Brooks Construction has a rich and distinguished history as a company that values people, innovation, integrity, and high quality products and services for its customers. For over 100 years, we have strived to provide the best possible infrastructure for northern Indiana. All three generations of family owners would not have it any other way.
Born in Dunkirk, Indiana in 1883, the company's founder, John Foster Brooks, came from humble beginnings. When he was two, his father moved the family to Logansport and began a career as a "huckster." (In the late 1800's, a huckster traveled to small towns collecting chicken, eggs, and other agricultural products for processing and shipment to New York City via the railroad.) As a young man, John F. Brooks attended two years of college at Purdue University. He worked the following summer as a timekeeper for Moellering Construction Company in Fort Wayne, IN.
Quickly gaining an interest in construction, Brooks began selling liquid asphalt for the Barber Asphalt Company. At the age of 26, he teamed up with an engineer and friend, Lester E. Ginn, and together they sought financial backing of a Fort Wayne businessman, Ralph Magee, who invested $7,000 with only two stipulations. The money was to be paid back as soon as possible and detailed cost-based accounting records had to be kept and provided to Magee upon his request. With those conditions agreed to, Brooks Construction was launched in 1909.
The Early Years (1909-1940)
At the time when roads were mostly dirt and gravel, a movement was underway to construct streets out of concrete, asphalt, and brick. The first job was completed by Brooks in 1909 when he convinced the City of Fort Wayne to construct Forest Park Boulevard using asphalt. In the early 1900s, local property owners, then called "freeholders," were able to vote and select the type of material of which their particular street would be made. This method was not always simple. Brooks had to go door to door and sell each homeowner on the virtues of paving over the more traditional brick.
Within three years, Brooks and Ginn were able to repay Magee for his initial investment. With numerous projects in Indiana and surrounding states, Brooks Construction Company, Inc. received a 50 year charter from the State of Indiana on November 21, 1911.
Brooks Construction got its first big break when the Indiana state legislature passed a "three mile law" to encourage the construction of roads between communities. Doing all work by hand or with horses and steam driven pavers, Brooks Construction constructed a three mile stretch of concrete road between New Haven and Fort Wayne. This was the first concrete road in Indiana and is known as Old Maumee Road today.
Brooks Construction worked mainly with concrete in the early years. At a time when ready-mixed concrete had not even been conceived, all material production took place at the job site. Sacks of cement and truck loads of sand and stone were delivered to the job and mixed together as needed. Often the most challenging aspect of any job was getting the waterlines run for the mixing process.
Innovation came early to Brooks Construction as the company purchased and used one of the first self propelled concrete mixers, manufactured by the Koehring Co. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Whatever the barrier was, Brooks possessed the drive and intuition to remove it and move forward. For example, when early, unskilled truck drivers were not able to back up to the paver quickly and accurately, Brooks developed a turntable located at the front of the paver. This improvement allowed the truck driver to pull forward onto the turntable which would automatically turn the truck around quickly and accurately for unloading.
In 1917, Brooks Construction purchased its first asphalt production plant. In the following years, this plant and others would be used throughout Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and even Kentucky to develop the Midwest's infrastructure. The demand for roads, streets and highways was growing at a phenomenal rate with the automobile's mass introduction into American culture, propelled by the Model T from Ford Motor Company.
In addition to concrete and asphalt, Brooks laid brick streets in Fort Wayne that survive to this day. Residents and visitors can see the original pavement on Swinney Avenue, College Street, and other roads.
In 1923, the company built a yard and office at 1123 Barthold Street. The land was purchased from the railroad for $1 in an agreement to move aggregate materials from Huntington to Fort Wayne via rail. Two spurs were installed for loading and unloading of cement and aggregate.
The Great Depression struck hard at the heart of American business, and Brooks Construction suffered with the rest. The company survived in part because of a personal loan from John's wife, Emma, to help cover payroll. The 1930s also brought some personnel transition to Brooks Construction. In 1937, Ginn retired and the concrete division was sold to another local company, but John's twin sons, James E. and Robert F. Brooks, entered the business.
Robert Brooks recalls his first assignment. "In 1937, we were doing an asphalt resurfacing job in Michigan. I was sent there because I only had to be 14 years old to get a license and I was able to drive a truck."
While the company was able to weather the Depression, the start of World War II meant jobs and workers were increasingly hard to find. Brooks Construction spread its geographic reach: several major jobs were completed during the war, including the Crane Ordinance Depot and airports in Bowling Green, KY, and Moline, IL. The employment problems carried over into post war years, and recruiting often included a trip to the local pool hall to recruit unskilled workers and train them to do a particular job.
After serving in World War II, Jim and Bob Brooks returned to Fort Wayne and the family business to begin to make their own legacy in the construction industry. Undeniably, their father's spirit of innovation carried through to the next generation as Bob and Jim made improvements to asphalt construction technology.
For example, Jim and Bob recognized that the older style asphalt manufacturing plants, which had been used since 1917, took 2-3 weeks to move to a new job, costing a loss of time and decreasing production capacity. So when the company was awarded the contract on their first section of the Indiana Toll Road in 1957, the Brooks twins sought a new approach.
After much discussion, it was determined that a new plant would be purchased for $93,000. A Standard Steel, 90 ton per hour, portable tower plant arrived by railroad and was assembled at the Barthold Street yard. Bob Brooks went to work on plans he had been designing for years. Through Bob and Jim's innovative spirit, many modifications were made to this plant including the placing of wheels under literally every component and utilizing new quick disconnects for generators and asphalt tanks. This new, ground-breaking design enabled the plant to be moved in 3 to 4 days, increasing Brooks' ability to do more work in a more efficient manner. Within 6 months, all manufacturers had portable plants for sale based on Brooks's design.
John F. Brooks, founder of Brooks Construction Company, actively worked until his death in 1958. Much early infrastructure development in Fort Wayne is credited to John and his company, including Southwood Park and the Hillcrest area. John was an outstanding civic leader and well respected for his drive to succeed and his high ethical standards, traits that still remain central to the company today.
In the early 1960s, the Federal government commissioned a study to analyze 25 asphalt plants throughout the United States for efficiency in operations. Brooks Construction and its new portable plant were chosen based on the Indiana State Highway Commission's recommendations. This customized asphalt plant ranked third overall in the nation. Brooks was later notified that the plant would have been ranked first if it hadn't experienced truck delivery delays during the two week testing period.
While their innovative plant design was a success, there were unfortunately few significant paving projects available. Bob Brooks said, "There was hardly any work in the early 1960s - maybe 10 significant hot mix jobs. Brooks kept active as subcontractors on most major highway projects and completed the shoulder work on the toll road in all of Steuben County." To increase business, Jim and Bob Brooks hired one of the first true salesmen in the industry in 1963. By demonstrating high quality products and strong customer service, the trio quickly developed a large business base, primarily in northeastern Indiana. Jim and Bob carried this experience to the National Asphalt Paving Association (NAPA), where they helped create the Marketing Department that promoted asphalt mix as the pavement of choice to government agencies and commercial contractors.
Brooks Construction became known as a total site development company. At a time when many construction companies used subcontractors, Brooks gained a competitive edge by undertaking all aspects of infrastructure construction, including dirt and earthwork, water and sewer lines, curbing, trucking, and pavement. Without the constraints of "subs", BCCO was able to better control costs and construction schedule and provide higher quality products and services. The red, white and blue "Brooks 1st" logo was developed by Don McDermott to remind customers to think of Brooks "first" for all their infrastructure development needs.
The economic boom years of the 1970s created many opportunities for Brooks Construction. Concrete reemerged as a production line with the hire of Steve Hinen in the mid 1970s. Since then, Brooks has become a leader in curb, retaining wall and concrete construction. Today, with multiple concrete crews and automatic curb machines, Brooks has cemented its position as a quality concrete contractor.
During the early 1980s, International Harvest Company moved its operations from Fort Wayne to Springfield, Ohio. The resulting economic downturn in Fort Wayne presented Brooks Construction with challenges and opportunities. Brooks Construction expanded its geographic market and purchased new stationary and portable asphalt plants. By the end of the decade, Brooks Construction was a familiar name in Allen County and the surrounding counties, bolstered by its operations in Steuben and Elkhart counties. The company moved on February 1, 1988, to its new main office and current headquarters at 6525 Ardmore Avenue, Fort Wayne.
In 1986, it was time for the next generation to take over. Bob's son, John R. Brooks, and Jim's son, Andrew F. Brooks, had begun working as laborers for the company in the 1970s, and their abilities and responsibilities had grown. Bob Brooks recounts how he and his brother Jim spent a decade trying to figure out the best way to turn the business over to their sons. In the end, their strategy was to "just walk away and let them run it."
Today, Andrew Brooks is President of Brooks Construction, and is primarily responsible for finance, administration, human resources, safety and equipment. Andy is a graduate of DePauw University with an economics degree.
John Brooks is the Executive Vice President of Brooks Construction Company, Inc. His responsibilities for over two decades have included overseeing production, plants and quality control operations, sales and estimating for the company. He is a graduate of Wittenberg University with a degree in economics.
As evidenced by the tremendous growth of Brooks in the last two decades, these third generation owners have continued their forefathers' dedication to quality product, customer service, and innovation.
In the Last Twenty Years
In the 1990s, Brooks stretched its lead as the premier highway contractor in Northeastern Indiana. Winning numerous awards on the State and National Levels annually for quality highway construction and specialized commercial work, Brooks Construction has earned its reputation as simply the best.
With its strong emphasis on quality, Brooks Construction was actively involved with the testing and construction of one of the first SUPERPAVE highways in Indiana. Additionally, Brooks created the first private AASHTO Accredited Laboratory in the State of Indiana in order to ensure the highest quality pavement for its customers.
Brooks Construction also looked to decrease its carbon footprint and environmental impact. On September 17, 1997, Brooks Construction and National Serv-All announced their innovative Landfill Gas Energy Recovery Project. This clean energy approach utilizes natural gas produced from the decomposition of the landfill as fuel burned at the Ardmore plant location for asphalt production. Additionally, Resource Recovery and Recycling (3R), a company-owned division, was developed to provide construction materials recycling services, including concrete, asphalt and shingles. Aggressive commercial recycling projects keep what would otherwise be waste materials out of landfills and in use in our economy.
In 2003, Brooks Construction expanded into the South Bend and Mishawaka area with the purchase of Gage Asphalt and Mishawaka Asphalt Supply. Brooks was privileged to serve this region for 7 years before selling its plants to concentrate on other aspects of company growth.
In the new millennium, Brooks brought additional capacity to its management team:
- Steve Koble is a Vice President who has been with Brooks since 1987 and has managed some of the largest and widely recognized State Highway projects including the National Quality Initiative Gold Level Project - "The Pride of I-69".
- Bill Stevens was promoted to Vice President in 2005 and led the Goshen/Mishawaka operations until its recent sale. With the company since 1990, Bill brought integrity and excellence to a regional office of more than 50 employees. He has also managed significant projects such as the Fort Wayne International Airport expansion.
- Jack Billings is a Vice President and 34 year employee of Brooks Construction Company. He has played a key role in the company's continued growth and sustained success, with emphasis in bidding, estimating and sales.
- Cindy Riebersal, CPA, has served as our Chief Financial Officer since 2004 and leads the accounting and IT departments. With over 25 years experience in accounting for the construction industry, Cindy is a founding member and current president of the Northern Indiana Chapter of the Construction Financial Management Association
In 2001, Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana honored Brooks Construction Company, Inc. by inducting second generation owners, Robert and James Brooks, into the Greater Fort Wayne Business Hall of Fame. Brooks Construction proudly celebrated its 100 year anniversary in 2009 by hosting three events:
- A kickoff celebration at the new Tin Caps stadium in downtown Fort Wayne;
- A family fun day at Indiana Beach; and
- A one-of-a-kind charity demolition derby for its business partners and the community held on September 22, 2009. This event culminated the 100 year celebration and served to thank the community for its support and business over the last 100 years. In the end, Brooks Construction donated $50,000 to five different local charities.
In the first 100 years, Brooks Construction established itself as a company dedicated to innovation and excellence. Unsurprisingly, our next 100 years is beginning in that same vein. Brooks has moved asphalt plants to locations near major highway projects, continues to purchase new and updated equipment technology, and has even unveiled a new product that could revolutionize recycling in our industry, HyRAP. One thing is certain: the current management team, under the outstanding leadership of John and Andy Brooks, will secure Brooks Construction's future as a leader in infrastructure development and construction in northern Indiana for years to come.