a small space, located next to the orchestra and the Marmon exhibit.


ACT II
In late 1926, newspapers across New York state announced that Brooks had purchased an existing factory in Buffalo, New York, to build steam-powered buses. Among the details of the transaction was that the Stratford factory would be relocated to a Canadian site nearer to Buffalo. An American holding company, Brooks Steam Motors Inc., a Delaware corporation, was established, with a New York corporation of the same name being the operating entity. Repeating the formula for doing business in Canada, the local Chamber of Commerce helped the transaction. The Buffalo plant appears to have been a bargain purchase, as it was being used by a salvage company. Duplicating the Canadian company, a proper executive office was established downtown, in the Liberty Bank building. The factory was not too far away, at 622 Northumberland Avenue (at the corner of Kensington).
The apogee of these plans disappeared the following year in two unexpected ways.

The car's stylish bodywork, which was almost cutting-edge when introduced, had become old hat by 1927, as the industry turned to the Hispano-Suiza/LaSalle fine-line look. Brooks did not - or could not - change for it.
Also, in early 1927, a Toronto teenager, George Young, won the Catalina (California) Channel swimming contest. Chewing gum magnate William Wrigley funded the prize. As Young was returning to Toronto that February, it was announced that Oland Brooks had posted a $25,000 certified check, in addition to Wrigley's contribution, to secure a prize for Young in a new swimming contest on Lake Ontario. As Young entered Toronto on a snowy February day, he was said to bring out the largest crowds ever seen in the city. After a motor parade and speech to the crowd, Young refused to attend the grand luncheon set for him - objecting to the presence of one of the guests. News of the tiff made headlines, drowning out Brooks' $25,000 message in the Canadian press (although the transaction was reported to the readers of the New York Times).

The news of the prize helped cover the move of the business to Buffalo and also fostered interest in the company's steam-powered bus. Steam power saw a modest revival in the 1920s. It was very economical to use - fuel oil prices were about one-third that of gasoline. Startup times vis-a-vis gasoline-powered vehicles and safety issues from vaporized fuel were technically conquered.

Technically, the first Brooks bus incorporated much standard steam car technology, using a boiler. The eight-cylinder poppet-valve engine set cylinders in a vee, with a 4-inch bore and 4 ¼-inch stroke. Because both strokes in a steam engine are power strokes, the eight-cylinder engine was said to be the equivalent of a gasoline V16.
In the summer of 1927, a prototype was bodied with a 29-passenger parlour car-style body by the Buffalo Body Company. Buffalo Body specialised in elegant products. The one for Brooks had an aluminum body fitted with blue leather seats. At the time, the main bus show in the United States was held at the annual convention of the trolley car association, the American Electric Railway Association (AERA) (most bus companies then were owned by electric railways). The bus was displayed at the October 1927 event held in Cleveland. It was the first time a steam-driven vehicle had been shown there. Orders were not taken; it was displayed as an experimental vehicle.


No sooner was the AERA convention over then Brooks announced that A. Clarkson had taken Eric Delling's position as head of the engineering department. However impressive Delling's credentials were, A. Clarkson's were, too. Clarkson's father was the pioneer builder of steam buses in England. His son began apprenticing there and added his own experience as head of the London (England) Omnibus Company.
An omen came in 1928, among the corporate changes announced in the New York Times: the Delaware holding company, Brooks Steam Motors, Inc., filed a "surrender of authority" in Albany, New York, on February 10. At about this time, the American company issued a brochure describing the holding and operating companies, with a list of officers and principal employees. Clarkson was not named. We know now that Clarkson's work as the Canadian receiver was the reason for this.

A second V8-powered steam bus was introduced in July 1929. Created in Buffalo, it offered a new generation of steam technology while using the previous V8 engine. The pilot light and boiler were eliminated and replaced with a steam generator (in effect, a boiler in the shape of square water tube coils). The fire was spark-controlled, allowing the vehicle to get underway in 20 seconds. That was doubly significant as there was no longer a danger of a serious explosion from vaporized fuel. One of the novelties of the engine was that once operation power was reached - 750 pounds per square inch (PSI) - the engine fire was cut off. That allowed the bus to continue to operate without its engine running. Engine speeds were low; there was 2,000 rpm at 60mph. The rear axle was 3.9 with 38-inch wheels.
Oland Brooks must have liked good design. His interest in the smart-looking Meritas fabric car body was not a one-time phenomenon. For this last bus, he chose an American Car and Foundry (ACF) body style called the Metropolitan. It was a city bus, with places for 39 sitting passengers and about the same number of standees. However utilitarian, the Metropolitan was a most attractive body style. Its simple squared-corners and elegant exterior sun visor would not look out of place today.

The New York Times reported the display of the bus on October 14, 1929 - two weeks before the Stock Market Crash that announced the Great Depression. It was entertaining news, as Brooks told the Times that "large-scale" production had begun. Brooks also mentioned that the same steam engine in the bus could be adapted for airplane use, adding that development was coming for a version of the new engine for passenger cars.

For the Canadian entity, a legal limbo had begun as stockholders sought liquidation. On December 15 and 16, 1931, an unreserved auction sale was held at the Stratford factory. The entire contents of the plant were sold. There were still 40 cars and two buses in inventory. Some cars reportedly sold for $175. One bus - presumably a Canadian-built model - brought $750.

While the exact details of how Brooks' empire unraveled remain elusive, remaining records suggest the Depression thwarted his efforts to keep going. Brooks Securities advertised stocks for sale in the Wall Street Journal, giving its New York City office as the General Motors Building. Yet, the company's name never appeared in the Manhattan telephone book. Brooks Steam Motors, Inc. continued to be listed in the Buffalo City Directory through 1932. Interestingly, there was annual turnover in the company's secretary/treasurer position during these last years. In 1931, the company was listed as also making electric refrigerators in addition to steam buses. By 1933, the factory at 622 Northumberland was listed as the home of Cataract-Sharpe, a glassware manufacturer. Brooks Steam Motors Inc. (the New York operating company) was dissolved by the New York State Division of Corporations on December 15, 1936. Oland Brooks would have been 60 years old that year.

Surviving Buffalo social registers of the late 1920s and early 1930s indicate Oland Brooks never officially became part of the glamour that intrigued him. However, Brooks' Buffalo residence was in the City Directory in the late 1920s. That address changed to a more modest neighbourhood in 1931; his name was only given with the Steam Motors address in 1932. However, his wife, Ella, was listed separately as a dressmaker. Looking at the 1940 City Directory continues to list only her name.

Engineer Clarkson had the task of closing down Brooks; his Clarkson and Company became the trustee in bankruptcy. Clarkson's English background most likely explains an unexpected 1934 analysis of the steam bus in a British publication, Steam Car Developments and Steam Aviation.

The Brooks factory in Stratford reverted to the city and was used for storage until World War II, when an upholstery company bought it. Activity continued there into the 1980s. In 1998, Ontario developer Vic Hayter commissioned artist Rich Thistle to do a series of mural paintings about Stratford called "The Heart of Stratford." Among them is a view of a Brooks steamer parked in front of the factory. The actual factory was torn down in 2001.

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