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End of an era: Looking back on 67 years of Mannum’s Bottroff Bus Service
Rae Bottroff tells the story behind the family business, a local icon, which closed in 2021.
This post was contributed by Rae Bottroff and her family.
Robert Arthur Bottroff – Bob, as everyone knew him – bought his first bus in 1954, a 1930 Diamond T Ford for £700 from the local dealer, Clem Stephens.
This vehicle had previously been owned by George Banks, who used it as a school bus.
Bob and Rae Bottroff lived in Punthari on a 750 acre property.
Mr Bottroff tried share farming for one year, but the crop yielded only two bags to the acre, so he thought he would try a side job as a bus driver.
By purchasing the school bus and the school bus run, he envisaged a monthly income for his family during the bad times on the farm.
He bought another 750 acres and continued to farm and drive buses every day, which helped them to survive.
In 1955 he sold the Diamond T Ford to his neighbours, the Horstman boys, who used the bus as a camping vehicle on their farm.
Bob then bought a Morris Commercial van from Birk’s Store in Adelaide for £650.
He soon upgraded to a larger Morris van that he purchased from Mr Mitchell for £900.
The school bus run went from Punthari to Frayville school, which had closed in 1943, to the Caloote church and then Mannum.
In 1965 the Caloote School closed, which meant that Bob needed a bigger bus.
In 1966 he bought an S Bedford bus and then in 1971 an Austin bus from Stan Vines, which was the Ponde School bus and bus run.
Five years later, in 1976, he bought two Toyota buses from Lil Vines, one for the Cambrai run and the other for the Younghusband run.
When Leith Hennig died, Mr Bottroff bought the Walker Flat bus and bus run.
He now owned every school bus run for the Mannum school, as he took over the run to Bowhill that was previously owned by the Education Department.
In 1980, Mr and Mrs Bottroff built a house on Cliff Street at Mannum.
They sold the farm and moved into town, on the proviso that they would have a river view.
The business had grown sufficiently to allow this move to happen as they now owned eight buses.
This fleet kept them busy doing charter work for the district clubs and church groups, as well as maintaining the school bus runs.
Over the years they bought four large charter buses to use for all the extra work.
This involved driving the large passenger buses to Adelaide through the winding hills and on many long charter tours.
In 1985, their son Michael joined the business; he had never driven a bus before as he had retired from the ANZ Bank, but eventually took over the business.
Mr and Mrs Bottroff turned 80 in 2010 and decided their time with buses was over.
In July 2013, Michael won the tender for the school bus runs again – he then bought five new buses with seat belts.
He and his wife, Michelle, drove the buses until he sold four of the buses to Michael Weibrecht, keeping two bus runs until he himself retired in 2021.
Over the years, the Bottroffs employed many local drivers, now retired.
Their buses were a very familiar sight on the local roads and will be well remembered by the many thousands of locals who had been transported to or from school on a Bottroff bus; as well as members of senior citizens groups, Probus, churches or other clubs and teams that have enjoyed trips for whale-watching, cinema visits, wine and chocolate tasting, mystery bus tours or the innumerable occasions that will be so well remembered by so many.
So, after 67 years and a lot of hard work, the Bottroff Bus Company came to an end – the end of an era, but what a journey.
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