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
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
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
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
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
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
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.