In a workshop coated with 90 years of grease, dust and dirt, reporter Danica MacLean discovers why the wheels stopped turning for Norman's Motors.

BUSES have always been part of Pete Norman's life - he remembers spending his school holidays cleaning them alongside his siblings.

Pete is the youngest grandchild of Joseph Norman junior, whose father Joseph Norman senior started local bus company Norman's Motors in Hikurangi in 1927.

Originally Joseph senior teamed up with Robert Brown and the pair bought two seven-seater touring cars and started service runs from Hikurangi to Whangarei.


"A car was a luxury item. People didn't see the point, they still had horses," Pete said.

Mr Brown died about a year after the business started, but Joseph senior forged ahead with the help of sons Hodgson and Joseph junior.

Within 10 years the business had a fleet of seven vehicles.

In 1936 they started the Hikurangi school run and in 1947 they began transporting miners to work at Kamo after the Hikurangi mines closed.

The family business has been passed down the generations in the years that followed.

Joseph junior's son Eric, Pete's father, joined him in 1965 and the father-son duo worked together until the 80s.

Pete said his father loved buses.

"They [Pete's parents Eric and Maria] would go away on holiday and come back with films of buses."

Pete started with the business in 1992, and shortly after his grandfather, who he affectionately calls 'Da', passed away.

He originally wanted to be a mechanic but after his parents offered him a panelbeating apprenticeship with the family business, his direction changed.

He spent time doing coach building and restoration work.

Pete and his wife Nikki bought the business from his parents in 2011.

At its peak, the company had over 20 buses and more than 20 staff who carried out 16 school runs as well as charter jobs.

In the late 80s the Ministry of Education changed school bus runs to a tender process and the company lost all but one run.

Slowly they picked runs back up again.

"Our business in the end was 90 per cent school bus runs."

Driving was a family affair. Eric and Maria both drove school routes, Pete drove for 18 years, and Nikki and his brother filled in on occasions.

He has seen the technology change, too.

During the mid 90s Norman's Buses started shifting away from the Diamond T and Bedford buses and towards Japanese import Izuzu buses.

He said the Bedford and the Izuzu looked the same "but one belonged on the ark and the other one came from the future".

The Bedfords needed a lot of maintenance to keep them on the road.

"When we went to Japanese buses we stopped working late nights and weekends."

The 1949 Diamond T bus, which is up for sale at an auction at the end of the month, operated for over 40 years.

Pete said this could never happen now as contracted school buses have a mandatory 26 year lifetime.

Eric died 21/2 years ago, and Pete said that brought about a change in mindset.

In August last year, rival bus company Ritchies approached the couple with an offer to buy the company, which they accepted.

"We sold Norman's Buses as the operational side, we retained Norman's Motors but that's now finished."

AFTER 90 years and four generations of family ownership, the local bus company is no more.

Pete said the decision was predominantly financial.

"Emotionally, it wasn't an easy decision on that side, but financially it made all the sense in the world."

Pete said staffing was getting harder, and licensing and regulation costs were getting tougher and more expensive.

"We had 31/2 years left to run on our contracts. To retender, we would have needed to re-invest."

He said his great-grandfather got into the business because he was no longer able to work in the mines and he needed to provide for his family.

At the time, there was a space in the market.

"Ninety years later, I've sold the business, that bit of it wasn't really there any more."

Pete said that, similarly to his great-grandfather, he and Nikki bought the business for financial reasons, so it seemed right to sell it for the same reason.

He wanted to provide safety, in a financial sense, for his family.

Pete and Nikki took their two young children for rides on the buses so they too could experience the family business.

Buses may be out of Pete's life now but he is carrying on with panelbeating, starting a new business called Old School Steel Co which focuses on restoration work.

He describes it as an "odd feeling" when he sees his old buses drive past, now operated by Ritchies.

While he has plenty of memories, both aboard the buses and in the workshop with them, Pete knows plenty of Whangarei residents will have memories too.

"I don't think anyone ever died on a Norman's bus," he chuckled.

A collection of old items from the business are going under the hammer on July 30.

Pete said when the business moved into a purpose built building, they leased a shed to store items his father wanted to keep. But the time has come to free up the space and money.

"It's better to be in somebody's possession who wants it," Peter said.

A layer of dust and dirt coats the many spark plugs, hubcaps, lights, lenses, switches, oil cans, gear boxes, buses and plenty more which are jam-packed into the 300sq metre shed.

Some items are brand new, never been out the box. Others like the Diamond T bus, show their age.

Pete, along with auctioneer Darryl Penrose from Whangarei Traders and Auctions, has been sorting through the items and organising them into auction lots for the past two weeks.

There will be approximately 400 lots. Pete believes most of them will be "valuable in possession sense rather than monetary sense".

He is rather matter of fact about the end of the an era for Norman's Buses.

"It's not that I don't care, the general population don't care."

The buses may have a different logo on the side now, but the places they went and the things they saw will live long in the memories of all those who rode in them.