A History of Brooks Locomotive Works in Dunkirk, New York

Founded by former chief engineer of the NY&E Railroad, Horatio Gates Brooks, Brooks Locomotive Works manufactured steam locomotives and freight cars from 1869 to 1901 when it merged with Alco.

Brooks Locomotive Works, A History of Excellence

In its heyday, Brooks produced locomotives for every major railroad in the US at that time. Well known models manufactured by Brooks were the Mikado, Mallet, Mountain and Prairie. A  2-10-0 locomotive was even built for the Russian government.

Notable locomotives produced by Brooks include:

  • 494, built 1881
  • 522, built 1881
  • 567, built 1881
  • 1535, built 1880
  • 2475, built 1894
  • 2779, built 1897
  • 2951 built 1898
  • 3687, built 1900
  • 3697, built 1900
  • 3925 built 1901
  • 4062, built 1901
  • 47764, built 1910
  • 56532, built 1916

Horatio Brooks, A Man With A Vision

By October 1869, Erie Railway president Jay Gould ordered the Dunkirk shops closed. Brooks then came up with the idea to lease the property from Erie Railway; Brooks’ Locomotive Works was organized on November 13, 1869…and the rest is railroad history.

The ensuing years were not without hardship, but Brooks continued to focus on improving construction methods, particularly during the years 1874-1979. By 1879, business was once again reviving and in 1880, 100 locomotives were produced at the facility.

In his book, Alco Locomotives, author Brian Solomon explains the fundamental role of Brooks’ engineering team in the early success of Alco. Citing Alfred Bruce in his work, The Steam Locomotive in America, Solomon mentions several key players at Brooks who went on to have roles at Alco:

  • Sherman Miller went on to become Alco’s VP of engineering
  • James G. Blunt coordinated Alco’s draftsmen, remaining active until the early diesel era
  • Mechanical engineer John Player served as a consulting engineer for Alco
  • Plant superintendent James McNaughton became Alco’s VP of manufacturing

10 Interesting Trivia Facts About Brooks Locomotive Works:

1. When Brooks passed away in 1887 of a stroke, Brooks Works employed 1,000 people.

2. Some 800 workers from Brooks Locomotive Works marched in his funeral procession.

3. Brooks Works was the fifth-largest manufacturing plant in New York by 1900.

4. The Brooks facility made its own electricity in a power plant; their shop cranes were electric-powered.

5. Between 1869 and 1928, 13,245 steam locomotives were produced by Brooks.

6. 1901 was Brooks top year, when 382 locomotives were produced. The lowest production year was 1874, when just 6 were manufactured.

7. By 1928, Brooks stopped producing steam locomotives and focused solely on the production of locomotive parts.

8. During WWII, cannons and locomotive parts were produced at the facility as part of the Lend-Lease program.

9. Post WWII, the Dunkirk plant never regained its pre-war production levels.

10. 750 workers at Brooks were laid off when the facility was shuttered by Alco in 1962.

What About the Original Brooks Locomotive Site Today?

Well, back in 1962 after the facility was closed, a group of local citizens pushed to buy the old property. Over time, Roblin Steel, Plymouth Tube, Cenedella Wood Products, and Alumax Extrusions inhabited the original site. All have since vacated the original site or closed down.

Today, many of the original buildings are gone from the site and the property has fallen into disuse. In August 2019, to celebrate 150 years since the opening of Brooks Locomotive Works, the Chautauqua County Historical Society’s annual picnic featured a lecture by local historians Roy Davis and Roger Schulenberg.

The Dunkirk Observer highlights Brooks community involvement that went beyond his substantial contributions to the local economy. He also served as mayor for three terms and was a prominent member of the Dunkirk community.

We’ll leave you with this quote from The 1881 Atlas of Chautauqua County:

“He [Brooks] fully appreciates the assistance he has received from his co-workers in the great manufacturing industry which now forms so important an element in the prosperity of Dunkirk, and has great faith in the average excellence of human nature.

He believes life too short to harbor resentments, and therefore has charity for all. He loves his friends and does not hate his enemies.”

Learn more about Brooks Locomotive Works and the influential presence of Horatio Brooks in Dunkirk, NY:

Photos of the mansion at 529 Central Ave. in Dunkirk, NY, inhabited by Horatio Brooks and family (the home was donated by the family where it was demolished to build the current Brooks Memorial Hospital)

From  the 1881 Atlas of Chautauqua County, NY, a section on Horatio G. Brooks

Wikipedia page on Brooks Locomotive Works

Brooks Locomotive, from Western New York History (wnyhistory.org), packed with great visuals

Brooks Locomotive Works history, from the Dunkirk Historical Museum

Brooks/ALCO Railroad Display and the story behind it, courtesy of the Dunkirk Historical Museum

A Catalogue Descriptive of Simple and Compound Locomotives Built by Brooks Locomotive Works, Dunkirk, N.Y., U.S.A.