||Brooks Steam Motors
by Brooks T. Brierley
Post World War I Canada was a beehive of automotive activity. Tens of thousands of cars were being built annually in the Dominion then, most of them American brands assembled in local plants. Yet, in 1923 alone, several new Canadian marques were introduced, including three built in Montreal. A new steam car was announced that year, too - hailing from Stratford, Ontario, a small industrial city of 25,000 people located northwest of Toronto. The car was named after an American financier, Oland J. Brooks, who moved from Buffalo, New York, to Toronto in 1920. His business was finance and second mortgages, called the Banking Service Corporation, Ltd.
Something changed Brooks' interest from finance to steam cars. He became associated with the Detroit Steam Motors Corporation in Detroit, which introduced its first cars, called Trask-Detroit, in 1922. There was a plan to make Trask-Detroit's in Canada by Windsor Steam Motors in Windsor, across the river from Detroit. That would allow the cars to be sold in Canada with minimum tariffs, allowing favourable import treatment to other parts of the British Empire.
The Trask-Detroit was an assembled car, with the boiler, engine and related parts made by Schlieder Manufacturing Co., a Detroit valve manufacturer. It was to be a popular-priced steam car, something that had never been done (steam car engineering conspired with small production runs to require a high price). The basic model was a touring car to sell for $1,000. A larger model was announced in late 1923, with a sedan priced at $1,900. Bodies "...will be made by the Packard Motor Car Co..," stated the report in the Wall Street Journal. Packard quickly issued a denial. The Trask-Detroit soon vanished. As it did, the Brooks steam car appeared.
The eagerness with which a vacant factory in Stratford, Ontario, was offered for sale, suggested another locale to build the Trask-Detroit concepts (or a steam vehicle that looked very much like them) in Canada. Stratford was an important railroad junction then, with a labour pool well versed in steam power. In March 1923, the Brooks Steam Motors, Ltd. was established. Key staff was assembled. In September a car was shown at the Toronto Exhibition. The following month, agreement was reached with the city of Stratford to purchase a former threshing machine factory for $55,000 (Canadian and American dollars had about equal value in the mid 1920s). The city took back a $50,000 mortgage.
Concurrently, a suitable executive office was established in suites #1305/7 in the Canadian Pacific Railroad Building in Toronto.
The Brooks plan was to make three lines of cars - called Models 1, 2 and 3. The smallest, Model 1, used a 112-inch wheelbase chassis. with an 18-inch boiler. Prices were to begin at $1,000. There was to be a full line of this model - with a four-passenger touring car and a two-passenger roadster, plus three closed body styles: a coupe, a four-passenger brougham and a five-passenger sedan. These specifications very closely match - both visually and technically - the smallest Trask-Detroit model.
Model 2 was set on a longer 122-inch wheelbase, with a 20-inch boiler. Two open models were proposed - a four-passenger sport model and a five-passenger touring car. There were three closed body styles available - a four-passenger brougham, a five-passenger sedan and a town car. Wheels were Budd-Michelin steel discs. The chassis specifications of the larger Trask prototype were very similar to this Brooks Model 2.
Model 3 was also to be mounted on a 122-inch wheelbase chassis, but with a larger 23-inch boiler. Open body styles followed the Model 2's variety, with a seven-passenger hardtop touring car standing out. All cars were to be fitted with the Budd-Michelin steel discs. Standard colour choices were limited, and identical to the Model 2: open cars in blue or maroon (one shade being called "Brooks Blue"); closed cars in two other shades of blue. Special colours were available on six weeks' notice.
Only a single Brooks model was produced; it could be described as a combination of the Model 2's engine and the Model 3's weight. One touring car was a prototype (and appears to have been a renamed Trask-Detroit); the rest were five-passenger sedans. Despite expectations of hundreds of employees, by 1925, the factory had only 90 personnel. Another two dozen workers manned service stations and salesrooms. Much of the work was said to consist of driving the cars throughout Canada, some accompanied by Mr. Brooks, promoting sale of the company's stock. There were factory showrooms in Montreal and Toronto. Announced branches in other cities may have only existed as agencies evidenced by some sales brochures and rubber stamps on the desks of other businesses. The factory branch in Hamilton, said to be located in the A. B. MacKay Building at 66 King Street East, was never in the City Directory. One of the tenants at that address, the Canadian Automobile Protective Club, Ltd., appears to have been the entity that also included being a "factory branch."
A second utilitarian product, the Brooks Oil Burner, was also being made under license. Some 500 were said to be made during the summer of 1924, and had begun to place demonstrators in retail stores in the larger Ontario cities. The announced plan was to demonstrate these throughout the Dominion to create a winter demand that would allow Spring and Summer production as contra-seasonal to car manufacture.
Soon, the economic difficulties of building automobiles in such small numbers would have been revealed with a vengeance. In this instance; however, that did not matter.
Prototypes were built to raise money by selling stock as opposed to generating car sales revenue. Some two to four million Canadian dollars was believed to have been raised, much of it said to have come from the country's western provinces. Other Brooks companies, Brooks Securities, Ltd., located at the same Toronto address and an American affiliate located in Cleveland, Brooks Securities, Incorporated (a Delaware company previously named Banserco Underwriters), sold stock.
The cars were well promoted through high-profile demonstrations and by creating taxi fleets of them in Stratford and Toronto (which were affiliates of the company). Factory sales branches gave the impression of a going concern. Parts for 200 cars were on hand at the factory - yet anecdotal information reveals production was more modest. An undated Brooks press release describes production slowed because of delayed shipment of boiler shells from Germany. One report states only 18 cars were sold in 1926, the first full year of production. The following year the factory stopped building them. Stockholders began to object to the lack of progress - one report revealed that the taxi fleets were predicated on selling the cars for $1,500, little more than one-third of the retail price. Legal action was begun to force Oland Brooks out of the company.
By late 1927, the stockholders had taken control of the business and appointed a new engineer, A. Clarkson. Clarkson had been chief engineer of the London Omnibus Company in England. His father was a pioneer in steam buses. That doubly suggested the future for Brooks Steam Motors, Ltd.
More substantial promotion was to enlist two fair damsels to own and use the cars. Miss Jean Fleming of Toronto and Mrs. J. W. Shaw of Montreal each had a sedan, proving their ease of use for the distaff side. Miss Fleming's sedan was said to be the ninth Brooks built. She customised the car a bit with Edmunds & Jones Type 20 headlights - an elliptical-shaped black enamel body with a chrome bezel surrounding a small four-inch lens (best known as the lamps used on Leon Rubay's Rickenbacker sport coupe)