Reservoir Bus Company & Midland Tours

The History of Reservoir Bus Company  

The history of the Reservoir to Thornbury route goes back to the early 1920s, before the route licensing system was introduced. The Page family (later to be involved with Melbourne and Brighton Bus Lines, Melbourne Motor Coach Service and Australian Pacific) ran buses from Reservoir direct to Melbourne down High Street. In 1925, when route licensing was introduced, route 1A was established which terminated the service at Dundas Street, Thornbury. The route received two separate numbers in the 1971 renumbering, 552/553. It was multiple owner operated with numerous owner changes over the years.

The Witham brothers had established route 122A (now route 555) from Reservoir to Epping via Lalor in 1948. In the next few years, a number of other operators joined them and formed Reservoir Motors. Despite this, the business struggled and needed a significant financial injection. Enter Pat Cooper in 1954. Pat Cooper had operated a successful milk carting business and took a 51% share in a newly formed East Preston and Epping Bus Service Pty Ltd (EP&EBS) with the existing operators of Reservoir Motors (Pat Quinn, Bill Brown, Del and Jack Witham) each receiving a quarter share of the remainder.

In 1956, EP&EBS bought H E Taylor’s interest in route 1A which meant that EP&EBS and Keith Williamson and Harry Webb (in partnership) were the sole operators of the route. Both groups decided to share revenue and, in 1964, Webb and Williamson joined EP&EBS. Also in the mid 50s, Pat Cooper had acquired two buses, and two charter licences, from Jack Merlo. This was the genesis of Midland Tours.

In 1968, the partnership adopted the name Reservoir Bus Company for its route services. Pat Cooper ran the company until 1964 when his son John took over. As the Thomastown and Lalor areas developed during the 1970s, local feeder routes were added on both sides of the railway line from Thomastown which are today’s routes 554 and 557 on the west side and 559 on the east side. The 554 started out in 1975 as a Friday only shopper’s service. The area north west of Reservoir is serviced by route 558 which began in 1966.

Another major change occurred when the short route 556 from Northland to Cheddar Road, Keon Park was extended to Epping and buses would operate on a loop over routes 555 and 556. The 556 had been pioneered from 1956 by EP&EBS from West Preston and was extended to Northland on its opening in October 1966.

During the 1970s the company was synonymous with the Bedford SB3 and SB5 chassis bodied by Newnham’s and Newnham (and later Custom Coaches) remained the bodybuilder of choice until 2002 when a change was made to purchasing from Volgren. After trying out Isuzus and Mercedes OH1316s during the 1980s chassis purchases moved over to Volvo in the early 1990s and is now entirely of that marque.

In 1988, Russell Ward was appointed co-managing director with John, and upon John‘s death in 1990, his son Peter assumed his father’s role.

Reservoir’s operations grew naturally during the 1970s and 1980s as new estates developed along the outer end of the Epping Line, while Dysons new services were focused along the Plenty Rd corridor and into Mill Park.

In 1980, Reservoir Bus Company, in partnership with Dyson’s, formed the East West Bus Company. This brand would operate various routes encompassing the operating territory of both operators. August 1980 saw Route 560 (Broadmeadows – Greensborough) introduced, followed  in March 1981 by Route 561 (Reservoir – Macleod) benefiting LaTrobe Uni students and Route 570 (Thomastown – Bundoora) in February 1984 serving the Phillip Institute of Technology, later absorbed by RMIT.

East West Bus Company later introduced a new Route 571 service linking Somerton, Epping and South Morang along what was then the northern fringe. In December 2003 this service was upgraded a TraninLink service meeting all trains at Epping.

In 1997,  the Cooper and Dyson families again combined resources to tender for former MMTB / Met Bus bus routes to Sunshine and Brighton. Melbourne Bus Link won the tender against international and local operators, commencing operation in April 1998.

Route 577 was introduced on 19 August 2002, providing services along Finndon Rd in Epping and into the new community of Mill Park Lakes.

As Epping North continued to grow outwards, a new Route 575 service was introduced in February 2006, linking to Epping and Thomastown. This route along Edgars Rd also allowed the 554/557 circular services to incorporate newer parts of Lalor West. On the same date, East West introduced the supplementary 571A bus between Epping & Roxburgh Park, later absorbed by a westward extension of Route 571 in September 2007.

Reservoir Bus Co and Midland Tours were both sold to Dyson’s, effective from 1 November 2012 a natural fit given their long standing partnerships for more than three decades. The Melbourne Bus Link & East-West partnership were initially retained, however not being a successful shortlisted bidder for the Melbourne Bus Franchise, Melbourne Bus Link ceased operation on 3 August 2013. The Copper family soon sold their shares in East West Bus Company to Dysons in February 2014.

Midland Tours

The company name – Midland Tours – was registered in November 1957. Pat Cooper purchased two buses and two licences from Jack Merlo Motor Services. Jack Merlo had also run some track services around the Thornbury area. In those days, the licence was often worth a lot more than the vehicle, and one was attached to the other. Charter and tour licences were heavily regulated with much competition for new services. The easiest way to acquire a licence was to acquire a vehicle which had the licence. The two buses were a Symons&Fowler bodied Federal new 1951, reg WT 359 and a White with a Reo petrol engine and a J A Lawton body that was new in 12/53, reg GCK 434.

Both of these buses were replaced in the mid-sixties, with new Comair Bedford SB3s with coach seating. By the time that Reservoir Bus Company came into being, Midland Tours had 5 buses, and could be seen in the new large depot next to the railway line at Reservoir Station. Bedfords continued to be acquired, but with larger bodies, and just as RBC had gone diesel so did Midland Tours. Over time as expansion occurred on Melbourne’s northern fringe, additional school contracts were gained and coached added, including several from Reid’s when they sold their route business to Dyson’s and split their charter fleet. Marques included Hino, MAN, Mercedes and the unique AMCO 555 with a Cummins engine.

By and large, new Midland Tours coaches have (like the RBC buses) been on the Volvo chassis with Newnham the bodybuilder of choice until 1990 since when a variety of coach bodies have been purchased, either new or second hand.

The Midland Tours brand was wrapped up at the end of 2015 to streamline the charter brands offered by Dysons, with the iconic Cobb & Co brand (acquired with the purchase of Bell Transit in 2003) retained along the Dysons name.