Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 55, September 2011
(By Janet McCollum and Aroha Pearless (nee Gerrand) and grand-daughter Sandra Shaw)
During the 1930s there were an increasing number of families on farms around the periphery of Paeroa and the children had to attend to the Paeroa District High School—now Paeroa Central School and Paeroa College.
Some of these children had some considerable distance to walk, some rode horses, while others were able to "hitch a ride" with farmers taking their cream to the Paeroa butter factory by horse and dray.
One of these peripheral areas, Mill Road, was opened up by pioneering farmers around the time of the First World War, 1914-18. One of these families, Robert (Bob) and Winifred Gerrand, moved on to their property around 1916. The farm was at the lower (river) end of Mill Road and bordered the Ohinemuri River. Early access was by a dirt track during the dry weather and by boat on the Ohinemuri River when the wet winters turned the track in a quagmire of mud.
It was a particularly hard life in this area. The farmers had to clear their land by hand, using axes, shovels, fire and explosives to rid the masses of blackberry, fescue, ti-tree and patches of kahikatea bush. Most milked around 20 cows by hand with the cream being sent to butter factories to generate the main source of money on which to live and undertake further land development.
During the 1930s Bob Gerrand had secured a contract to cart the cream from farmers in Gerrand's and Mill Roads to the junction of Mill and Te Aroha Roads, where it was collected by Mr Steiner, of Springdale, who took cans to the Te Aroha Co-op. Dairy Company's butter factory at Te Aroha. Incidentally the farmers' orders for butter were placed in the empty cream cans when they were returned.
Bob was concerned over dangers facing the increasing number of children from the area going to school, walking along the narrow gravel roads in all weathers. Often they ran behind his dray carrying the cream cans, some times they "hitched" a ride on the dray.
He successfully negotiated with the Auckland Education Board a contract to operate a school bus service, in which each morning he would pick the children up from their gates and deliver them to school, and returned them home in the afternoon. This was the first school bus service for the Paeroa District High School. The first such service in the district was started in 1928, taking Awaiti district children to the Netherton School.
His first vehicle was a Reo, an ex-Public Works Department vehicle which had been used to transport workers from various relief camps to the drainage and roading projects in the district. The vehicle had cab and a deck covered by a canvas canopy with forms along each side and another two down the middle of the tray for the passengers to sit on. A sign was made and attached to the front of the canopy—SCHOOL BUS.
Eventually Bob had three routes: Mill Road-Gerrand's Road, Rotokohu Road and Pukahu-Puke Roads.
Family names which come to mind who used the Mill Road service were Barrett, Vuglar, Gerrand, Rasmussen, Day, Richardson, Young, Speechlay, Handley, Keyes, Howie, Raukopa and Clark. From Rotokohu Road area were the Thorp and Te Moananui families.
The first cream was collected by horse and cart from Gerrand's Road as there was only a track through some swampy marsh land. Part of this land was the bed of the Waihou River before the Ngaharahi Cut was made in 1912-13 as the first part of the Waihou and Ohinemuri Rivers Improvement Scheme. When a deep drain was constructed alongside the track the soil was used to form Gerrand's Road.
A trailer was towed behind the school bus so that the cream cans could be picked up as Bob did the school run. This did not go down too well with the Education Board, and several meetings were held between the Board and the contractor, but Bob was always able to integrate the two services.
In 1938 the first five houses were built in Karaka Road, off Mill Road, as part of the State Housing scheme and local Maori families moved into them. There was also an increase in farming activities along the three main school bus routes, which attracted more families to the district.
When the Auckland Education Board placed restrictions on the distance children living from the school (within about three miles) did not qualify for the school bus service, this affected children living in the top half of Mill Road. Bob and the headmaster, Mr A. E. Day, put forward a strong case for the children along this school bus route to be given dispensation to use the service. They finally won the "battle" and the children were picked up outside their Mill Road gates and were able to attend school irrespective of weather conditions and in safety as there were no footpaths along the narrow gravel roads.
One of those pupils to travel on Gerrand's school bus was Gray Vuglar, a long time resident of the Mill Road area and friend of the Gerrand family. He recalls the school bus also became a delivery service for parcels of meat, bread, groceries and other household commodities as well as all manner of objects which were delivered from the town to the homes of the settlers.
On one occasion Bob was given a calf by a farmer in Rotokohu Road. It was secured in a sack in the back of the bus and taken home to the farm. Another time Muriel Gerrand had to call for the school bus to take her in a hurry from the farm to the Paeroa Maternity Hospital.
Bob was often taken to task by the Education Board, there were the occasional articles published in the local newspaper, both in support and not, but this did not deter Bob—he carried on the same way: providing a most essential service to the farming families along his school bus routes.
Bob loved the children to sing and the bus was often seen, and heard, passing through Paeroa with the children in full voice. Probably, this was a smart move on his part to keep the children occupied so that there was a peaceful journey home.
However, things do not always go to plan. Such was the experience on one occasion, of a young boy, Johnny Clark, who lived with his family on the other side of Gerrand's farm and who usually walked across the paddock to catch the bus. Bob, not thinking, put the bull in that paddock and after some days of skirting around the fence, the boy got fed up.
One afternoon, in the school playground, he yelled out loudly to Bob sitting in the bus: "Hey, Bob, you take that b...... bull out of that paddock!" Mr Day, who was supervising the children leaving the school for home, heard this outburst and took Johnny into his room and delivered the standard punishment at that time—the strap. Obviously things have very much changed!
During the Second World War Bob's American-made Reo bus was taken over by the Government for "war purposes" and he used a Morris Commercial truck for the school bus.
"The school bus, in those days, was the centre of our lives. It was the only means that we had to go to town to see the shops, buy our groceries, or meet with our friends", recall daughters Janet and Aroha. "We used to go into town and one of the first places we window-shopped was Victoria Bakeries, where we gazed longingly at the window displays of beautiful cakes and those sallilunds."
Although we were only four miles from Paeroa, we felt quite isolated in our small community. But the families in that small community knew that if there was a need, no matter what, Bob would meet the challenge.