Bentleigh Bus Lines
[Arrow Motor Service, Dendy Omnibuses & Landsford Motors] (Smith & Suhr)

Henry Frederick Suhr was originally a market gardener and was born in Daylesford in 1869. Henry’s father was born in Denmark and his mother in Galway, Ireland. Henry Suhr’s involvement in buses began in 1925 with routes 32A and 34A and eventually operated under the business name Arrow Motor Service. The family lived at 729 Hampton Street, Brighton, on the corner of Peacock Street. This was also the site of the original depot.

The only photo we have of an Arrow Motor Service vehicle is this rear view of a Ford (State Library of Victoria archives).

The house was built in 1925 having been a vacant block beforehand. It was originally numbered 95 in 1925, then 377 in the 1930s and then 729. The granddaughter of Henry Suhr (Edna Hatch, nee Dannock) lived at this address until 2015 when the house was demolished.

From North Brighton to Bentleigh

Route 32A originally ran from North Brighton Railway Station via Bay Street and Point Nepean Road to Centre Road with a single bus. By 1931, it had reached Nicholson Street, Bentleigh and by 1934 East Boundary Road with 2 buses on the route. After the war, it was extended through to Oakleigh with 6 buses and then 8 buses in 1948 and by 1952, 9 buses. Each bus had its own licence, and the number of licences were strictly controlled first, by the Melbourne City Council and then, after 1952, by the Transport Regulation Board.

The livery on buses on route 32A was originally said to have been cream and turquoise. Over the years, it became what was described as “Landsford red” with a cream roof and white band. “Landsford red” was a type of rouge-brown which, like most early paints, faded fairly quickly.

Former Smith & Suhr WX 708, a Cheetham & Borwick bodied Dodge. This photo was taken in the later ownership of Conway, Maffra but shows the “Landsford Red” livery. (Geoff Mann)

Henry Suhr died in 1942 and two of his sons, Henry Roy Suhr (known as Roy) b.1900 and Leo Thomas Suhr b.1903, continued to run the business. He also had four other children; Eric b. 1896, Nellie (mother of Edna) b.1894, Beatrice b. 1897 and her sister, Mildred (Meg) b.1905. They were all born in Essendon and lived in Buckley Street before the family moved to Brighton.  Arrow Motor Service also held a number of taxi licences at the time and may have had a physical presence in the strip in Hampton Street between Dendy Street and Marriage Road.

Leo Suhr purchased a new depot in Centre Road on the corner of Wheatley Road probably around the time that the route was extended to Oakleigh in 1948.

By this stage, the licensed operators were Leo T Suhr with 7 buses and Dendy Omnibuses (H Roy Suhr) with 2 buses. (Dendy Street was just near the original family home.) Later, around 1962, a company called Landsford Motors (according to Brian Suhr, named after L T Suhr and S Quint) operated with Dendy Omnibuses.

Roy Suhr worked in office during these years and was not married. Leo Suhr and Norm Smith ran the business. Leo Suhr’s two sons, John and Brian, eventually became involved in the bus business. With the second depot still at 271 Centre Road, in 1950, Leo Suhr opened a new Shell Service Station at 559 Centre Road. This was also an Austin dealership. John Suhr was installed as manager.

In 1958, the bus depot was also moved to this site, and Leo Suhr’s younger son Brian, became involved in the bus operations. John continued to manage the service station.

Seen passing through Bentleigh shops on its way to Middle Brighton is Landsford Motors KLM 682 a Bedford SB5/ Comair new in 1969. (Bruce Tilley).

Seen passing through Bentleigh shops on its way to Middle Brighton is Landsford Motors KLM 682 a Bedford SB5 / Comair new in 1969. (Bruce Tilley).

Additional Routes

Route 34A also began at North Brighton Railway Station and travelled via Bay Street and Hampton Street, initially to South Road with 2 buses and then 11/1925 to Hampton Railway Station with three buses. It was extended to Beach Road 7/1931. The 34A went to Lew Page in 9/1954. It is thought that the livery on these buses was cream and turquoise and later cream and green.

Route 63A began 11/1938 as East Brighton Tram to Middle Brighton with 2 buses. Nuline purchased the 63A in 8/1951. Once again, the livery on this service is unknown, except to say that the regulators at the time expressed a preference for different liveries on different routes even if they were owned by the same company. The routes of buses were also written along the waist of the buses just below the windows. Buses were strictly licensed to the one route however, on some occasions, a bus from a different route would be drafted into services if the regular bus was otherwise “indisposed”. Upon acquisition by Nuline, two CAC Bedford OBs went with the sale.

Smith & Suhr GWP 750 was one of three Freighter Lawton monobuses purchased for the Suhr fleets in the late 1950s. (John Masterton)

Route 102A began 2/1940 and was North Brighton Station to Moorabbin Station with 1 bus, which was increased to 3 buses by 1952. It was sold to Don Aplin in 7/1953. The buses on this route were cream with green details. Two were Fords with Symons & Fowler bodies which were joined by a CAC bodied Bedford OB.

In July 1947, L T Suhr began Route 120A as Bentleigh Station to South Bentleigh (Talbot Avenue). It was soon extended to Jasper Road via Patterson Road and Station with 2 buses. By 1952, it was extended to East Boundary Road. Norm Smith became a partner in the 50s and the route was further extended to Bignell Road in January 1964 and operated under the name of Smith & Suhr. The livery of these buses was mushroom pink (or mauve) with a pale green roof, “Landsford red” line and a green flash.

In 1971, the route was renumbered 635. It was eventually extended to Cochranes Road via Alex Avenue in Moorabbin East, but this was cut back to Normanby Road in East Bentleigh in later years.

Bentleigh #13 KPJ 001 (Bedford SB5, Comair) of 1970 seen at Chadstone in 1976 in its original green livery. (Geoff Foster)

Route 88A, Chadstone to North Road was acquired by Smith & Suhr on 9 May 1970, along with three Bedford OBs from Mr Heywood, which were soon replaced. It was renumbered 636 in 1971. Heywood had been involved in this service since 1954, originally in partnership with R. White.

Route 636 was revised on 15 November 1982 as part of the pilot Neighbourhood scheme when it was extended to Southland Shopping Centre over the Southland to East Bentleigh 652 service of Southland Bus Service who also shared in the operation of the new through service.

The original route from Middle Brighton to Oakleigh was renumbered from 32A to 632 in the 1971 scheme.

Bus Purchases

The early buses were Federals with Grummet bodies. From the early 40s, normal control Fords with Symons & Fowler bodies were purchased, some of which lasted into the late 50s. At the end of the 40s, the CAC OB Bedfords (like the Fords, usually fitted with Perkins diesels) became the bus of choice. They were the 27 seat version. There was some experimentation around 1950 with a Symons & Fowler bodied Vulcan purchased by Landsford Motors and then in 1951, a Grummet bodied Leyland Comet was purchased by Dendy Omnibuses.

VL 500, an early 1950s bonneted Leyland Comet with a Grummet body was one of the units in the Dendy Omnibuses fleet. (Keith Kings)

This bus received a full front when it was sold to Doug Barnes in 1960 and saw further service with Kastoria.

After that, the companies returned to CAC for flat screen SB Bedfords, which were all petrol. In 1958, each of the three operating companies purchased a Freighter Lawton Monobus which were being made at the Freighter Moorabbin plant. They had a single door and maintained their original Commer TS3 engine until all were sold in 1964. This was a big step up on bus size and cost. The buses were licensed to carry 37 seats in perimeter format, up from the 29 in the SBs. The cost of the Monobus was £6,215 whereas the cost of the CAC Bedford at the time was £3,960. Despite the best of intentions, the Monobus turned out to be a costly failure for both Freighter Lawton and the dozen or so operators who purchased them, mainly because of the underpowered engine. Most were subsequently repowered, often with second owners.

In the 60s, petrol Bedfords continued to be purchased, first on Comeng and R V Piper bodies and then on CAC (Comair bodies). Piper, who was just up Centre Road at the Ventura depot, also bodied the sole Atkinson in the fleet in 1963. This Alpha chassis had come into the country in CKD form in 1959 and had been waiting for a buyer.

HWO 423 a 1963 Bedford SB3 was one of several buses to be bodied for the Suhr family by local body builder Roy Piper. (John Masterton)

The Comair Bedford purchased in September 1964 for Smith & Suhr, saw a return to diesel engines with the Bedford SB5. This and subsequent Comair Bedford SB5s formed the backbone of the company’s operations for the next two decades.

The Smith & Suhr company operated a few charter buses over the years, usually CAC petrol Bedfords. In 1969 and 1970, these were upgraded with the purchase of two Comair VAM70 buses. A rare CVI (Comeng Vehicle Industries bodied VAM70 was purchased from Collins Radio in Fyshwick ACT in 1972. This was followed by a new Freighter bodied VAM70 (UF) in 1973.

HMG 738 a 1961 Bedford SB3/ Comair was one of the regular buses on the Bentleigh to South Bentleigh run for many years and shows the green and mauve livery. (Bruce Tilley)

HMG 738 a 1961 Bedford SB3/ Comair was one of the regular buses on the Bentleigh to South Bentleigh run for many years and shows the green and mauve livery. (Bruce Tilley)

Most of the fleet acquisitions in the 70s were for the charter business. This was evidenced by the purchase of Domino Hedges bodied GM in 1978 ex stock and a Duple bodied Bedford YMT3 in 1979 also ex stock. A new Centurion bodied Hancock arrived in 1983 for charter work – a unique bus.

Finally, they acquired two 3 axle Scania K112 coaches, the first with PMCSA bodywork in 1984, and the second with Coachwork International bodywork, which was a New Zealand import, in 1986. This had been a demonstrator bus for Coachwork International.

Meanwhile for route service, after CAC ceased building bus bodies, a lone Domino Hedges bodied SB5 was purchased in 1978. A Centurion bodied International 1810 was bought in 1981. Finally, the company turned to the PMC Elwood and received five from 1983 to 1987.

JWY 759, a 1967 Bedford SB5 / Comair in the later light brown livery is seen at Brighton Beach laying over between trips on route 632. (Bruce Tilley)

JWY 759, a 1967 Bedford SB5 / Comair in the later light brown livery is seen at Brighton Beach laying over between trips on Route 632. (Bruce Tilley)

Bentleigh era (1970 – 1987)

After the death of Roy Suhr in the early 70s, the name of the route services company was changed to Bentleigh Bus Lines.

Following the death of Norm Smith in 1974, the name of the charter business was changed to Bentleigh Charter Service. The company was then managed by Brian Suhr.

The livery of Bentleigh Bus Lines was changed from Landsford red and cream roof to mustard with a white roof in 1975, and finally mustard with white roof, windows and waistband in 1983 with the arrival of the Elwoods.

The livery of Bentleigh Charter Service changed from the mauve and green to off white with “Landsford red” details to which some blue was added towards the end.

In 1980, the service station closed and John joined Brian on the buses. Their father Leo passed away in December 1980.

After the purchase of Bentleigh Bus Lines in 1987, Ventura #125 (Bedford SB5, Comair). New to Bentleigh B.L. in December 1972 as #20. (Hayden Ramsdale)

Bentleigh Bus Lines sold four three route services (632, 633, 635 & 636) to Ventura Motors on 27 April 1987.

The Bentleigh Charter Service arm was initially retained, before being sold to Craig Coop on 14 August 1988, who was running Nuline Bus Lines at the time. The sale included the Centre Rd depot and 7 coaches. The brand continued to trade under Craig Coop. 

Brian Suhr now lives at Southport, while John Suhr still lives in the house he moved to in the 1950s in East Bentleigh.

Ventura era (1987 onwards)

Subsequent to the sale to Ventura, various route changes took place during the late 1980s & 1990s.

On 18 July 1988 Quince’s “Metlink” Route 634 was introduced along Centre Rd from Middle Brighton to Monash University (initially with an East Clayton branch) over the top of Routes 632 & 633. Centre Rd between Bentleigh Station & Mackie Rd now had three duplicating routes, with buses on average every 6 minutes during peak hour! The new service reintroduced Sunday services along with late trips on Fridays and Saturday evenings.

Ventura #123 (Elwood HFA-GM, PMCSA) seen at Southland on Route 636 in 1988, ex Bentleigh B.L. #22. (Peter Kane)

Much needed rationalisation of Centre Rd services eventually took place on 30 September 1991 with Ventura’s 703 (Blackburn – Clayton) extended west to Middle Brighton, past the South Oakleigh depot. Route 632 was truncated to commence at Bentleigh, while Quince’s 634 was shortened to commence at Monash Uni. 633 abolished.

From the same date, Route 635 lost its peak hour extension to Cochranes Rd, Moorabbin East while Route 636 was absorbed into an extended Ventura 767 service operating Box Hill to Southland. Route 635 had its peak frequency cut from 15 mins to 20 mins with interpeak halved to every 40 mins.

3 March 1997 saw a merger of 632 & 635 services to form 701 running Bentleigh – Oakleigh via East Bentleigh, leaving 703 as the sole route along Centre Rd. To maintain service with two buses, sections of 635 west of Jasper Rd (past Patterson Station & in West Bentleigh) were deleted. Patterson Rd buses now operated every 30 mins all day (instead of 20 mins peak & 40 mins during the day), saving two buses.

Ventura #11 5517AO (Scania L94UB, Custom “CB60 C-Max”) posed midway on a 701 service during 2006. Later became #879. (Peter Kane)

Around this time, Sunday services on 703 were altered to operate Bentleigh – Blackburn, with the western end of Centre Rd only regaining Sunday service again on 4 December 2016. 703 gained frequency upgrades on 5 August 2002 as part of the SmartBus pilot program.

Effective 10 September 2006 Route 701 was among the first bus routes in Melbourne to be upgraded to minimum standards with 9pm finishes across the week, as part of the Bracks’ Government Meeting our Transport Challenges plan.

Most recently, all night weekend services were introduced along Centre Rd at the start of 2016. Initially operating as 979 to Dandenong, network changes in September 2021 saw these become part of the Route 703 timetable.

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