Te Kopuru-Dargaville Bus Company Limited.
The first bus service between the two towns started around 1915 by Mr BE Williams, he owned a number of buildings in Dargaville. The roads were not the best and old time locals used to tell of an incident when the chain drive of the bus, or ‘charabanc’ as they were known then, broke and it careered backwards down Te Kopuru hill. The driver managed to negotiate this sudden change of direction satisfactorily and as a result no damage was done.
The people of Te Kopuru and the surrounding districts, through the Te Kopuru and Aratapu school committees approached the Te Kopuru branch of the NZ Farmers Union about the unreliable service so a public meeting was called.
Two meetings took place in April of 1919 and it was decided to form a co-operative and this became the Te Kopuru Dargaville Bus Company.
Ten Directors were to be appointed these were; John Stallworthy – Chairman, William A Morgan, Arthur B Hammond, John McCarroll, Walter Kelly, Edward W Rope, Leonard Bassett, Dr Robert Cross, George Lendrum, George Cameron, and Norman Crabbe who took on the role of secretary. Mr AB Hammond was appointed as the companies first manager. In order to ensure the widest possible spread of shares within the community the maximum permitted to be held was £25 shares from a total initial share capital of £750.
At a meeting of the Directors in June of that year it was decided that a bus should be purchased from Brown & Sons as soon as the Company became incorporated. A model ‘T’ Ford with a capacity of 14 people was then purchased and it’s first run was on 7th July 1919.
Clive Otways, book “Te Kopuru – Dargaville Bus Company Ltd” first published in 2006 records of this first service “14 passengers were provided for, but such matters were viewed rather more flexibly in those days. On busy trips, in excess of 25 passengers were accommodated, with some sitting on the front mudguards and others hanging from the sides” It would appear that the Te Kopuru hill proved to be a bit of a challenge for loads like that so it was apparently quite common for the more agile passengers to alight and to add some ‘manpower’ to the horsepower already available.
The success of the new venture was evident and it became obvious that another vehicle would be required so a further purchase was made in September and was delivered in January of the following year-1920. In that same year a successful tender for £100 saw the advent of a rural mail delivery run between Te Kopuru and Dargaville. The 1924 period saw the ridiculous situation arise of tit-for-tat competition, a bus operated by a competitor ran on the Te Kopuru-Dargaville run and in order to counter this, the company ran a car ahead of the bus, this in turn resulted in the competitor doing the same! Fortunately this didn’t last to long as most of the passengers stayed loyal to the Bus Company and things soon got back to normal. This scenario repeated itself a couple of years later with the same outcome.
Numerous buses were purchased over the ensuing period however things started to get a bit tight by 1930 when the mills and Kauri Gum industry started declining. Services were reduced to just one bus, fares reduced and at one stage wages were cut by 10%.
The war years were of mixed fortune to the company, they managed to survive but spares and new buses were hard to obtain, service personnel during the war year were carried at half price. A government initiative to transfer licences to returned soldiers as part of rehab was introduced, the company was approached some while after and was asked what it was doing about this, to which they advised they were looking after their own returned soldiers.
The first diesel bus was reluctantly purchased in 1951 and was delivered in January of the following year. It was soon found that the reluctance was misplaced and the “Albion Victor” was a big success. Two further Albions were purchased in the ensuing years, however with patronage falling and costs increasing it soon became obvious that all was not well. The March 1959 annual accounts showed a loss of £1,000 and 1960s’ accounts revealed a loss of nearly £5,000 a loss that could not be sustained. An Extraordinary General Meeting was called in July of 1960 when a decision was made to wind up the Company voluntarily. The increased use of privately owned vehicles and the closure of the hospital at Te Kopuru, plus with the advantage of hindsight the purchase of the 3rd Albion Victor all contributed. Mr TG Wells was appointed liquidator.
A private company was formed under the management of a former employee of the company, Steve Dragicevich “Te Kopuru-Dargaville Bus Company (1960) Ltd". Details of this period are currently under research, however this company in turn was wound up in 1978.
Always known as the "Smurf Bus" for obvious reasons, it was never realised in those days -in the early 80s'- that one day a film would be made about the Smurfs!