The Graham Dodge Charabancs

Facebooktwitteryoutubeinstagrammail
 Two Graham Dodge Charabancs purchased by Department of Works in 1922. These were the first buses to operate in Canberra. Photo — DCT Collection.
Two Graham Dodge Charabancs purchased by Department of Works in 1922. These were the first buses to operate in Canberra. Photo — DCT Collection.

In 1922, the Commonwealth Department of Works had two 25 passenger Dodge charabancs which were used to carry construction workers and school children. They were also used for community purposes and did special trips for forestry students. They were numbered C94 and C166.

When a rail passenger service commenced between Queanbeyan and Canberra on 15 October 1923 for the benefit of workers living in Queanbeyan and working in Canberra, the two charabancs operated a feeder service from the Power House Station at Eastlake (Kingston) to various construction sites in the Territory. School children were being conveyed from places like Cotter and Westridge (Yarralumla) to Telopea Park.

On 1 January 1925, the Federal Capital Commission assumed control of the administration of the Territory, including transport. It is not known whether the two charabancs were transferred to the FCC immediately but from 1 April, when Mr A Baxter was appointed Canberra’s first Transport Officer, the two Graham Dodge units were under the control of the FCC.

To quote from the 1925 Annual Report of the Transport Section: “The buses at my command have been unable to carry out all the services that may have been required of them, but an additional bus is now on order and should be delivered in about 6 weeks. The service for school pupils and the conveyance of officers to and from the various centres to their offices has so increased that an additional bus can be comfortably employed; a service from Acton to Hotel Ainslie at midday has lately been introduced and is loaded to full capacity, the charge for a weekly ticket is 1s 6d..”

The third Graham Dodge Charabanc was duly delivered in 1925. All three charabancs were 21-22 cwt models, all with canvas hoods. These three vehicles had an enormous task each day:

  • moving 350 workmen to and from the railhead and construction activities beyond the one mile walking limit (A new standard for ACTION?)
  • the transport of 130 members of the FCC staff to and from the headquarters and the suburbs
  • carrying between 300 and 350 school children to the Telopea Park School

In anticipation of the completion of the new Parliament House and other buildings, numbers C94 and C166 were advertised for sale in March 1927. However, two Dodge charabancs are listed as being owned by the FCC at June 1927, so one can presume that one bus was not sold. In June and July 1928 Dodge charabancs FCT CO6 was advertised for sale

The original C series plates for Commonwealth Government vehicles in Canberra, issued in New South Wales, were replaced by the FCT CO series for buses, At least two Dodges were re-registered into the new series as there is photographic evidence of FCT CO7 being a Dodge charabanc, in addition to the advertisement referring to CO6

The last days, or last years, of the Dodges are lost in history. In November 1931 tenders were called for one Dodge Brothers chassis with charabanc body. In January 1933, tenders were invited for the purchase of one Dodge bus body ‘with upholstered seats’. Is this the one and same bus, and if so, which Dodge? Also, what happened to the chassis between 1931 and 1933?

The last reference to a Dodge chassis in in the Canberra Times of 20 April 1946, when tenders were called for the purchase and removal of one 1925 Dodge chassis with 24.5hp engine, in poor condition and situated at Kowen Forest. Was this the chassis of CO6 or a truck chassis?

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trucks and Buses records that Graham Brothers of Evansville, Indiana assembled complete commercial vehicles, initially using four cylinder Dodge petrol engines and Dodge transmissions. The range was almost identical to that of the Dodge Brothers and in late 1927 Dodge took over the Graham Brothers business.

The buses are variously described as Graham Dodge, Dodge Graham and Graham Buses. At least one charabanc in Canberra has Graham Dodge on the radiator whilst the reports of the FCC referred to them as Dodge Grahams.

This article was written by Ian Cooper, with assistance from Les Pascoe, Roger Payne and Vic Hayes. It was first published in 1990 and has had minor style updates by ACT Bus.