Business. Sadie and Neville Wells’ introduction to the bus world was not without its share of bumps.
Marrying in 1960 and buying the Marrawah Shop the following year, the couple soon realised the school bus run would provide an opportunity not to be missed.
“We thought it would work in well with the shop because the shop’s busiest times were from 11 o’clock through to 2 o’clock/half past two,” Neville said.
So in 1964, they purchased their first 35 seater with the intention of transporting the local children to and from school.
“We got the bus home on the first day and the motor blew up,” Neville said. “So we had to hurriedly get round and find another motor . . . we got it going, got it all set up to go on the first morning, we went out and the bloody thing wouldn’t start!”
An ignition coil issue was to blame and the solution was to borrow a neighbour’s tractor to give it the start it needed – eventually a Land Rover was purchased to do the job. From the couple’s memory, that routine lasted close to two years.
“We had a divorce five days a week,” Sadie laughed.
Despite the “challenges” as Neville put it, they persevered, and even came to “thoroughly enjoy” themselves.
Three years on and they decided they were ready to take on a second contract – the Marrawah to Smithton High School run.
“The first kid I ever put off the bus . . . I got home and I suddenly realised ‘Neville, that kid you put off the bus belongs to the best customer you’ve got in the shop’. So I jumped in my car and went over to see him.”
The father asked where his son had been left.
“I said the certain place, and he said, ‘you didn’t give him bloody long enough to walk’,” Neville laughed.
While the couple sold the shop in their eighth year, they held onto their bus contracts and added a couple more, as well as a garage at Forest and a house at Mawbanna.
“We went from having people around us all the time at the shop, coming and going, to Sadie being out there on her own and I was driving the school bus and working in the garage,” Neville said of the family’s time at Mawbanna.
As the operation grew so did the family, welcoming children Colleen, Janee, Kimbra and Stuart into the world and to the world of buses.
All of the children spent much of their lives on and around buses, and only naturally it seems, three have stayed on to work in various areas of the company.
In 1993, the current depot on Emmett Street was purchased. Having previously been a transport depot it suited them well, though some work was needed for their business.
From those humble beginnings to an operation that Neville admits is now “quite massive”, Wells Waggons is home to 27 buses and 30 drivers, and offers charters and hire on top of the 20 designated routes.
To this day, the Wells still have their first contract.
If they weren’t driving buses, Neville and Sadie were likely giving their time to numerous committees; Sadie’s involvement with parents and friends, guides, scouts and church added to her demanding role as a mother-of-four and the backbone of the business.
Neville joined the Tasmanian Bus Industry Confederation and went on to become the board’s chair, travelling to Hobart frequently and earning an inaugural national award in 2005 for his contribution to the industry.
He also gave his time to local football clubs, the karts, and Rotary, being honoured as with a Paul Harris Fellowship.
Despite his hectic schedule, his children have fond memories of a dad who cooked tea every Sunday night, always sitting down together for a meal followed by a Sunday night movie.
Sadie recalled there would be times when the couple wouldn’t see one another for weeks at a time, bar waving at each other in transit on the highway.
These days they are making up for lost time, holidaying and rarely seen apart. However, they have not fully let go of their duties – both remain relief drivers, filling in when the schedule demands.
“We’ve had a busy life, but it’s been rewarding,” Sadie said.
Neville added: “You’ve got to be proud . . . [it all comes down to] dedication and hard work.”
In September, the couple celebrated 50 years in business, and together with 140 past and present employees plus industry friends, the Wells Waggons family will celebrate the milestone at a dinner at Tall Timbers later this month.