The Pukekohe East School Bus started in 1946 when a group of parents altered a Ford V8 van to carry 16 children. It was the first cooperatively-owned school bus in New Zealand, and today it’s the only cooperatively-owned school bus still operating.
As early as 1941 a meeting was held in the school house ‘to consider engaging a school bus to convey children from the North End’. However it was four years later and a group of concerned parents from the South End who finally forced the issue. They considered the main road from Morgan’s corner to the Pukekohe East Hall had become too dangerous for their small children walking to school. So they ‘went on strike’ keeping their children home for a day and threatening to send them to Harrisville School if a bus service was not provided. This action had the desired effect. At a school meeting in 1945 it was resolved to contract Mr Josh Morgan to transport eight children in his vehicle at a small cost to their parents with school committee funds making up the deficit.
It was intended as a temporary measure and an approach was made to the Education Board to provide a bus service. The school’s application was denied however because not enough children lived more than two miles from the school. The only solution was for the community to provide their own bus. The Pukekohe East Bus Society was established in 1946. A committee of householders was elected to write the constitution and a Ford V8 van was purchased and altered to carry 16 children.
The first bus was driven by the head teacher, Alan Shepherd. It was painted red and affectionately known as the ‘Red Terror’. Passenger numbers increased requiring the Red Terror to make two trips to the North End each day to transport all children.
In 1952 the Red Terror was sold and replaced by a larger bus, a Morris Commercial. It was driven by the head teacher Mr Sam Heron and named the ‘Biscuit Tin’. Mr Heron was headmaster from 1948 until 1959. When he retired the next head teacher, Mr Bernie James, and his wife shared the driving.
In 1961 the Society purchased a new Morris bus to seat 40 children. The drivers were assistant teachers and parents. Mrs Rita Kern was appointed the bus driver in 1968 and fulfilled this role for 17 years. The bus was painted orange and housed at Mrs Kern’s property on Kern’s Road, and her husband Mr Doug Kern undertook the maintenance.
In 1971 the bus was contracted to the Education Board to transport intermediate and high school pupils to Pukekohe daily. In 1975, due to increased numbers, the Society ordered a Cooper & Curd New Bedford Dupuas 3. Each family member was levied on an equal basis to finance the new vehicle. At this time children living more than two miles from the school were entitled to a free bus service provided by the Education Board, however the overwhelming majority of parents preferred to pay a levy to maintain their own reliable school bus.
Not long after the new Bedford bus arrived, the Society was successful in obtaining additional mileage through another contract with the Education Board which would enable the levy on parents to be dispensed with.
Mrs Daphney Bryan, Mrs Chris Coombs and Mrs Judy Shutt shared the driving when Mrs Kern retired in 1984. A Hino bus was purchased in 1986. Judy Shutt retired in June 2013 after nearly thirty years in the driving seat.
When government funding was withdrawn in 2007, a small group of determined parents, led by Kristen Stening, Donna Lovell and Marlene Dyer, worked tirelessly to raise community funding to keep the bus service running year after year. Pukekohe East School’s bus service survives to this day 100% community-funded.
In 2013 the school bus was upgraded to a larger newer Isuzu model and the new bus, known as Pukekohe East School’s Farmer Jock Bus, is decorated in David Henshaw’s Farmer Jock cartoon characters.