Te Kopuru’s blue express
by Andy Bryenton
Those travelling to and from the town of Te Kopuru in the mid to late 20th century will remember the so-called ‘Smurf bus’. A vehicle emblazoned with one of the cheeky cartoon characters from France. Its real name was an Albion Victor, and it was one of a fleet of three operated by the Te Kopuru-Dargaville Bus Company up until July of 1960.
The Te Kopuru-Dargaville Bus Company flourished while the small town to the south of Dargaville was not so small as it is today. Logging, kauri gum, boatbuilding and farming made the settlement prosper. A bus service was first established along the roughly 10-kilometre route to Dargaville in 1915, utilising Mr BE William’s Charabanc, a kind of custom-outfitted lorry with uncovered seats for passengers.
The Albion Victor arrived in 1951, the first diesel bus on the line, and despite the waning commercial fortunes of Te Kopuru in the post-war years this sleek and modern-looking vehicle was well received and well utilised.
School trips and picnics were among some of the ‘extracurricular’ outings the Albion undertook as well as ferrying citizens between the two neighbouring towns. A reviewer at the time said of the Albion:
“The oil engine, of modest proportions but having an output of 75bhp at 2,000rpm, develops 208lb-ft torque from half-way through the governed range of speed, occupies little space within the body. With automatic variable timing of fuel injection, it works smoothly and efficiently.”
There is some debate as to when the ubiquitous Smurf appeared on the side of the last remaining Albion to ply the Te Kopuru to Dargaville route, though the original company wound up in 1960, with local driver Steve Dragicevich taking over and continuing to operate the old workhorse of the highway for another 18 years.