The green and white "Leslie" coaches have been quite familiar round the Hamilton area for many years.
The business was founded by the late John F. (Jack) Colvin about 1960 when he purchased a small bus operation at Orini. Taking the name "Leslie" from his youngest daughter, Jack formed the Company "Leslie Buses Ltd" around 1964 by which time he was operating the old Buses Ltd passenger service route through from Orini through Whitikahu to Hamilton. A popular feature of this service was the Friday evening run.
Later, Jack expanded into Ngaruawahia after the Ngaruawahia High School opened and formed "Leslie Buses (Ngaruawahia) Ltd. The company ran services from Orini to the new school, and took over a number of former Education Department runs that were changed to feed into the new school. By this time the Orini based operations had been shifted to Gordonton where the firm still remains.
In 1967, Jack sold the Ngaruawahia based school runs to Boyd Motors (Ngaruawahia) Ltd (Phillip Boyd) and the Gordonton based business was transferred over a number of years to Leon and Jean Geddes. 1966 saw the Geddes’s take on one run, and in 1967 they took over Jack’s remaining school services, plus the shoppers service and the Friday night run. 1968 saw the transfer of the land and buildings at Gordonton to the new owners. Leon Geddes was a schoolteacher at Gordonton School, and as a condition of his employment as a rural school teacher was required to drive an Education Department school run – this getting a taste for the industry, while Mrs Jean Geddes who was originally a nurse at Waikato Hospital took on managing (as well as driving) the bus operation. ( As Leon was still teaching he was not allowed to hold a Education Department bus service contract, so Jean was the manager). To provide "continuity" the firm traded as "Leslie Buses (L.Geddes) Hamilton". Leon finally gave teaching away in the Mid 1980’s and involved himself fully in the company.
Prior to 1967, Jack Colvin had sold the passenger service run to "Waikato Coachlines" which in turn was purchased by Bonnici Coachlines thus giving that firm a Hamilton base. Eventually the passenger run was passed back to Leslies from Bonnicis, and later discontinued through lack of patronage.
Over the years the business expanded with more school runs being added and an increasing amount of contract work being operated. An innovation was the provision of a service for shoppers to the new Chartwell Square Shopping Centre. A major part of the company’s business in this era was educational tours in the Waikato area. As Leon had involvement in the writing of parts of the science and geography curriculum at the time, the company was well placed to take students to locations relevant to their studies.
Under the newer styling of "Leslie Coaches Ltd", the firm also operates a Travel Club (Lilypad Tours – remember the Green Frog that was on a number of the Leslie Buses?) providing mostly day trips to functions and places of general interest as well as picnics. This Club functioned for over 30 years, and has now passed to Hamilton City Buses, who took over the major part of the Leslies operation on 20 January 2004. Leon and Jean have retained 6 coaches – the famous Leyland Panther, 3 Mercedes Benz 0303 and 0302s, a 29 seater Mitsubishi Fuso, and a minibus.
Over the years, the firm acquired a reputation of being quite innovative with regard to vehicles. In 1964, the Hawke bodied Bedford No 9 was one the first "forced air" ventilated coaches in New Zealand. The firm was also involved in re-bodying and upgrading of older chassis and vehicles. In this respect, a notable achievement was to remove the body from a former Auckland Bus Company Leyland Royal Tiger and then have the chassis placed under the body of the former "Luxury Landliner No 6".
The Leyland Panther chassis thus released, was then given a third axle and fitted with a new "Supercruiser" type body by Hawkes. This unique vehicle has seen enthusiasts come from as far away as the UK to see and photograph it. 3 axle Panthers are very rare… Over the years it has been a very rare occasion that a vehicle has not been in the workshop undergoing a full scale refurbishment and upgrading. Leon estimates that they have rebuilt over 20 vehicles – the most recent being a Manheim bodied Mercedes Benz 0303.
The desire to innovate is obviously genetic – Jean and Leon’s son Neil was one of the founders of Kiwi Experience, and more recently Neil has been involved in a new backpacker service "Stray Experience". The vehicles that Leon and Jean have retained will be used for the Stray work, or possibly sold in favour of more suitable vehicles for this work.
My thanks to Terry Pidduck and Leon Geddes for their assistance.
Leslies No 6 (Hamutana Cruiser) was this 1961 Ford Trader. New to Jack Colvin in 1961, it was one of the first buses built by a new firm called Hawke Brothers of Takanini. It was sold to Papakura Clevedon Transport in 1973. Photographer: John Herbert
Fleet No 1 was this Hawke bodied Ford. Photo: C Otway
In November 1983 No 8 "Tawhoumarea", a Mercedes Benz 0302 with NZMB bodywork is seen at Gordonton. Photo: C Otway
The Leyland Panther 5 " Hukanui" is seen here in its original Landliner form. As noted in article this body was transferred to an ex ATB Leyland Royal Tiger. Photo: C Otway
After the transformation - a third axle and a Hawke Supercruiser II body. Fleet number now 3 and name "Wairere". Photo: C Otway
Number 16 1984 Isuzu ECR5705 with CWI Ranger body Photo Graeme Inwood
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