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The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

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The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby system improver » Mon Feb 23, 2009 5:31 pm

Before beginning a pictorial history of the CAC bus, it is important to establish a brief history of the company and describe its place in the (mainly) aviation industry in Australia. Rather than have just a lot of text then pictures, I have decided to intersperse this history with the pictures. Part 1 of this history focuses on the OB.

Image

Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Pty Ltd (CAC) was registered as a company on October 16 1936. Despite its name, it was always a 100% privately owned company and had to get approval from the federal government before using the word “Commonwealth” in the company name. It was a Melbourne company through and through, established by other Melbourne owned and controlled companies, which probably explains the rather unusual granting of naming permission referred to above. At the time, a number of senior figures in the (then) Lyons Government came from Victoria, including Robert Menzies who was Minister for Industry.

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In 1935, a group of Melbourne businessmen had determined that there was soon to be a European war and that Australia was ill prepared in terms of its aviation manufacturing industry (only de Havilland existed in Australia at that time, in Sydney). They foresaw that the Government would establish a government owned company unless the private sector moved first. It was both a patriotic and business opportunity. As it turned out, after war broke out and despite the establishing of CAC, the government did indeed establish its own manufacturing arm through the Department of Aircraft Production in 1941, renamed the Government Aircraft Factory in 1946.

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CAC was formed with capital from 6 large companies; BHP (33.34%), Broken Hill Associated Smelter (25%), Imperial Chemicals Industries (ICI) (15%), GMH (10%), Electrolytic Zinc Company (8.33%) and Orient Steam Navigation Company (8.33%). Throughout its history, CAC was principally concerned with the construction of aircraft. However, after the war ended in 1945, there was concern that there would be a loss of some technical skills and other business opportunities were sought. In 1946, GMH (itself a shareholder in CAC) and which occupied a site close to the Fisherman’s Bend site of CAC, approached CAC with a proposal to build bodies on a Bedford chassis to be provided by GMH.

Image

GMH had built bus bodies themselves for a brief period after the war, mainly on the Chevrolet NC lend lease chassis. However, with the planning for the Holden car under way, they preferred to have a separate body builder for the buses. Initial orders were for 114 bodies which were increased to 250, then 414 then to over 600 by mid 1948. More than 900 bodies were eventually constructed on the Bedford OB chassis.

Image

The Bedford OB chassis was first built in 1939, but the war interrupted its production. After the war, production was in full swing. Currency restrictions in those days meant we could only import material from those countries with which we have a trading surplus – we sent Britain our butter, they sent us their Bedfords! In retrospect, the peculiar thing about the CAC OB was that it was forward control (FC). More than 16,000 OBs or OWBs (the war time version) were bodied in Britain and almost all of them were normal control or bonneted. Most Bedfords bodied in Australia at the time, like other light to medium chassis, were also bonneted. Just how, and by whom, it was decided to build this type of bus to the FC style is unknown by me, but it turned out to be prescient.

Below, is a normal control OB with a Grummet body from 1949:
Image

The CAC/OB was offered in four variants: A short wheelbase 23 passenger bus, a 174 inch (442cm) wheelbase 27 passenger bus, a 201 inch (511cm) wheelbase 33 passenger bus and a two door version of this last design. Delivery lists have never surfaced for these vehicles, but while only a handful of the 23 seaters were made but roughly 300 of each of the other variants were made. These were production line vehicles with little opportunity for operator requests. In fact, really the only options were painting and the fitting of a jack knife door. The first was on the road in early ’47 and the last was produced in late ’51.

Below, the 23 passenger :
Image
The 27 passenger:
Image
The 33 passenger:
Image
The 31 passenger:
Image

The 31 and 33 passenger versions had larger wheels and tyres than the other two versions and so stood higher off the ground making them look 'bigger" in all ways, as can be seen in this photo with the 27 passenger version of the left and the 33 passenger version on the right ( a normal control Bedford is also in the picture along with a Dodge):
Image

In the prepartion of this history, I have relied on the work, Wirraway to Hornet by Brian L Hill. The photographs come from the BCSV archives, the John Masterton Collection (John M, Bruce Tilley and Geoff Mann photos) and the Graeme Turnbull Collection.
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby beddy » Mon Feb 23, 2009 6:49 pm

Thankyou So So Much System Improver!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :D :D :D Been looking forward to this! Can't wait for the other parts.
P.S I hope you dont mind me saving the information
Never Fear, Bedford's Are Here!
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby Carlisle 8 » Mon Feb 23, 2009 7:12 pm

Thank you, system improver, for a magnificent thread. Great text, great photos.

I loved the little 23 seater. I don't recall having seen a photo of one of those before. The photo I loved the most, was the saloon shot. That really took me back. It leaves me wanting one pointing in the other direction, with the beautiful stitched folds. Please, system improver, can you oblige?
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby GM » Mon Feb 23, 2009 8:52 pm

The one item that these buses brought to NSW Bus Operators was the "Modesty Panel" at the doors. GM
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby GM » Mon Feb 23, 2009 8:56 pm

A couple of poor quality photos of the Bedford and Modesty Panel missing from my last post. GM
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby Tas Bus Nut » Mon Feb 23, 2009 9:18 pm

AWESOME thread!!! Many thanks for such an indepth insight to the history of this company. Look forward to the next instalment.
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby system improver » Tue Feb 24, 2009 8:48 am

Carlisle 8 wrote:... It leaves me wanting one pointing in the other direction, with the beautiful stitched folds. Please, system improver, can you oblige?


Not at the moment, but I"ll keep searching.

And GM, I'm still unsure as to what the Modesty Panel is.
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby The Cap a tan » Tue Feb 24, 2009 10:04 am

system improver wrote:And GM, I'm still unsure as to what the Modesty Panel is.


The modesty panel is the one just inside the door with the handrail mounted on it. I assume it was installed to stop the wind that whistled in the door, blowing the dresses of the ladies up and keeping their 'modesty'.
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby Dave Wilson » Tue Feb 24, 2009 10:24 am

Great information System Improver. I wonder at the origin of the Orient Line's interest in the venture -whether it was purely speculative or if it had an interest in aircraft development? Might have been aimed at its competitor, P&O.
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby GM » Tue Feb 24, 2009 2:49 pm

Truck and Bus Transportation, June 1947
"Three Types of Bedford Transit Buses recently produced by General Motors-Holden Ltd. at Fisherman's Bend, Victoria.
They are, from Left to Right, the 31-33, the 27 and the 21-23 seater units".
I have always known these OB Bedfords as being bodied by GM-H not CAC, they came later.
On all the buses produced in NSW up to this time had no panel in front of the passengers seated near the doors and indeed you could see the knees of these persons when boarding .
Also added to this, there were no Jack-Knife doors fitted to the front door opening, only a canvas concertina door which remained open during Rain, Hail or Snow.
Sometimes if there were long distances between stops the driver would close this door to give some comfort to the passengers and himself. GM
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby GM » Tue Feb 24, 2009 2:59 pm

A problem with these vehicles, and the early Holdens, was they were fitted with Vacuum operated Window Wipers.
When you waited in traffic they went mad, but when you put the accelerator down the Wipers virtually stopped.
This was particularly hazardous when turning onto a Main Road, just when you needed the Wipers they were not there. GM
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby system improver » Tue Feb 24, 2009 4:26 pm

GM wrote:...I have always known these OB Bedfords as being bodied by GM-H not CAC, they came later...


The production picture tells all - made at CAC. There is an even better posed pic in The People Movers by Jack Maddock. The OB carried a GMH badge inside as did the early SBs. They were marketed by GMH through dealers. However, every story has an exception. I have been told or read that a number, however small (perhaps just one), of OBs were constructed at the GMH plant at Woodville in SA (demolished for a Bunnings in 2007).

GM, the photo that you have posted seems to be a pretty new bus. Any details on it? Also, this bus seems to have its rear door missing. I have been told recently that it was illegal to use the second door in Victoria since, unlike the front door which the driver operated by means of a lever, the rear door was passenger actuated. What happened in NSW?
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby GM » Tue Feb 24, 2009 8:33 pm

System Improver - Looking at the photo from T & BT and my mo 281 (both mo 281 & mo 284 were new in 1947 to operate the Granville - Excelsior St service cSept 1947) it would appear that no back door was provided
Looking at both photos it would appear that the top of the rear door opening is shaped ie not square.
In a photo taken in 1948 of Dryden & Wilson's mo 376 it is fitted with a rear door, and the shape of the rear door opening is square.
The front door was opened by a lever that moved in an arc of 180 degrees.
The rear door may been opened by the passengers, but after 60 years I cannot remember.
I tried to load the two photos but I have been told that my "Attachment Quota has been reached".
I will try again in the morning GM
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby GM » Tue Feb 24, 2009 8:40 pm

Hurray, success at last.
The interior shot of mo 284 shows there is no rear door fitted.
mo 376 shows the rear door.GM
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby Dennis96 » Tue Feb 24, 2009 9:02 pm

Yes, I found it interesting that Orient Line (Orient Steam Navigation Company) which operated passenger liners between Britain and Australia had an interest in the CAC.

However Dave, I suggest it was not to thwart the Peninsular and Oriental Steam NavigationCompany (P&O), because from the 11th December 1918, P&O had a controlling (51%) interest in Orient Line and this had increased to 54% by 1921. The alliance between Orient Line and P&O can be seen in the 1930's when P&O's "Stratheden", "Strathmore" and "Strathallan" were broadly similar to Orient Line's "Orion" and " Orcades", all five ships coming from Vickers yard at Barrow in Furness.

It appears Orient Line also had a substantial shareholding in Australian Nalional Airways (ANA) in the 1950's. ANA was eventually taken over by Ansett.

I look forward with great interest to further installments on this wonderful CAC thread. Also to when the Bus Preservation Society of WA repatriates its Bedford OB from storage in the Wheatbelt region of WA once its new shed is erected. However, from what I have gleaned from various threads on ATDB, sales records for the OB's seem to have been lost, so I hope we will be able to identify the identity of this bus.

How many OBs are in preservation or are known to survive?
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby Red and Cream » Tue Feb 24, 2009 9:17 pm

Another great time capsule of past transport times system improver, the different sizes the OB appeared under is very interesting. When i was photographing buses back in the sixties i thought there was only one length OB, either with the one or two door body (31 or 33 seater), that was till i did a country tour in 1967 on which i had already photographed twelve OB's and i was in Dubbo and i had a "WOT THE!!!!!!!!" moment when this dinky little OB (23 seater) turned up at the local school. My first thought was that it was a normal length OB chopped down to a mini version but it looked to neat for that. It was owned by MacKay of Dubbo.
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby Dave Wilson » Tue Feb 24, 2009 9:25 pm

Dennis96 wrote:Yes, I found it interesting that Orient Line (Orient Steam Navigation Company) which operated passenger liners between Britain and Australia had an interest in the CAC.

However Dave, I suggest it was not to thwart the Peninsular and Oriental Steam NavigationCompany (P&O), because from the 11th December 1918, P&O had a controlling (51%) interest in Orient Line and this had increased to 54% by 1921. The alliance between Orient Line and P&O can be seen in the 1930's when P&O's "Stratheden", "Strathmore" and "Strathallan" were broadly similar to Orient Line's "Orion" and " Orcades", all five ships coming from Vickers yard at Barrow in Furness.

It appears Orient Line also had a substantial shareholding in Australian Nalional Airways (ANA) in the 1950's. ANA was eventually taken over by Ansett.


Shouldn't digress on to ships but did the P&O sharehold increase by the 50s? I note that the beautiful Orontes (with black hull) wasn't retired until 1962 and the likes of Orion,Orsova, and Oriana were still in Orient colours til Ca, 1963.
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby Dennis96 » Tue Feb 24, 2009 10:22 pm

I often find digression from threads an excellent opportunity to broaden the knowledge of transport.

By 1958, P&O were integrating services with Orient Line, and inaugurated a joint service across the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco and Vancouver. Orient Line's independence was diminished from this time and on 10th February 1960, P&O acquired the remaining 46% of Orient Line's shares. After that, the services were fully integrated under the management of P&O - Orient Lines Passenger Services Ltd, but the ships still saied under their respective colours and house flags. This only lasted until 1964 when a new livery was adopted for all ships.

From P&O came the white hull and from Orient Line came the green boot topping (boot topping is the colour along the water line). Both firms previously had white superstructure and buff coloured funnels, so no changes needed there. Separate house flags continued to be flown until 30th September 1966 when the P&O takeover was complete. The Orient Line name was revived circa 1977 for liquid gas carriers and finally disappeared in 1998.

One surviving legacy of Orient Line in Perth is their lovely art deco head office at 56 William Street. Trams, trolleybuses and motor buses were all part of my childhood memories of visits to the Perth CBD and few visits were complete without being able to go past this building and spend time admiring the huge builder's model of the RMS Orion that took pride of place in the shop window.
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby system improver » Wed Feb 25, 2009 7:28 am

In 1985, CAC was still operating as it had been since 1936. On March 22 1985, its shareholders were:
BHP - 33.34% (unchanged since 1936)
ICI - 15% ( unchanged)
North Broken Hill 12.5% (had acquired half of Broken Hill Assoc Smelting)
Western Mining 12.5% (had acquired the other half of BHAS)
Rolls Royce 10% (had acquired GMH's share)
Electrolytic Zinc Co. 8.33% (unchanged)
and P&O Australia Holding 8.33% (acquired Orient Steam Nav Co as mentioned above by Dennis 96)

There are two restored and preserved OBs . The first is at Purtill's of Deniliquin as can be seen in this Peter Kane picture:
Image

And the second is the Driver Brothers vehicle:
Image

Interestingly, both of these were the two door version, both having had the rear door removed whilst in service.

There are a few others "waiting to be restored' in Victoria, SA and WA.
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby system improver » Wed Feb 25, 2009 9:18 am

Red and Cream wrote:...in 1967 ...this dinky little OB (23 seater) turned up at the local school. My first thought was that it was a normal length OB chopped down to a mini version but it looked to neat for that. It was owned by MacKay of Dubbo.


Was a photo taken?
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby Herbert » Wed Feb 25, 2009 10:54 am

What a wonderful thread, system improver. Given you knowledge of & love for OBs, you may be the best person to answer this question. In the last two photos posted, was the Purtill's one originally a 2-door? And did those which were single door from new always have the larger fixed window in the last bay, as per the Driver's example?
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby system improver » Wed Feb 25, 2009 11:11 am

Herbert wrote:What a wonderful thread, system improver. Given you knowledge of & love for OBs, you may be the best person to answer this question. In the last two photos posted, was the Purtill's one originally a 2-door? And did those which were single door from new always have the larger fixed window in the last bay, as per the Driver's example?


Yes to both questions. The Purtill's example had the " almost complete" conversion. The bodywork above and below the window line was completed and a new, rectangular sliding pane window placed in the gap. This left the small window that can be seen in the picture. The Driver version had the "full" conversion, with a single piece window placed in the gap to make it just like the one door 33 seater. Although I might add that, when the bus was being restored, it was found that the structure behind the panels was a little dodgy and had to be replaced.
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby Red and Cream » Wed Feb 25, 2009 8:50 pm

system improver wrote:
Red and Cream wrote:...in 1967 ...this dinky little OB (23 seater) turned up at the local school. My first thought was that it was a normal length OB chopped down to a mini version but it looked to neat for that. It was owned by MacKay of Dubbo.


Was a photo taken?


system improver, how could i resist it . :) :)



A 31 seater OB was also owned by the same operator.
Last edited by Red and Cream on Sat Apr 17, 2010 10:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby system improver » Wed Feb 25, 2009 9:02 pm

Number 1 (M23-1) ended up in Port Hedland, number 3 was shown in my pics at Brittain of Derrinallum, having been to Pollard then Warrnambool but originally new to the Dept of Supply. Any gen on this one? Mind you, getting the gen on these was not easy. Geoff Mann showed me how to do it because, as I mentioned previously in this thread, there was only a generic GMH badge inside the bus. You had to pull down the radiator covering from the front to find the CAC numbering plate. In any event, thanks for the pic, it's beautiful!
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Re: The CAC bus - Part 1, the OB

Postby Herbert » Wed Feb 25, 2009 10:56 pm

M23-1 in Port Hedland in June 2000:
Image

When the extensions to the BPSWA's depot at Whiteman Park are completed, this OB will be relocated. Armed with that clue about where to find a chassis no, perhaps the original owner may be identified:
Image
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