History of the Brooks Locomotive Works

Horatio G. Brooks

Horatio G. Brooks began his railroad career during the construction of the New York and Erie Railroad. At the time of its completion, in 1851, it was the longest railroad in the world. The six foot gauge railroad connected Piermont on the Hudson River with Dunkirk, New York on Lake Erie.

During his career with the Erie, H. G. Brooks worked his way up from a locomotive engineer to superintendent of motive power and machinery for the entire railroad. He was at the controls of the first train to arrive in Dunkirk over the new road when it opened.

Shortly after the opening of the line, the Erie opened a branch from Hornell to Buffalo. It was soon realized that Buffalo, and not Dunkirk, would be the major Lake Erie port for New York State. The Erie soon abandoned its shops and relocated them to Buffalo. This resulted in the loss of what was Dunkirk's largest employer.

In 1869, Horatio Brooks came to the rescue. He leased the former Erie shops and founded the Brooks Locomotive Works.

The Brooks Works

The Brooks Locomotive Works was officially formed on November 11, 1869. The initial capital stock of the company was valued at $350,000.00. It was subsequently raised to $500,000.00. The Trustees for the new company were: H.G. Brooks of Dunkirk; M.L. Hinman of Brooklyn; M.R. Simons, J. H. Bacon, and W. O. Chapin of New York City. The first executive officers were: H.G. Brooks, president and superintendent; M. L. Hinman, secretary and treasurer.

The capital allowed Brooks to expand the facility into one of the largest operations of its kind in the state. Soon he was producing seven locomotives per month, compared to one a month when the Erie ran the shops. During the first year of operation, 37 locomotives and 100 freight cars were produced. During the second twelve months of operation, 43 new locomotives were built. Most of the major railroads of the time could be counted as customers. The financial crisis of 1873 caused business to fall off dramatically, but it began to recover within a few years.

By the 1880's the economy had improved and the future looked better for the Brooks Works. In 1883 Brooks locomotives were judged Best in Show at the Chicago Industrial Exposition. The 1000th locomotive was completed February 22, 1884.

The early 1890's brought another financial depression upon the country. In 1891 Brooks built 226 locomotives. In 1894 total production fell to 90 locomotives. Prosperity did not return to the Brooks works until after the turn of the century, when it became part of the American Locomotive Company.

The American Locomotive Company

In 1901 the Brooks Locomotive Works merged with the Schenectady Locomotive Works, and several other locomotive builders, to form the American Locomotive Company. The Dunkirk works grew steadily, and by 1921 employed about 4500 people. The last steam locomotive was produced in 1928. After that, production of steam locomotives in New York state was shifted to the Schenectady works. The plant continued to produce spare parts for locomotives for a few years. Although locomotive production had ended, there was still work to be done in Dunkirk.

ALCO Products

After locomotive production had ended, plant was renamed "ALCO Thermal Products Division". Thermal products such as, heat exchangers, pipe and high pressure vessels were fabricated at the plant. ALCO built custom made products for refineries, power plants and water treatment facilities. Pipe of all types were also manufactured at the plant.

World War II

Like many other plants, the Dunkirk works focused on the war effort. Two models of the "Long Tom" artillery gun were produced. This was a very large piece, and the ability to handle large forgings and do precision machining on a large scale was a requirement. ALCO had a 750 ton press, a 1500 ton crimper and a 25' boring mill to handle these massive chores.

Under terms of the Lend - Lease Act, 900 locomotives were shipped to Russia. Parts for these locomotives were manufactured at the Dunkirk plant.

The End

After World War II, production of custom made products resumed. Unfortunately the trend was to use standardized equipment. The plant never regained its place as the leader in local manufacturing. In 1962 the company decided to sell the facility. The remaining 750 workers were laid off.