By R. W. (Bill) Hughes
I was having lunch with Rod McMaster several weeks ago and as we talked Rod happened to mention the old Reo bus which the church operated during the 1950s to get the kids to and from Sunday School. Rod along with a number of others – is an excellent source of information to me in my capacity as Church archivist. He came to Canberra when his father took up his appointment as Minister in October 1952 and he has a superb memory.
I subsequently undertook some research and spoke to a number of people to find out what I could about the old bus.
The bus was, in fact, purchased by the Home Missions Board from H N and V L Grace of Wellington, NSW, at a cost of one hundred and fifty pounds ($300). Rev Fred McMaster negotiated with the Board for use of the 1932 Reo 20-seater bus. The Church was required to pay registration fees and third party insurance, which amounted to thirteen pounds three shillings and sixpence ($26.35), and this cost was met by private donations.
In November 1953, Mr Bruce Balfour (now at Hughes Baptist), Mr Cec Love (now at Queanbeyan Baptist), Mr Don White and the late Mr Bill Lavender went to Wellington in Bruce’s 1934 Plymouth to collect the bus and bring it to Canberra. Mr Love was a mechanic and his skills were needed on the way back. The bus broke down at Orange when the crank handle put a hole in the bottom of the radiator and temporary repairs had to be made. As it was a Saturday afternoon and everything was closed, ingenuity was called for; chewing gum had to be purchased, passed around, chewed and then used periodically to plug the hole and get the bus to its new home.
At its February 1954 meeting, the Diaconate received a report from the Assistant Treasurer, Mr Don White, concerning expected running costs. The operation of the bus was in the hands of a committee comprised of Messrs Cec Love, Bill Lavender, Don White, Emie Foote and Jack Welch. The then Secretary, Mr Herb Ransom, was asked what colour the bus ought to be painted and he is said to have replied: “I don’t care as long as it’s not red!” The bus was painted blue. I understand there were several members authorised to drive the bus and these included Mr Harry Quartel (Mrs Beryl Quartel’s late husband), Mr Don White, Mr Bruce Balfour, Mr Cec Love and Mr Bill Lavender.
During the 1950s the Sunday School was an important aspect of the Church’s mission, with around 200 students enrolled annually. To get the children to and from Sunday School a well organised transport system was necessary. The system was developed and organised by Mr John Knight (Mrs Betty Mills’ brother), who was an active Sunday School teacher and youth worker in the Church over a number of years. The old bus, supplemented by the use of private cars, provided transport for the children for a number of years.
The Canberra North Baptist Church was officially opened on 23 October 1954 and the bus was also used by that Church. The bus was maintained by the Church and the costs of operation and repairs were a charge on the Church’s annual budget. Many children who would not otherwise been able to get to Sunday School were able to do so because of the bus.
By 1958 the old Reo was coming to the end of its life. Apparently a quiet word was dropped in the appropriate ears (by a church member who worked in the appropriate Government agency) that the bus should not be on the roads as it was not safe to operate. In mid-1958 its future was discussed with members of the Home Mission Board and the bus was put up for sale in late 1958. There were no takers (only one inquiry was received). Eventually the tyres were sold and the bus was stripped of engine and parts, pulled apart and moved to the Church’s Youth Camp site at Murrumbateman in the early 1960s, where it was re-assembled and used as sleeping quarters for a number of years. Some engine parts were stored under the church for several years.
Because of exposure to the elements and the ravages of time and rust, the old bus slowly deteriorated. Those who had been out to the youth camp at
Murrumbateman in the 1970s, report that the old wreck was barely recognisable by then. By the time the Murrumbateman property was sold by the Church in 1981, there was little left. Today, some 40 years after it ceased service, there is no longer any sign of the remains of the old bus.
In the period immediately following the old 20-seater being taken off the road, consideration was given to the purchase of a new bus, but this was rejected by the Diaconate. A major reason appears to have been that the church was facing the costs of Stage 1 of Waldock Hall, which was in the planning stages at the time. The cost of the hall was in the vicinity of fifteen thousand pounds ($30,000) – a significant sum at the time. Mr John Knight had on loan, by private arrangement, a VW Kombi van which, along with private cars, served the Sunday School transport needs for a time. Then for a period private cars were used to ferry the children to and from classes. As Canberra’s public transport system developed the need for such arrangements diminished.
Minutes of Deacons Meetings – 3/11/1953; 30/11/1953; 18/9/1958; 4/11/1958; 2/12/1958; 19/1/1959; 9/3/1959; 11/5/1959; 20/7/1959; 15/8/1960; 25/10/1960; and 21/11/1960;
Discussions with Messrs Rod McMaster, Don White, Bruce Balfour (Hughes Baptist) and Cec Love (Queanbeyan Baptist). Mr Don White kindly provided a photo of the old Reo bus taken in front of his parent’s home in Forrest.