Flashback Friday: Historical buses of NZ

By: Gordon Lowe


Gordon Lowe goes back in time with a visit to Ferrymead Heritage Park in Christchurch, which is packed full of buses that go back almost a century

Flashback Friday: Historical buses of NZ
An exploration of the Ferrymead Heritage Park in Christchurch reveals a few gems including this trolley bus, which is almost a century old


Carefully, I stepped into the driver’s seat. Gingerly, I placed both hands on the large but thin steering wheel.

Suddenly, it was as if the power of the universe was unleashed in a brief moment through my hands. What tales this old bus could tell. How many kilometres would it have travelled?

How many passengers had been entrusted to its care?

No doubt, people from all walks of life. The rich, the poor, school children, professionals on the way to work? Who knows? You see, this wonderful old bus is 79 years old. I cast my eyes over the dashboard. No fancy dials and gauges here. In fact, there are only two. Simplicity itself.

Not like the fancy-schmancy super-cruisers of today. A bank of toggle switches caught my eye. Exactly the same light switches as in great aunty’s Federation home in Sydney.

There was also a large lever. Was that a hand brake? Frankly, I am not sure. I presume so. The vibrations of history envelope me as I once again place both hands on the wheel.

I imagine what it would be like to drive this 79-year-old vehicle in an age when life was simpler. Stepping inside the bus is like entering a portal to the past; a time machine of sorts. You see, this creamy-white and red classic beauty is a restored trolley bus.

And no four-pot screamer here! This older-age beauty was built tough. Solid as a rock, with double-bogie wheels at the back. Tough enough to withstand the rigors of time.

Let’s go back to first meetings … I am standing in a grassy paddock with hills in the background. Something catches my attention.

A bus of some description, about 100 yards away. Naturally, the bus, having caught my eye, was worthy of further investigation. So I head off across the paddock toward the vehicle of interest.

Upon closer inspection, it became apparent the bus is something out of the ordinary. To my delight, it was a restored trolley bus — number 210. I snapped a few photos and as I made my way closer. I hoped that the bus was open for inspection.

It was. So I climbed aboard. The trolley bus was in remarkable condition inside — the best I’ve seen anywhere. There were the old-fashioned leather seats, with obligatory chrome handles, up and down the aisle. There were the leather passenger straps hanging from the roof.

The timber-ribbed ceiling was a work of art, painted in a fresh cream colour. Again, out came the camera to catch all this. Moving forward into the driver’s office: remember all those old-fashioned toggle light-switches that were once in houses years ago?

There they were, ready for action on a panel in the driver’s cabin. There were switches for headlights, cabin lights, windscreen wipers and the buzzer to name but a few.

The driver’s cabin was sparse and perhaps in its own way reflects back to the days when life was simple and easy. The trolley was built in 1930.

Trolley bus 210 was written-off in 1956 and acquired by the Christchurch Tramways Historical Society (THS) in the 1960s. The bus was built by English Electric, and the body rebuilt by Boon and Co of Christchurch in 1970. What a beauty!

Thank goodness this wonderful vehicle is still around for everyone to enjoy. Trolley bus number 210 is a reflection of the good times long gone. Now, dear readers, you might ask where I’m at. Where is the grassy paddock?

Where is the trolley bus? Well, I am reporting from Christchurch in New Zealand and this month I am writing on Christchurch Ferrymead Heritage Park. I had heard about Ferrymead, and that it was worth a visit. Dear readers, I thoroughly A beautiful timber ceiling Note the bank of old toggle switches and that large, mystery lever recommend a visit.

The park more than exceeded my expectations. Ferrymead Heritage Park is made up of 20 volunteer societies and groups and was established in the early 1960s. Ferrymead is located in an area of rich historical significance. The river and the surrounding swamp were used by local Maori as a hunting and gathering area.

Early European colonists arrived at the Port of Littleton, walking over the Port Hills on what is now Bridal Path Road. Visitors might be able to see the track zigzagging down from the top of the valley if the cloud and conditions are right.

When the colonists reached the Heathcote River, the ferry ‘By the Meadow’ transported them to their new lives in Christchurch. Ferrymead, named after the ferry, is also the site of New Zealand’s fi rst public railway commissioned in 1863.

The legacy by the volunteers back in the 1960s is well-founded — since Ferrymead Heritage Park is a historical and valuable place to experience and enjoy the past. The park is big. It covers eight hectares, or 20 acres.

A 1.5-km trolley bus ride links visitors and tourists between the two main areas of the park. The park has a working collection of trams (including a fully-restored Brisbane tram), with trams operating on weekends, public holidays and school holidays. Running beside the tram tracks (4 foot, 8-and-a-half-inch gauge) is a fully operational steam train which is based on the New Zealand operating system 3 foot, 6 inch gauge.

Exploring Ferrymead Heritage Park takes plenty of time, otherwise you won’t get to see everything. As well as travelling on trains, trams and trolley buses there are plenty of heritage villages on site which include a fi re station, an old-fashioned railway station (complete with fi replace), cottages, blacksmiths and boot makers, and an old garage. All these buildings are Edwardian and, combined, form the township of Morehouse.

There is also a picture theatre, schoolhouse and tea rooms. There are too many attractions to mention. At Ferrymead, special event days occur throughout the year with major events on Easter and the New Zealand Labour weekend.

Ferrymead also has a transport museum with an amazing collection of old cars, trucks, ambulances and trams which will delight and amaze any transport enthusiast. 

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