January 28, 1930
The prototype chassis for a pioneering American bus arrived in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW). The Model 54A bus had been constructed and inaugurated in the United States by the Ohio-based White Motor Company the previous year. This six-cylinder bus was designed to accommodate anywhere from 29 to 38 passengers. The Model 54A was larger and more powerful than any other bus introduced up to that time in the Land Down Under, so the Australian distributor Dalgety & Company had to have NSW’s vehicular restrictions relaxed enough to allow this White Motor Company product to travel on roads throughout the state.
After arriving in Australia, the prototype chassis for the Model 54A bus was delivered to the Walsh Island Dockyard and Engineering Works in NSW’s Newcastle metropolitan area. Those working with this prototype came up with the first all-metal bus body to be built in Australia. Another innovative feature of this version of the bus involved the installation of Westinghouse air brakes. This marked one of the earliest uses of these brakes, which had originated as a part of railway technology and relied on air pressure for operation, for road vehicles of any kind in Australia.
On April 15, 1930, the newly completed version of the Model 54A began making regular runs on transit operator Michael Fitzgibbon’s Deluxe Bus Service route between the NSW capital city of Sydney and the suburb of Campsie. Three additional chassis had been shipped from the White Motor Company to Australia in March of that year, and each of these was built at Walsh Island to resemble the original version assembled there. Fitzgibbon also used these buses for his transportation enterprise.
Unfortunately for Fitzgibbon, however, the service of all of these record-setting buses proved to be short-lived. This was because Deluxe Bus Service and similar transit firms in the private sector were in stiff competition with the NSW government’s tram and rail operations for passengers. As a consequence of this rivalry, legislation with major licensing and tax requirements was enacted during the fall of 1931 to drastically curtail the ability of private bus services to continue functioning in NSW. Fitzgibbon was forced to shut down his own operations and place the Model 54-A’s and the remainder of his bus fleet into storage.
Nonetheless, the significance of the Model 54A to Australia’s transportation heritage has not been forgotten. One of these buses is now part of the collection of historic vehicles at the Sydney Bus and Truck Museum.
For more information on the White Motor Company’s Model 54A bus and its service in Australia, please check out https://www.sydneybusmuseum.info/1500.