Emerald Coaches Emission Zero Strategy (9)


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The Lucas Family

Emerald Coaches Proprietor, Michael Baulch is a fourth generation bus operator, his family having been associated with passenger transport since the 1930’s, when Sam Lucas and Jim Hopcraft operated service cars from Flinders on the Mornington Peninsula to Melbourne. Among the passengers travelling in the Studebaker and Chrysler cars in the late 30’s was Sam’s son Tom who had to attend daily lectures for two years at Melbourne Technical College (affectionately known as the Working Man’s College) as part of his training as an apprentice motor mechanic. He left home each day at 7am and returned at 7pm.

After a further year of practical work, Tom got a job with Gideon James, who serviced Hupmobile and Riley cars. His next employment was with the R.A.A.F. during World War II, working on aero engines and later as a Kittyhawk pilot. He served in various areas in the South Pacific and at the end of the war his squadron was in Borneo.

Wartime rationalisation of passenger transport led to the amalgamation of many services, including those of Lucas and Hopcraft and other on the Peninsula, and Sam Lucas joined his brother in law, Eric Marcus Hall, one of the bus industry’s leading operators at that time. Hall had formed Peninsula Bus Lines and Sam Lucas was appointed manager at Mornington.

At war’s end Eric Hall assisted his nephew Tom to return to civilian life after nearly six years in the R.A.A.F. He’d heard that one of the two principal operators at Warrnambool, Dave Friedman, wanted to sell his business, Wannon Bus Lines. The price was sixteen thousand pounds, but Tom’s finances didn’t come anywhere near that amount, so Hall put together a group of eight to subscribe one thousand, two hundred and fifty pounds each and guaranteed payment of the remaining six thousand pounds.

Nine buses of varying vintage and condition were acquired, including an elderly Federal side-door coach which was later recycled as a bus, together with an ageing Leyland which could only be started on cold mornings with a shot of ether or kerosene. Some Lend-Lease Chevrolet chassis were purchased and fitted with Grummet bodies for a total price of eleven hundred pounds each, to replace the older vehicles. The deal covered three town runs – South Warrnambool, East Warrnambool and Dennington (shared with Alan Lane) – six charter licenses for the Warrnambool area and two ‘B’ licenses for unrestricted touring rights.

‘Struggle’ was the operative word for Tom. His mechanical expertise came to the fore in keeping his vintage fleet on the road. In this task he was aided – and sometimes abetted – by Cecil ‘Taffy’ Vedmore who was one of the eight shareholders. As a young man Taffy had worked for Sam Lucas and so had been well-known to Tom since boyhood. Taffy was also a mechanic who had served with distinction with the R.A.A.F. in England during WWII. When the war was over, Tom and Taffy were reunited; Taffy became Tom’s right hand man, and as the business grew, Taffy took charge of the company’s maintenance division.

But in the process of growing, the company had to rely on second hand vehicles for some years, and whenever a purchase had to be made, Tom and Taffy adopted a routine. Taffy usually brought with him a creeper trolley, and while Tom was engaged in negotiations with the owner, Taffy would slide under the bus, make some noises with a hammer or some other tool and call out to Tom that “the centre bearing’s buggered” or some other part “was in doubtful nick”. “Consequently”, said Tom, ” we usually bought rather well”.

With Taffy in charge of maintenance, the second-hand vehicles were kept in sound condition and the best of them were used on seven and fourteen day tours to Adelaide and Sydney respectively. Day and weekend charters to places such as Portland, Port Fairy, Port Campbell, Mt Gambier and the Grampians also helped to build revenue, although it sometimes took a sizeable part of the day to reach some destinations, due to the limited pace of the vehicles and poor road conditions. There were other difficulties too: tyres in the late 40’s were hard to come by and seven to eight recaps per case weren’t uncommon. These much-used cases stood up to the local work reasonably well, but on long trips their performance was uncertain. On one trip to the Grampians the bus Tom was driving suffered seven blowouts!

Warrnambool Bus Lines began to turn the corner in the 50’s as the government school bus scheme expanded. With this development came the means of purchasing new buses, principally Bedfords.

As the Lucas business grew, so did Alan Lane’s South Western Roadways. In addition to local town routes and school bus services, Lane established routes to Port Fairy, Ballarat and Mt Gambier.

In the mid-70’s Tom’s son Stephen came into the business, and about the same time, Tom got an indication that South Western Roadways might be available for purchase. After some to-ing and fro-ing the Lane business was acquired in 1977. With it came 40 serviceable vehicles plus school bus contracts, charter licences and three long distance runs.

By 1991 Warrnambool Bus Lines and South Western Roadways were operating 90 vehicles, of which 60 per cent were on school contracts. The remainder were used on a mixture of urban-type route service, long distance scheduled operations and charter work. The two companies between them were licenced for services from Warrnambool to Mt Gambier, Heywood, Ballarat and Geelong, which they operate in conjunction with V/Line.

The fleet was mostly Hino. In late 1990 a 14.5 metre Volgren bodied Scania – the first vehicle of its size to go to service in Victoria – began working on the Warrnambool to Mt Gambier route. Most of the Hino had Maxim bodies. Back in 1983 Tom and Stephen Lucas were instrumental in setting up a scheme for importing bus body kits from Singapore. In 1991 the assembly of kits was being carried out at Warrnambool Bus Lines’ depot.

By 1991 Warrnambool Bus Lines and South Western Roadways were not only household names in Victoria’s fifth largest city, but were prominent among the city’s commercial and industrial undertakings which included Fletcher Jones, Nestles, Kraft, Warrnambool Textiles, and other businesses which were equally renowned in primary and secondary industry.

Michael Baulch joined his grandfather’s business in January 1991 and held various positions throughout the organisation prior to establishing Australian Transit Group in late 2003, Transport Systems Australia in early 2007, Bus Systems Australia in 2011 before purchasing Emerald Coaches in early 2014.

T & MM Pryor

Transport Systems Australia was formed by Michael Baulch to facilitate the purchase of the West Australian Bus Operations of T & MM Pryor.

The Pryor family came from Dubbo NSW before moving to Coonabarabran after WWII where Tom was a travelling salesman for Marcus Clarks. He later went into business for himself as a fruit vendor, selling fresh fruit to near by towns.

Seeing better business opportunities, Tom and Muriel Maud Pryor, along with children Wayne, Rhonda and Meryl, decided to move to Western Australia. In a bold move Tom sold everything and set off by train to the other side of the country.

They stayed in Bathurst for three months. When they arrived in Adelaide, all trains to the West had been cancelled due to flooding on the Nullarbor Plain. As there was a Polio scare in Adelaide they opted to stay at Glenelg Beach, because of the fresh air and reduced danger for the children. When the line was reopened the family was on the first train. When they arrived in Perth three months late, the house they had booked was no longer available.

After many years of mixed fortune and health Tom and Muriel moved to Cranbrook in 1955 to take over the Lattice Tea Rooms. At this time, Wayne was an apprentice in the R.A.A.F. and Rhonda and Meryl were in Perth.

In 1956, Tom became aware of the Cranbrook to Tunney school bus service coming on the market. This was promptly purchased from old Jock, a Scotsman who wanted to go back to Scotland to die. A second contract, Cranbrook to Woolonga, was purchased from Mr Williamson a short time after, and the Pryor dynasty of WA bus operations had begun.

1961 brought expansion through the winning of three tenders from Mt Barker to West Denbarker, East Denbarker and Narrikup. Further Mt Barker services were purchased including the Quangellup (from Mr Bell), Woogenellup (Grwilijch), Yellanup (Faulkner), Perrilup (Metcalf) and Cranbrook (Vilitech) runs. In 1962 Tom and Muriel sold the tea rooms to Mr Vilitich and moved to Kojonup to operate five buses which they purchased from Joe Rourke.

In December 1969 Wayne was discharged from the R.A.A.F. and took over management of the family business, which now totalled 15 vehicles.

In 1975 the Education Department introduced 15 year life for large buses (more than 30 seats) and 10 year life for imported buses. As a result T & MM Pryor put in place a major bus replacement program.

In August 2004 the T & MM Pryor Fleet based at Mt Barker and Kojonup totalled 30 vehicles, mostly Toyota Coasters, Hino BX, RG and FD’s.

Transport Systems Australia continues to operate PTA School Bus Contracts in South West WA until the sale of the business to Legh McGinty in late 2016 to concentrate on the Queensland operations.

The Omnibus Service Trust (TOST)

After purchasing many new buses from local builders, Wayne suggested that the firm build their own. Don Clay, who had joined T & MM as a body builder to refurbish and renovate the ageing fleet in 1964, undertook this job with minimum equipment and design expertise based on MMB design.

The Omnibus Service Trust built their first body on a bonneted three tonne Dodge truck chassis, which took Don Clay six weeks in his spare time as he was also the chief mechanic. T & MM built 11 Dodge and International buses over the next four years for their own use.

In 1979 Bob Vanlenin and Bill Hughes of Wentworth Motors requested TOST build for them commercially, with the assistance of kits from PMC Adelaide. TOST built 14 Leyland Terrier and Boxer buses which T & MM used mostly for their own fleet. The Western Farmer and Grazier reported in February 1983 that “with the demand for sleek, modern lines the Pryors decided to use Hino chassis, today the Kojonup workshop produces one bus a week”.

Wentworth Motors acquired the Hino francise and TOST started building on Hino BX, BG, BD and later on AK, RK chassis. Wentworth Motors later lost the Hino francise and T & MM Pryor were asked if they would be the state distributor. They declined and asked that Ron Nazzari be appointed. Ron Nazzari took this opportunity and after six months T & MM took a 50% share holding in Nazzari Hino.

This association worked well until the (now defunct) APG advertised buses for sale in the ABC magazine at prices cheaper than TOST could build them. Eight out of nine orders due went directly to APG and T & MM even bought four themselves for the Fortesque operation.

The Hino Bus Francise in WA was lost when Hino Australia gave it to their truck dealers, which forced Ron Nazzari to go to Malaysia and look for a replacement chassis.

In late 1990, when Boltons stopped building buses for Transperth, Transperth approached TOST to assemble Volgren bodies for them. TOST built two prototypes and another nine followed which were reported as the best Transperth had received. The Great Southern Herald reported in August 1991 that “the Kojonup workshop had produced 143 buses since 1975”. TOST produced Transperth bus numbers 1106 and 1114 inclusive.

The state Labor and Liberal Parties promoted Kojonup and the TOST operation as a model for decentralisation, however this did not help the WA based business when the permanent Transperth bus-building contract was awarded to Victorian body builder Volgren. This was the catalyst for the relocation of the TOST operation to Welshpool.

In 1998 Ron Nazzari invited Wayne Pryor and Don Clay to go to Malaysia to investigate building vehicles and importing them into Australia. With the TOST operation now based in Welshpool they brought in a mixture of fully built up buses and kits assembled in Australia. The kits and fully built vehicles were built under the Bus and Coach International (BCI) label. This proved to be quite successful until the exchange rate worked against them.

While in Malaysia Wayne Pryor acquired shares in the Alcan licence for Aluminium buses. BCI built two low floor MAN’s for Australia, eight MAN’s for China and four Scanias for Hong Kong. In addition 260 City buses and one Articulated for Mercedes in Vietnam and one coach for another company in Vietnam.

Transport Systems Australia, through subsidiary WA Bus and Motor, rejuvenated the previous TOST factory to retrofit seat belted seats into Toyota Coasters in early 2007. This followed the announcement in November 2005 by the State Government that all new school buses would be fitted with lap sash seat belts.

Bus Systems Australia

In late 2011, Michael purchase 10 new vehicles to operate mine contracts in Central Queensland. The fleet was a mix of Custom Bodied Iveco Deltas, Mills Tui Mercedes Benz Coaches and Iveco Euroriders with Irizar bodies. These vehicles serviced contracts with Isaac Plains and Carborough Downs Mines, based mainly at Coppabella with the administration and depot based at Mackay.

Bus Systems Australia operated until it was integrated into the Emerald Coaches fleet and administration in early 2014.

Emerald Coaches

In early 2014, Michael and Rachael Baulch purchased Emerald Coaches from Murray and Noela Berkman.

After starting a family and experiencing problems due to distances involved in educating their children, Murray and Noela bought a school bus run near Emerald in 1980, a 22 seat minibus.

Due to the quality and reliability of their service, they received many enquiries about weekend charter for youth and sporting groups. In response to this demand in 1986, they invested in their first 45 seat air-conditioned coach. Murray and Noela’s goal was to provide the safest and most reliable passenger transport, with the highest level of customer service possible. These ideals remained foremost in their minds throughout their operation of the business.

They were inundated with work over the coming months and bought another minibus late in 1986 with a further coach in 1987. Having received requests to organize tours for both schools and senior citizens’ groups and arranged their first tour to the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers with a full coach load of what they lovingly called their “oldies”. Their first 5 star coach was bought in 1982 and they continued to arrange tours across Australia.

The purchase of a school service from Springsure in 1998 further consolidated their position in Central Queensland and the acquisition of their own depot greatly enhanced the service and maintenance program, staff morale and professional reputation.

At the time of the purchase, Emerald Coaches fleet was 33, which expanded to 51 by the end of 2019, with predominantly Volvo with a mix of Iveco, Mercedes and Toyota. The fleet serviced school bus contracts in the Emerald, Springsure, Capella, Clermont and Tieri regions with additional Resources services operating in Blackwater, Dysart, Moranbah, Coppabella and Mackay.

In early 2020, Emerald Coaches completed the purchase of Premier Bus It in Mackay taking the fleet to over 110 and expanding the administration facilities based in Mackay. The purchases added Scania, BCI, Higer and Toyota vehicles to the fleet, including twenty 4WD Toyota Commuter’s allocated to mining applications in the Bowen Basin.