The summer of 1999 dramatically focused major issues concerning the future of Glacier Park. In July, the Park Service issued its long-awaited General Management Plan. This plan, prepared over the course of four years with a great deal of public input, is moderate, sensible and well-conceived. It honors the public's desire to "keep Glacier as it is," while laying the groundwork to deal with several long-range problems.
These looming problems involve financing much-needed repairs to Glacier's infrastructure principally Going-to-the-Sun Road, Many Glacier Hotel, and Lake McDonald Lodge, as well as other historic buildings. Congressional hearings have been held in the past few months to begin mapping strategy for accomplishing these repairs. (See article, page 14.)
Meanwhile, in July and August, a closely-related infrastructure problem unexpectedly came to a head. The Park's beloved and historic "jammer buses" were taken off the road due to newly-discoverd safety concerns. The Glacier Park Foundation actively began reviewing the problem.
By coincidence, this issue of The Inside Trail had been planned as a special "Jammer History" issue. We decided to double the issue's usual length and combine the history features with coverage of the bus crisis.
We welcome letters from our readers offering viewpoints on this issue. We also encourage readers to offer their input on the red-bus question to Glacier Park, Inc. and to the Park Service at the following addresses:
by The Glacier Park Foundation's Board of Directors
In 1830, the most legendary ship in American history, "Old Ironsides," was to be torn up for scrap. Its oak hull was rotting, and naval authorities considered it beyond repair. Then Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the famous poem Old Ironsides, which challenged the public to preserve the ship. The poem aroused the American people, the ship was restored, and (after several other major renovations) it remains in service today.
The "Old Ironsides" episode bears pondering in light of the red-bus crisis now unfolding in Glacier Park. The legendary fleet of red convertibles from the 1930's is one of Glacier's foremost emblems and heirlooms. The public needs to speak up to encourage the National Park Service and Glacier Park, Inc. (GPI) to restore the historic fleet to service.
This summer, the "jammer buses" were taken off the road due to safety concerns. GPI was right to take this step. Inspections confirm that cracks in the buses' chassis present a serious danger.
The data available this summer suggested that renovating the buses might be impossibly expensive. GPI was concerned that the buses' wooden bodies might be rotten. It estimated renovation costs at over $100,000 per bus.
Because of these concerns, both GPI and the Park Service suggested consideration of other options which would involve retiring the fleet. Both parties have indicated an interest in building replica buses, with various features (heating, air conditioning, FM radios, alternative fuels) that the historic buses lack.
The perspectives offered by the Park Service and by GPI are thoughtful and deserving of respect. But a recent inspection suggests that Glacier's historic "reds" can probably be restored at a reasonable cost.
The new inspection shows that the bodies of the "reds" are generally sound. It should be possible to remount the bodies on a new set of frames. New chassis (complete with new motors, transmissions, and braking systems) probably can be manufactured for about $15,000 per bus.
The historic buses could use an alternative fuel technology (ethanol) which is available in Montana. Other amenities (heating, air conditioning, FM radios, etc.) are of secondary importance, but probably could be installed as well.
Restoring the historic fleet would certainly involve other major costs. However, it appears that the total cost of restoration would be substantially less than the cost of building replicas (currently estimated at $120,000 to $130,000 per bus).
The historic value of the existing fleet should weigh heavily in this decision. The old buses' "character" (which tourists cited repeatedly last summer in calling for their return to the road) arises out of their colorful history, and cannot be duplicated. Glacier's fleet may well be the oldest operating anywhere on earth. With good care, it probably can operate for many decades to come.
The idea of building replica buses certainly can be pursued as well. Glacier's fleet should be expanded to meet increasing demand and to ease the traffic pressure on Going-to-the-Sun Road. It should be possible to manufacture one set of standardized frames to remount the historic buses and to use for the construction of replica buses.
The present concession contract expressly places emphasis on keeping the historic fleet running "indefinitely." The historic fleet (like "Old Ironsides") should remain in service unless convincing reasons are shown not to do so.
We recognize that a final decision on this matter must be deferred until more information is gathered. However, the present data suggests that the "jammers" can and should be restored. We urge the public to encourage GPI and the National Park Service to bring the fleet back to the road.
In a difficult decision in the last week of July, Glacier Park, Inc. (GPI) removed its classic red "jammer" buses from the roads of Glacier National Park. GPI cited safety concerns over cracks in the buses chassis and other defects. The buses were replaced by small white vans. The decision was vocally opposed by many passengers and drivers.
A recent inspection has confirmed the wisdom of GPI's decision to take the buses off the road. Many of the buses have serious chassis problems which make them unsafe to drive. However, the inspection also shows that the buses probably can be repaired and put back into service at a reasonable cost.
A Brief History of the Red Buses
The "jammer buses" have been in service in Glacier for almost 65 years. The fleet of 33 buses was built by the White Motor Company between 1936 and 1938. It may be the oldest fleet of passenger vehicles anywhere in the world.
The buses have logged a tremendous number of miles over Glacier's roads. Each bus has probably traveled about 600,000 miles (assuming average daily travel of 100 miles through 60 seasons of 100 days). Each bus has gone through several engines.
Despite all this travel, the old buses' sturdy bodies have held up remarkably well. An expert on White Motor Company vehicles stated recently that, but for an unfortunate retrofitting project in 1989, Glacier's reds might have run without major problems for another 60 years.
The 1989 project involved replacing the buses' legendary manual transmissions (the source of the "gearjammer" sobriquet), replacing the engines again, and also installing power steering. The new steering mechanisms created destructive stresses on the buses' frames. (See "A Look Beneath the Hood," p. 6) Cracks began developing in the chassis - a process which only came to light in the summer of 1999.
The 1999 Midseason Crisis
In late July of this summer, a red bus had just dropped off a load of passengers at Lake McDonald Lodge. As the bus was driving away at low speed, its front axle parted from the frame. An inspection of the bus revealed cracks in the front member of the chassis.
GPI quickly inspected the rest of the fleet and discovered other buses whose chassis contained the same visible cracks. GPI then decided to take the whole fleet off the road pending further investigation.
The company quickly bought a replacement fleet of 30 white Dodge vans for about $800,000. The new vans have roughly the same capacity (15 passengers), and have various amenities (radios, climate control) which the jammer buses lack. However, the vans do not have convertible tops or the character of the "reds."
Turmoil in the Park
GPI emphasized that the historic buses' retirement might not be permanent and that the vans were a temporary measure. However, the action was unpopular. Drivers, passengers and members of the public reacted emotionally to the loss of the "reds."
The Hungry Horse News reported strong opposition among both drivers and passengers in the aftermath of the action. One driver "said everyone he knows is opposed to the change." Another "said every rider who hears the jammer buses are going to be pulled from the roads was surprised and opposed to the decision." (8/5/99) Passengers quoted in the same issue cited the "character" of the old buses and called for them to be brought back.
Meanwhile, rumors were rife in Glacier that GPI planned to sell the buses. Drivers distributed flyers at a Congressional hearing at Many Glacier calling for action to save the reds and warning that they are "worth untold millions on the world market."
GPI vigorously denied that it intended to sell the buses. In The Glacier Grizzlette, GPI's employee newsletter, its president Dale Scott emphatically stated: "Let me assure you that it is for the safety of all that this decision has been made ... Let me assure you that we have no plans to sell these buses ... [N]o millionaires are lined up to buy the entire fleet." (8/99)
The First Inspection and its Aftermath
Another article in The Glacier Grizzlette gave a grim prognosis for the buses. It stated: "The 63-year-old sedans, built of oak and covered with a metal skin, are basically beyond repair. The wood is beginning to rot while more and more parts become obsolete."
These bleak statements were based upon an initial inspection by an outside consultant. GPI hired a maintenance specialist from Canada Greyhound to examine the red buses in early August. He stated, in a letter excerpted in The Glacier Grizzlette: "In my experience any attempt to repair such defects is pointless since it inevitably involves such extensive work that the exercise cannot be justified on economic or engineering grounds. ... I cannot recommend any action other than total replacement of the fleet."
Despite this grim opinion, GPI stated in The Glacier Grizzlette that no decision had yet been made on the buses' future. It stated that it "is bringing additional experts in to go through each bus" and to "make a determination as to whether or not they should be re-engineered and put back on the roads."
In a letter to the Glacier Park Foundation in late August, GPI estimated the cost of retrofitting the historic buses at "well over $100,000 per unit." This estimate was based on the belief that the reds' wooden bodies were rotting and would have to be replaced (with the sheet metal being stripped off the old wood and reassembled on new wooden frames). The sum also included new chassis, interiors, mechanical systems, larger radiators and redesigned front ends.
As an alternative, GPI proposed building a new fleet of replica buses, at a likely cost per bus of "upwards of $120,000 to $130,000." GPI indicated enthusiasm for this replica alternative (which it analogizes to "the old and new Volkswagen bugs"). It envisioned such replicas ("the next generation of red bus") as "environmentally correct, either using alternative fuel such as the hydrogen cell or natural gas." It continued, "We need a vehicle that stands the test for handicap accessibility, guest comfort (air conditioning and heating when needed), the best communication devices for both as well as the ability to locate, vis-a-vis global positioning satellite systems - where the buses are at times for better management of the fleet."
GPI also held out the possibility of mixing the two options. This approach would involve retrofitting some historic buses "for limited use within our park," while also building a fleet of new buses. The Glacier Grizzlette makes reference to "maintaining all of our fleet as a museum feature" as an additional option.
The Second Inspection
The National Park Service and GPI agreed to arrange a more thorough inspection of the buses after the summer season. The inspection was held in the last week of September at East Glacier.
The inspection was performed by a team of three highly qualified experts. They included a structural engineer from the Ford Motor Co., a safety expert from the federal Department of Transportation, and an expert on restoration of White Motor Co. buses.
After carefully inspecting an 8-bus sample of GPI's fleet, the three experts met with representatives of GPI, the National Park Service, and the Glacier Park Foundation (GPF). GPFs representative, Jeff Kuhn, provides a detailed account of the meeting and the inspection results in this issue. (See "A Look Beneath the Hood," p. 6)
The September inspection clearly justified GPI's decision to take the buses off the road. Many of the buses have serious defects in their chassis which could result in dangerous breakdowns if they were driven.
However, the inspection also showed that the historic buses' bodies are in surprisingly good condition. There seems to be little deterioration of the wooden understructure. This finding (assuming the 8-bus sample reflects the condition of other buses) should make renovation much more feasible.
Another encouraging point that was raised by the inspectors is that new chassis probably can be obtained for the buses at a reasonable cost. New chassis (complete with new motors, transmissions, drive trains and steering gear) can probably be purchased for roughly $15,000 per bus.
Renovation of course would involve many other substantial expenses, including labor. It would be necessary to find engineers to remount the bodies, perform historic restoration work, and properly warranty the result. Some parts for the buses (e.g., door hinges and handles) may have to be custom-built. Nonetheless, renovation at a reasonable cost appears much more feasible in light of the second inspection.
It also appears that replica buses could be manufactured using the body of an historic bus as a template for replica bodies. Thus, it appears that the total number of buses could be expanded by first restoring the historic fleet and then adding replicas as desired.
GPI's Concession Contract
A final consideration bearing on the red-bus crisis is GPI's existing concession contract. The contract gives GPI exclusive rights to provide both transportation and lodging services in the park for a 25-year period from 1981 through 2005. The contract calls for periodic renegotiation of the franchise fee GPI pays to the National Park Service (NPS).
In 1990, the parties renegotiated the franchise fee. The negotiations focused around the cost of maintaining the historic buses. Based on these negotiations, GPI made a strong commitment to keep the historic fleet in operation.
The 1990 agreement is contained in Amendment No. 4 to GPI's contract. (See "Excerpts from GPI's Concession Contract," p. 12). GPI agrees "to use the 33 renovated White tour buses to provide the above service, notwithstanding any potential loss of profit ... The Concessioner agrees to provide the high level of cyclic and operational maintenance customary and necessary for the continued use of the buses in visitor service indefinitely."
The 1990 amendment also gives the NPS the option to purchase all of the red buses at the termination of GPI's contract (for 70 % of market value). GPI agrees, by the amendment, that the buses "shall not be sold, transferred, or physically removed from Glacier National Park or its immediate area without the written consent of the Secretary [of the Interior]."
The Inside Trail invited Glacier Park's departing Superintendent David Mihalic and GPI's President and General Manager Dale Scott to comment on the red bus situation. Both kindly offered extensive comments, which have been reprinted below. It should be noted that both sets of comments were written prior to the inspection of the buses in late September.
by Jeff Kuhn
A recent decision by Glacier Park, Inc. (GPI) to remove the famous White Motor Co. tour bus fleet from active service has raised great concern and fear that the buses will be gone forever from Glacier Park. The buses are a unique part of Glacier Park's history and to many former concession employees, Park Service personnel and the public, a symbol of the undying spirit of Glacier.
How then is it possible that GPI could entertain serious consideration of retiring the red buses? I learned more about GPI's decision to remove the buses from service when I was invited to represent the Glacier Park Foundation (GPF) at a recent meeting conducted by the National Park Service and GPI to discuss the results of a recent inspection. The meeting was held at GPI's maintenance complex in East Glacier on September 29. Attending were Bruce Austin, an expert on White Tour Buses (Bruce owns a number of buses including a 1936 White Tour Bus that was originally part of the Yellowstone fleet), Dennis Schwecke, an engineer with Ford Motor Company, Patrick Scott, Denver Transit Authority, Larry Hegg, GPI Head of Maintenance, Jan Knox, Bernadette Lovato, and Karene Manus of the Glacier NPS Concession Office, and Amy Vanderbilt, Glacier NPS Public Relations Officer.
Inspection of the Tour Buses
The day before our meeting some of these representatives and other Park Service personnel evaluated a number of the red buses and reviewed the list of body and chassis problems noted by GPI. At the follow-up meeting, which I attended, Dennis and Bruce summarized the most significant findings of their inspection and discussed alternatives including repair, restoration or replacement of the red bus fleet.
What I was surprised and dismayed to learn was that the problems are significant and pose a safety hazard to passengers that GPI cannot take lightly. The most significant problems appear to stem from an engineering design completed by a GPI contractor in 1989 that has weakened the structural integrity of the front portion of the frame and associated components. The focus of the 1989 work was to retrofit the vehicles with power steering, new engines, automatic transmissions, modern brake components, and new tubular axles which replaced the historic drop front I-beam axles. Design of the retrofit was well intentioned but set up unecessary stresses on the front of the frame and frame components resulting in cracking of the front frame members in many of the vehicles.
Although 8-10 of the vehicles may be repairable and could be put into service on the short term, there is still the risk of failure of front end components which could lead to an accident. According to GPI, an incident occurred last summer in which one of the red buses lost its front axle when the spring carriers broke loose from the vehicle at Lake McDonald Lodge. Fortunately, the driver had already released all the passengers, and was travelling slowly enough that he was able to stop without further damage or injury. Following our meeting, I was able to visually inspect the undercarriage of one of the buses with Bruce Austin at the bus barn in East Glacier and clearly understand how this could have happened and why the issue is serious.
Structural Integrity and Other Problems
For those interested in the specific results of the September 28th inspection, GPF can provide a copy of Bruce Austin's inspection notes. They agree closely with the following summary of the main problems discussed at the follow-up meeting:
Front axle geometry creates unnecessary stress and flex on the front frame members resulting in cracks in the frames and spring carriers.
Steering box is mounted on the top rail of the front of the frame and creates additional stress on the frame when the streering is engaged and racked to the left or right. This condition has also led to cracking of the top frame rails where the steering box is located.
Braking problems: the front brakes are inadequate and probably designed for a vehicle of significantly lower gross vehicle weight and the brake system has no back-up reservoir if failure occurs. Installation of a double drive belt steering/brake assist pump system would provide a backup should the brake system fail due to a single belt breaking.
In summary, stresses created by the component design and retrofit have caused fatigue of the frame and spring hanger components that in most buses have led to cracking of the components and the front frame members. Failure to address the structural problems present in the chassis and failure to install proper brake systems could jeopardize the safety of the vehicles and possibly result in accidents caused by loss of power steering or brakes, or loss of control due to the front axle disengaging from the vehicle.
Other less significant and repairable problems include: the steep angle of the drive train, location of the gas tank on the outside of the frame members (behind the running boards), minor delamination sections of the plywood floors, and worn door latch components. Any deteriorated wood sections in the bodies can be replaced through traditional restoration methods and are not a significant safety concern. Interestingly, historic records indicate that most of the Yellowstone fleet of White tour buses rolled off the assembly line with a number of minor problems that necessitated repair. These included cracking of the glass due to screws working loose around window channels. Larry Hegg of GPI indicated this problem is also prevalent in the Glacier fleet and has continued to the present day.
Alternatives Under Consideration
Four major alternatives were presented by Mr. Dennis Schwecke and discussed at the meeting:
1) Repair of the vehicles:
Anticipated continuing structural problems
Deemed not feasible given the 1989 retrofit design problem
Note. Some of the vehicles are less damaged than others but are prone to the same structural problems in the future.
2) Reengineer and redesign the front ends of the vehicles to solve structural problems:
Difficulty in finding off the shelf components that will function well together
Fabrication of new parts may be cost prohibitive
Frame damage may be worse than currently known and may render some of the frames unfit for refitting of replacement components.
3) Replace the entire chassis and reuse the original bodies:
Highly feasible if a manufacturer can be found
Probable cost estimate: $15,000 (frame with components) plus remounting costs
Frames would be fitted with an integrated component system and modern engines fully compliant with pollution control requirements
Chassis would be need to be fully warranted and fully insured by the manufacturer (generally, stripped-down chassis are warranted by major auto manufacturers)
Would allow the use of alternative fuels compatible with modern engine designs.
4) Replicate a new bus from the ground up:
Highly feasible if a manufacturer can be found
Current cost estimates $120-130,000
Replica bus manufacturers would warrant the entire bus
Must weigh the economic viability of the authenticity of the bus (the cost of making the new buses look like the old buses)
Chassis would be need to be fully warranted and fully insured by the manufacturer (which, again, they generally are)
Would allow the use of alternative fuels compatible with modern engine designs
Could use the new buses at many national parks and defray overall manufacturing costs to concessioners (if desired).
Significant discussion occurred in our review of each option. Option #3 was viewed by several of us as the most desirable option, provided a manufacturer for a suitable chassis and component system can be found. GPI believes that a new fleet is the most appropriate decision from a cost and liability standpoint but may be willing to consider remounting the original bus bodies on replacement chassis if a suitable manufacturer can be found.
This by no means excludes expansion of the tour bus fleet through the design of a replica tour bus. The question is whether or not the new buses would be identical to the historic White Company Touring Buses. Patrick Scott from the Denver Transit Authority indicated that some flexibility may exist for compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements for the historic fleet. We hope that consideration for the historic look would be carefully weighed in the construction of new replacement vehicles. However, a tall, boxy look to comply with headroom criteria under the ADA probably cannot be avoided. A taller vehicle might also be more prone to roll-over or wind caused accidents on the Going to the Sun Road.
National Park Service personnel reiterated at the meeting that Glacier National Park and GPI have established a goal to restore the red bus experience by June of 2001. We should, however, be less concerned with that date than with the recognition by Glacier National Park and GPI of reinstating an historic tradition and an experience that has delighted millions of park visitors over the last 60 years. The red buses are a unique symbol of the history of our experience in Glacier National Park and one which we believe should be preserved.
September 10, 1999
Dear Mr. Hagen:
As Jan Knox discussed with you, it is the intention of the National Park Service that the red bus experience will be continued on into the next century. This was evident when Amendment No. 4 to the concessions contract with Glacier Park, Inc. was signed in 1990. It is also evident as an affirmative decision in our recently completed General Management Plan for Glacier.
We are well aware of the symbolic nature of this fleet and Glacier National Park. In 1990, we and the concessioner contemplated present circumstances and took the steps deemed appropriate at the time to continue the bus experience to the park. The concessioner made a substantial investment to renovate the fleet at that time. We agreed with their actions. That investment bought us nine more years use. Unfortunately, those well intentioned renovations were not enough to ensure that the fleet could continue to sustain the heavy daily use we expect of them. We are faced now with the decision about again renovating this fleet of 32 historic vehicles or putting our efforts into a solution that may also meet the growing transportation needs that face Glacier today.
As you know, Amendment No. 4 stipulates that the concessioner will provide a "high level of maintenance" to keep the buses in service. It also stipulates that the concessioner will not be required to replace or reconstruct buses that are damaged beyond reasonable repair or if future regulations require modifications that would prevent the concessioner from realizing a reasonable opportunity to make a profit on their tour operations. While we could concentrate our efforts on second guessing the decisions we all made in 1990 or trying to "prove" that the concessioner did or did not do all they should, we would still have buses that are deemed unsafe to use by competent authority. We would still have elements of the buses that are 60 plus years old and have plainly worn out. Neither approach helps us achieve the long term goal of continuing the red bus experience.
As we consider the issues of how to move people in and around Glacier and how to provide the kinds of visitor experiences the public demands or should be provided, we have to face the question of whether limiting ourselves to this fleet of 32 buses is the answer. As historic artifacts the buses help tell an important story about Glacier's history, but we have to question whether operating those particular vehicles is the appropriate way to 1) preserve them, and 2) meet visitor needs. What if we had a new bus that looks almost exactly like the old but meets modern safety standards, had roll protection, adequate braking systems, seat belts, better PA systems, heating systems, meets handicapped accessibility needs, etc.? What if we had not 32 buses, but 132, or whatever number that would allow the transportation system, in the park to serve not just hotels, but hikers, day-users, airports and visitor accommodations and attractions beyond the boundaries of the park. What if a new replica fleet was less polluting, had alternative fuel technology, and provided such a wonderful, historic park experience that visitors would choose to take the red buses and park their cars, thus alleviating congestion on the Sun Road?
We are trying to insure that this wonderful experience continues. However, we are also trying to look beyond only one, singular alternative to a strategy that continues this experience for generations to come. To do so we are evaluating by what means are necessary the continued use of the 32 existing historic vehicles and the cost to do so along with other options that achieve the goal, but perhaps not with the same vehicles.
Any suggestions you have are welcome.
Note. The foregoing letter was written prior to the systematic inspection of the buses in late September 1999. Since writing the letter, Mr. Mihalic has left Glacier to become the Superintendent of Yosemite National Park in California. No replacement had been named at the time this issue of Inside Trail went to press.
8 September, 1999
Retiring Glacier's famous red buses, better known as Jammers, was an extremely difficult and emotional decision. It only became much easier for all concerned once we fully understood the depths of the mechanical challenges we faced in operating these wonderful vehicles.
Our chief mechanic, Larry Hegg, first recognized some of these issues and brought them to our attention. This was Larry's second year as being the leader of this division and he had worked extremely diligently during the winter of 1998-99 to completely re-engineer all of the brake systems in the reds, install sliding drivers' seats that could, for the first time ever, move back and forth - allowing for greater ease and safety of operation for all of our drivers. Larry also reengineered the roofing system so that it would no longer sag under undue amounts of rain and generally made preparations so the reds were actually in some of the best condition ever as we entered into our 99 season. Expenses for these various challenges were in excess of $100,000.
As Larry further investigated the real world dynamics of our famous reds, he noticed stress fractures in the chassis in three of the reds, which we elected to immediately retire. We then brought in experts from Greyhound Bus Lines and invited the National Park Service experts to join us as well. Their Director of Engineering, Chief of Safety and Chief Historical Mechanic were all present when we went through a detailed inspection.
All of this needs to be put into perspective. The reality is that our buses were manufactured in 1936, 1937 and 1938 and have provided hundreds of thousands of guests with great touring history for these many years. Fortunately, with no fatalities.
What we were faced with is the unequivocal reality that these wonderful reds had any number of traumatic conditions prevalent in them and that they were no longer considered road worthy, not only from the fear of metal fatigue that was prevalent but also due to the regulations of the DOT and current engineering.
Our only alternative was to immediately replace, in the middle of our season, this wonderful experience with 30 white Dodge 15-passenger vans. No one suggesting for any moment that these compare to the experience the reds provided. The issue at hand was always safety and that's exactly what these provide as, a stopgap, a safe and reliable form of transportation until an alternative can be reached.
Our alternatives are as follows:
One is to evaluate how we might rebuild these buses and place them back into operation. This would require minimally a brand new chassis, inclusive of an operating engine, transmission and braking systems. Add to this, a complete rebuild of the body itself. As you know, the body is an aluminum skin built over wood, which is in most cases rotten to a degree of degradation that necessitates complete replacement. While going through this process, we'd also further reengineer, adding heating systems, defrost system and new electronics for communication and navigational purposes. As we go through this venture, the huge question that stands is who is going to warrant this to ensure that the engineering is totally reliable and these buses can be placed back on the road without creating a liability for passengers or drivers.
An alternative that we want to consider is whether or not we totally reengineer this experience so that we can again replicate the red experience but with a brand new vehicle that looks like the red but has all of today's best technologies incorporated into it. Consider operating with a hydrogen cell which would allow us to use natural gas as the energy supply and yet emit nothing but harmless H2O as the byproduct. Finding other materials that could replace the heavy chassis and other body parts and yet still provide the safety and integrity. Incorporate into the mechanics all the proper guest comfort facilities as demanded by today's society, including handicap accessibility, heated cabin and even potentially a roof that automatically retracts. Also suggested, would be included safety backup systems, navigational systems and communication systems that allow us to operate a much more efficient and safer fleet.
Other considerations that we want to ponder while making these decisions is what should this new transportation division be doing to service future guests? Can we incorporate a larger fleet that would provide extended services, allowing guests to simply arrive at Glacier International Airport, Great Falls, Calgary, etc. and literally leave the driving to us? Arriving at Glacier, allowing the transportation service to completely facilitate the entire vacation, not only providing interpretive tours but also a method to travel to and from the various locations in a safe and efficient fashion.
All of this to help reduce the amount of carbon monoxide emitting vehicles in the park, enhancing the clean air quality and providing greater guest service.
I would like to close by saluting the dedicated and committed Jammer drivers who stepped up and finished the 1999 season and who will continue working with us until the appropriate remedies are sought and enacted for it is truly through their service, vision and their oral communication that our guests have enjoyed their tour portion of their stay in Glacier.
When I personally called all of the CEO's of the major transportation companies, alerting them to the necessity of our actions, there was absolutely no comment of concern other than the first priority in all of our worlds is safety. And yes, we all want to return to providing the Jammer service again as soon as possible.
Note. The foregoing letter was written prior to the systematic inspection of the buses in late September 1999.
(Amendment No. 4 June 14, 1990)
WHEREAS, the Secretary [of the Interior] has determined ... that the probable value to the Concessioner of the privileges granted by the contract warrants an increase in the franchise fee ...
WHEREAS, the Secretary desires the Concessioner to continue the use of the historic buses to provide tours of Glacier National Park to park visitors; and
WHEREAS, the Concessioner has invested capital of approximately $750,000 towards renovation of the historic buses so as to continue their use in furtherance of the Secretarys desires; and
WHEREAS, the parties to this contract have agreed to change the amount and character of the franchise fee and to continue the use of the historic tour buses in visitor service indefinitely;
NOW THEREFORE, in consideration of the foregoing, the parties hereto covenant and agree to and with each other that [GPI's] Concessions Contract ... is hereby amended as follows:
(b) The Concessioner agrees to use the 33 renovated White tour buses to provide the above service, notwithstanding any potential loss of profit on the scenic tour operation which may occur as a result of increased maintenance expenses occasioned by the use of the historic equipment. The Concessioner agrees to provide the high level of cyclic and operational maintenance customary and necessary for the continued use of the buses in visitor service indefinitely. The buses are to meet all applicable safety standards and shall present a pleasing and well-maintained external appearance. The Concessioner shall not be required to replace or reconstruct any buses which are damaged beyond reasonable repair, nor shall the Concessioner be required to operate the buses if future federal or state law or regulations require modifications to the extent that the Concessioner would not realize a reasonable opportunity for profit on the scenic tour operation.
(d) * * * The Concessioner agrees that the buses ... shall not be sold, transferred, or physically removed from Glacier National Park or its immediate area without the written consent of the Secretary.
(e) The Concessioner agrees that the Secretary shall have an option to purchase all of the White tour buses ... if the Secretary deems it to be in the public interest. * * *
by Kathy Stapleton Renno (MGH 1971-1973)
The summer of 1999 brought the successful completion of a new nature trail, but was also marred by tragedy in Glacier Park. The season officially began with the opening of Going-to-the-Sun Road on June 16 and the visitor center on the 21st. These dates match the long-term average opening dates of mid-June, with the earliest date the Pass was opened being on May 16, 1987 and the latest being June 23, 1991 and 1995.
The first wheelchair accessible nature trail on the east side of the Continental Divide was completed this summer at Running Eagle Falls in the Two Medicine Valley. The falls have cultural significance for the Blackfeet Indians. Running Eagle was the only female Blackfeet warrior to have completed a successful four-day quest for her vision. Superintendent Mihalic stated that the trail's completion puts the Park one step closer to its goal of becoming accessible for all visitors. The Trail of the Cedars, completed in the mid 80's, is located in the Upper Lake McDonald Valley. It is the Park's handicapped accessible trail on the west side of the divide.
As in previous years, some visitors to Glacier met with injury or death as they sought to enjoy the beauty and splendor of the Park. In July, 56 year old Craig Ryan, an experienced climber most recently of Florida fell to his death while attempting a solo climb of Mt. Clements. He had apparently reached the summit and was descending when the accident occurred. He had registered with the park's voluntary climber registration system, which allowed park authorities to locate his body quickly.
In August, North Carolina resident Harold Addison, 74, fell to his death on Going-to-the-Sun Road when he stepped over a retaining wall to take a picture. His wife told park rangers that he lost his balance. The two had parked at a turnout about a mile east of Logan Pass, where the accident occurred. The victim fell 400-500 ft. A technical rescue team was dispatched to reach the victim because of the steepness of the slope. One ranger rappelled down to the victim. Confirming that he was dead, a team of rangers rappelled down and recovered his body in a rescue litter. Addison appears to have died of massive trauma from the fall.
Scalplock Lookout trail, in the Walton area of the Park, was the scene of two separate grizzly attacks on the same day in August. A male hiker who was hiking alone suffered numerous puncture wounds and lacerations on his arms and shoulders from a female grizzly with a cub. Park maintenance workers were able to stabilize him and were transporting him on horseback when they came upon two other hikers who reported having been attacked by a grizzly farther up the same trail. They too suffered lacerations and puncture wounds and were evacuated on horseback. It was assumed that all three hikers were attacked by the same bear. It is unlikely, however, that any action will be taken against the bear.
Another black bear in the park was not so lucky, however. It seems that the 200 lb. adult male had grown accustomed to eating human food and garbage outside the park. It resisted arrest by ignoring a culvert trap set for it by rangers, choosing instead to return to the garbage cans. It was also seen peering into windows of private cabins outside the Park in West Glacier. Rangers witnessed the bear feeding before it swam across the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, where they located and killed it. The decision to destroy the bear was reached because of state and park guidelines, which require food and human conditioned bears to be removed and/or destroyed.
The outdoor amphitheater at the Apgar Campground was destroyed by fire on July 11. The fire was discovered by campers at 3 a.m. By the time fire crews arrived, the structure was already totally engulfed in flames, so fire fighters concentrated their efforts on preventing the fire from spreading into the surrounding forest. The structure, used for the presentation of interpretive programs to the public, was completely destroyed. The cause of the blaze is undetermined.
by Mark Hufstetler, (LML 1976-80)
1999 has undoubtedly been a politically interesting year for Glacier and its concessions, marked both by the finalization of the park's Master Plan and the emerging controversy of the red busses. In addition to these important topics, though, there is one other issue waiting in the wings with the potential to tremendously impact Glacier Park and its historic hotels. The possibility for new federal legislation specifically addressing the lack of funding for the park's decaying infrastructure is finally seeming more and more likely, although considerable doubt remains over the form such legislation might take.
The most significant development in this regard was a congressional "Field Oversight Hearing" sponsored by the House Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands, and held at Many Glacier on August 17. The subcommittee's Chair, Representative James Hanson of Utah, joined Montana's Representative Rick Hill at the hearing, where they heard testimony from a panel of nine invited witnesses. The Glacier Park Foundation was invited to send a witness to the hearing, and I traveled to Many Glacier to testify on GPF's behalf.
Among the other witnesses were Dale Scott of GPI, Glacier Superintendent Dave Mihalic, Barbara Pohl of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and representatives of local tourism and business organizations.
Each of the witnesses was invited to submit written testimony prior to the hearing, and a group of GPF directors prepared a summary statement for the committee based largely on the written comments we had submitted during the Master Plan development process. My verbal statement at the hearing itself briefly summarized the key points of our written testimony. Those points included maintaining affordability in Glacier's lodges by carefully prioritizing repairs and seeking significant public funding (perhaps involving tax-exempt bonds). Other witnesses prepared similarly, although the content of their testimony varied significantly. Of perhaps the most interest to GPF were the comments of Dale Scott, who again pushed GPI's proposals for the significant expansion and remodeling of the park's concession facilities, conditioned on large increases in rates. Not surprisingly, the GPI scheme was endorsed by the local tourism and business interests present at the hearing.
As the meeting progressed, I was encouraged by the realization that both Representatives Hanson and Hill had clearly studied GPF's written testimony. Both men, however, are very conservative Republicans, strongly inclined to support market-based investment strategies, and it was clear that GPI's stated willingness to invest private funds in the hotels had found a receptive audience. The acknowledged fact that the Going-to-the-Sun Road and other federally-owned park improvements require immediate and substantial government funding made the possibility of federal funding for the hotels an even more tenuous concept for the congressmen to accept.
The hearing ended without public pronouncement, but rumors
circulating in the hallway afterwards suggested that Congressman
Hill may introduce legislation titled the "Glacier Park Preservation
Act," which may include incentives for private investment
in the park as well as some federal funds for the most critical
infrastructure needs. While it seems relatively likely that the
Sun Road and Glacier's aging sewer and water systems may receive
federal aid, the prospect of direct government funding of hotel
restoration seems significantly less likely. Hill is definitely
interested in pursuing some sort of legislation fairly soon; he
has announced that he will not seek re-election next year, and
he may see the Glacier bill as part of his planned congressional
"legacy." Both the form of such legislation and its
chances for success remain very much unanswered questions, though.
Regardless, the topic is certainly one that warrants careful
monitoring by all concerned GPF members. Stay tuned.
Glacier's "red buses" are as much a park attraction as the mountains they carry tourists through. Their exotic yet quaint 1930s look easily makes them the center of attention wherever they go on the roads that thread through the one-million acres which make up the "backbone of the continent." The bold red and black colors attract tourists like bees to similarly bright flowers. Bus drivers, or gear jammers as they are more affectionately called, are pressed for tidbits of information by curious tourists. Visitors are often surprised to learn the body work of the red buses are not reproductions but original, although the running gear has been periodically updated and is now very modern. Nonetheless, a ride in the red buses is to take a trip back in time, recalling a gentler, less hectic era. Few people, though, realize just how far back that trip goes or the pride and high level of service provided by dedicated drivers over the years.
Wheeled transportation in Glacier began not with mechanical horsepower, but rather real horse power - the four-legged kind. When Louis Hill was putting his master plan together for tourism development in Glacier National Park, he invited the Brewster brothers, Bill and George, of Banff, 200 miles to the north in Alberta, to provide transportation service between hotels and chalets. Successful saddle horse outfitters and tally-ho operators in Canada's premier mountain park, Hill saw in them the experience he wanted to ensure the viability of his Glacier operations.
Great Northern unveiled its hotel and chalet system in the summer of 1913, with the feature attraction being the opening of the lobby section of Glacier Park Hotel. In preparation for the opening, the railway spent thousands of dollars of its own money on much-needed roadwork to connect its camps and chalets. The 34-mile road from Midvale (now East Glacier Park) to St. Mary Chalets cost $90,900 to build, with the railway paying $68,000 of that, including construction of 14 bridges.
What Hill and the Brewsters had not counted on was how extremely poor the roads in and around Glacier could become due to the weather, even with the money the railway had poured into upgrades, repairs and new construction. The Brewsters faced innumerable troubles getting their stagecoaches through, let alone keeping any kind of schedules. At one point during the summer of 1913, Hill's family had to trudge through the rain from the railway platform to Glacier Park Hotel when a stage failed to appear. It was not a good omen.
In December 1913, Walter White approached Louis Hill about using White Motor Company vehicles in Glacier. As proof of the reliability of his Cleveland, Ohio-produced vehicles, White pointed to the fact his machinery was standard equipment for the U.S. government and was being used for bus service in 300 communities across the U.S., as well as in Ranier National Park in Washington. Hill agreed to let White test his buses during the 1914 season.
On June 13, 1914, $40,000 worth of vehicles were unloaded at Glacier Park Station. The vehicles included ten 11 -passenger buses, five seven-passenger touring cars and two two-ton trucks. "There was no garage buildings of any kind," recalled A. K. Holmes, the first manager of the bus company. "We parked this equipment under the trees and used packing cases for our parts room. ... It wasnt until late in 1914 that the Great Northern built the present garage (Number I)."
While the buses proved eminently more reliable than Brewster's stagecoaches, they weren't without their own set of problems. Buses overloaded with passengers and luggage seemed to blow tires and wear out differentials in no time. Though rated to carry 10 passengers, orders soon went out that they could only carry a maximum of seven people. The bus company also had problems with its signboards. "These buses did not have canvas tops," Holmes said. "The were stationary wood tops supported by iron braces, with side curtains. ... Across the length of the bus were two wooden signs on brackets - Glacier Park Transportation Company. These signs would break off on one round trip subsequently, they were eliminated."
For a while during the summer of 1914, tourists to Glacier found themselves transported about the park on buses, stagecoaches and sometimes both. It became evident that horses and motor vehicles didn't mix well. That was made clear in a letter from A. H. Plimpton of Norwood, Mass., who wrote the Secretary of the Interior to complain about an incident in Glacier that summer. Plimpton was in a stage whose horses were spooked by a bus bearing down on them at an outrageous 35 mph. The horses and stage went over a 10-foot drop, fortunately with neither humans nor beasts being hurt. "Only one kind of conveyance should be allowed in national parks," Plimpton fumed. A temporary system was set up whereby passengers were carried by buses outside the park and were transferred to Brewster's tally-hos at the park boundary when going to Many Glacier Camp and St. Mary Chalets. Brewster protested the arrangement, but it was the last appeal of a doomed operation.
Even before the 1914 season was up, the Brewsters could see the writing on the wall and requested they be relieved of their concession, suggesting it be handed to the bus company. The Department of the Interior and Hill agreed. On August 28, 1914, Hill signed a deal giving White exclusive right to use his buses in Glacier. White assigned the deal to Glacier Park Transportation Company's Roe Emery, a native of Montana who was a resident of St. Paul, Minn., at the time. White was a silent partner in the bus company. From 1915, buses would be the only form of public transportation on Glacier's roads.
The switch to buses was not a miracle cure. "Nineteen-fifteen was rainy," Holmes recalled. "It rained almost every day that season. Roads in general were very bad. The Milk River flats became a sea of mud. Jack Galbreath, who was formerly a teamster, had an eight-horse team. He camped at Milk River flats. We would run the buses as far as we could get them; then Jack would hook on with his eight-horse team, sit on the fender, and drive the horses with the help of the power of the bus, to get through the mud holes. We endeavored to corduroy this, but they seemed to sink out of sight."
Louis Hill took the state of the roads in and around Glacier as a personal affront, wondering why the federal and state governments appeared unwilling to invest as much in the park as his Great Northern Railway to improve facilities for tourists. Hill lobbied hard for increased park budgets, so a greater portion could be spent on road improvements. While Washington hiked the budget appropriation for the park, it wasn't enough, in Hill's view. In 1917, Hill lambasted the Secretary of the Interior with an eight page telegram detailing problems in Glacier. "It is really an outrage to hundreds of tourists to advertise the park and have the government join in the advertising, as you did this year at the railroad's expense, and then not make good on the roads and trails," Hill railed. It came as little surprise that the appropriation for the park that year was boosted, again.
In the early years, the newly formed National Park Service kept a close eye on Glacier Park Transportation Company's buses and drivers. Driving was a dangerous enough occupation when you're also the tour guide, made even more so by the fact it took place on winding mountain roads. The now legendary propensity of gear jammers to charm female passengers did not go unnoticed even then. In 1924, Glacier's superintendent received a letter from headquarters saying the National Park Service was opposed to women sitting in the front seat of buses. Drivers get talking to them and are distracted, the memo noted. While the park service realized it couldn't issue such a ban, it asked superintendent Charles Kraebel to "watch for this detail and take it up with operators as necessary."
Roe Emery realized the unique role his drivers played as park tour guides and was proud and protective of them. Drivers were paid at rates substantially higher than most other park employees, at one time earning $100 a month compared to $30 paid to bellhops, considered a top hotel position because of the opportunity to earn tips. At East Glacier, drivers had separate housing and their own canteen, which, over the years, has been reputed to have served the best staff meals in the park, rated even better than the fare at local restaurants and some hotel dining rooms. This generous treatment reinforced the belief by other park staff that drivers were Glacier's pampered elite.
Emery certainly thought his drivers deserved better-than-average treatment when not at East Glacier. Once he requested that his chauffeurs be first in line at the officer's table for staff meals due to driving being heavy work. Howard Noble, manager of the Glacier Park Hotel Company, would have no such thing. "There will be no distinction made regarding employees at the dining rooms," Noble replied, adding: "Our own chauffeurs work just as hard and are satisfied with how they are handled in the dining room."
The hotel company was also not afraid to lay down the law with drivers when it saw fit, issuing orders for drivers to slow down when near the hotels and that drivers should not occupy lobby furniture when waiting for assignments. Nonetheless, the perception remained that gear jammers were special. Male hotel staff sometimes took an intense dislike to these traveling Don Juans, who traipsed in and out every few days wooing "their" girls. Such animosity raised the stakes when hotel company employees faced off against gear jammers in annual ball tournaments.
Despite the best efforts of drivers and Glacier Park Transportation Company maintenance staff, the rough roads in and around Glacier took their toll on the red buses. In the mid-1920s, the company was forced to renew and update much of its bus fleet. The buses traveled only 6,000 miles a year, a small distance compared to similar equipment in daily service in cities, but they were already becoming worn out. At first, the pioneer bus bodies were replaced by bodies with folding type tops and a baggage boot grafted onto the frame at the rear. Then a series of new buses were ordered between 1925 and 1927 to replace worn out models, first introduced to the park in 1914, that couldn't be converted or salvaged. At its height under Emery, the fleet numbered 66 with as many as 70 drivers hired each season to meet schedules.
Ray Djuff was a bartender at the Prince of Wales Hotel from 1973-75 and manager's assistant in 1978. He has written the just-released High on a Windy Hill - The Story of the Prince of Wales Hotel, his third history book about Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Copies of High on a Windy Hill can be ordered on the Internet at www.rmbooks.com.
Note. Part Two of "Glacier on Wheels" will appear in the Winter Inside Trail.
From Gas Monkey to Gearjammer
by Bill Sterrett (1928-1932)
My first year working for the Glacier Park Transport Company was as a "Gas Monkey," since I was too young to obtain a Montana chauffeur's license. Consequently, my main avenue of endeavor was in pumping the gas that kept the big red buses running.
The buses carried 18 passengers and their luggage. They were built by the White Motor Company in Ohio. Our excellent mechanics kept them in tip-top running order. Paul Ryberg was the Shop Foreman in those days, and Hercules Thompson was his chief mechanic. They stayed in Glacier the year around, and worked on the buses in the shop while the snow piled up to a depth of 15 feet outside.
Howard Hays was the owner of the company, which in those days was a concession independent of the hotels. Fred Noble was the Transport Company's manager. Malcolm Merrill and Sid Couch were two well-known "starters" or transportation agents. Malcolm always needed a nicotine "pep stick" to start him in the morning, before he was able to start the buses.
In my initial season as Gas Monkey, I was responsible for transferring gas from the bulk storage tank near the railroad siding to the pumps at our garage. We used a special electric pump to accomplish the transfer. One exciting day, I neglected to watch the pump, and the garage tank overflowed. An ocean of gasoline filled the entire courtyard where the buses were parked. For a few hours, it was strictly no smoking around those parts, and everyone walked gingerly to avoid making sparks that might ignite the petrol.
In my second season, I was hired as a driver. Our drivers ("gear jammers") came from all over the U.S. Almost all were in college, and many came from Minneapolis and St. Paul. Our pay was $60 per month the first year, $65 per month the second, and $70 the third. We had to supply our own leather riding boots and pants, properly pegged, but the Company did supply our shirts and navy blue jackets.
A few of the older drivers (the "special" jammers) had the privilege of driving the company's beautiful long Cadillacs. There were eight of these cars, flaming red, with the famous logo of the mountain goat emblazoned on both sides. There were also two Peerless touring cars and one 12-cylinder Packard. One had to be a super driver with many miles to one's credit before finally being assigned to one of these beauties.
In the garage where our buses stayed was a large board with metal hooks on it. On the hooks were hung metal discs, with numbers corresponding to the numbers of the buses. The board was used to determine assignments. None of the drivers wanted the short, three-hour run from East to Two Medicine and back, where the tips were nil. Once in a while, unscrupulous drivers would switch the metal tags on the board to avoid these detested Two Medicine runs and obtain an assignment to Many Glacier or the Prince of Wales, where tips were bound to be better.
Many jammers will still recall Two-Guns White Calf and Owen Heavy Breast, Blackfoot Indian chiefs. They sometimes would beat drums as the buses departed from Glacier Park Lodge. We will not forget Hileman, the famous Park photographer. He never failed to tip his jammer, no matter how short the trip.
At the close of each season, one of our duties was to steam clean the body and engine of the bus we had driven all summer. That requirement led to a memorable hoax. One driver removed the hood from his dirty bus, placed it over the engine of a clean bus, and received clearance for his final check without ever turning a tap to clean his own vehicle.
by Howard H. "Tim" Hays, Jr. (1920's-1940's)
My association with the Glacier Park Transport Company began in 1927, when, at the age of five, I came to East Glacier as a son of the president of the company; and it extended, with time off for World War II, through my employment as a Jammer in 1947 and 1948.
My early memories of the Transport Company are dominated by the eleven-passenger, convertible buses, painted red like the present buses, that carried thousands of tourists, noisily but safely, throughout the park, over many years. Their engines were started with a crank (at the front of the bus), the proper settings of the choke and the spark, and a prayer. Their air horns were a loud delight.
In the 1930s, these great old buses were gradually replaced by the equally great and much more comfortable buses used today, which, at that time, were strikingly modern in design. For a few summers, to preclude a revolt of the early boarding passengers, the line of buses loading tourists at the hotels consisted of old buses (with new drivers) in front and of new buses (with the favored second and third-year drivers) in the rear.
It's a shame that price escalation (especially of boots) deprived later Jammers of the pride of wearing the distinctive uniforms worn before World War II. They consisted of high, brown, always highly polished, English riding boots; tan, "winged" woolen riding britches; light-gray shirts, and blue neckties. Thus clad, Jammers commanded the respect of tourists ("dudes") and they caught the eyes and fluttered the hearts of female employees at the hotels and in Waterton Village.
I suspect that Jammers' camaraderie, good-natured fun, and experiences with passengers have been similar throughout their history--- passengers, especially some from the flatlands, who watch the driver more attentively than the scenery; rare cases of passengers even hiding their heads in blankets where the slope traversed by the road is especially steep; Jammers who can keep their bus loads laughing and singing old songs; softball games at East Glacier in the evening (in my day, Jammers vs. employees of the Lodge; we held our own in these games, except when our best pitcher happened to be at "The Prince", "Many", or elsewhere in the park); hikes on days off; hopefully, "a girl in every port"; and lots of kidding and joking at the mess tables. (Through one summer, several drivers regaled us all with their nighttime experiences with a talking bear that reportedly shared the Jammers' privy at Lake McDonald. Fortunately, he was always described as a polite bear, who said nice things and was thoughtful of shared needs.)
What a great experience, at any time, to be a Jammer in Glacier!
by Bill Hays (1920's - 1940's)
My father operated the GPT from 1927 to 1955. These were significant years. They saw the completion of Going-to-the-Sun Road, the construction of the Prince of Wales Hotel and Chief Mt. Highway linking Glacier and Waterton Parks, and the selection and purchase of the buses which are still in service.
Howard H. Hays, Sr. was born in Metropolis, Illinois in 1883. He came to Montana in 1904 and in 1906 went to work for a company operating a chain of tent camps in Yellowstone Park. In the following 18 years he became the head of this company and one of its owners. Then in 1924 he fell ill with tuberculosis, sold the company and moved to California.
After he recovered, he made his first visit to Glacier. He saw it as a little known wonderland with almost unlimited appeal, so he bought into the GPT Company and became its operator at the beginning of the 1927 season. He immediately recognized that the quality of the bus drivers was critically important to the success of the company and he broadened their role. He and his general manager, Fred Noble, trained them to be well-informed guides to the park, knowledgable about its geography, history, geology, trails, plant and animal life and hotels. After the Prince of Wales opened in 1936, the focus was on both parks.
As part of his training program, he produced the first Drivers Manual, a truly remarkable volume of information about the park. And, if memory serves, it was he who put the drivers in uniform.
Father led the successful campaign for the establishment of the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning. He cinched it after he learned that Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, would be coming to the Northwest on the Great Northern's Empire Builder. He wired Ickes and asked if he and a Blackfoot chief could meet with him on the train as it travelled from Shelby to Glacier Park. Ickes wired back "yes". Father and the chief sat down with him in his drawing room and sold him on the project.
I began working for the company in the summer the Hays family arrived at Glacier -- about two hours a day -- doing whatever the office employees could dream up for a 10-year-old. In later years, I washed cars (the cars of the tourists in the park), greased cars, ran errands for the mess hall, served as agent at Sun Camp (Going-to-the-Sun Chalet) and drove one of the Cadillac touring cars. And I had two younger brothers who came down pretty much the same trail.
Over the years I very much enjoyed my association with the GearJammers -- indeed, was proud of it. My being one of the bosses' sons didn't seem to turn them off at all. I sometimes played on the Gear-Jammers softball team against a team of hotel employees.
The Jammers of that day recognized the importance of their role. They aimed at a high standard of service. And they had a wonderful esprit de corps. Their opportunities for association with hotel company employees weren't limited to softball games. The two groups had other chances to become friends, such as often hiking together. Some of the Jammers dated hotel company employees and some were said to have a girlfriend "in every port"; i.e., East Glacier, Many Glacier, Waterton Lakes, Lake McDonald, and even Sun Camp.
Chet Bowers (1941, 1946)
I was a Jammer in 1941, and, immediately after the war in 1946. After driving a B-17 for the 8th A. F. over Europe in early 1944, a return to the red busses helped me regain my perspective on life.
It was the best job of my life - to become familiar with the mountains, waterways and geology of the great park was as interesting as meeting the fine people who rode our red busses. And, there was the opportunity to meet the great kids who worked for the hotel company: Dick & Rosie Fossum of Helena are close friends to this date. As is Cecilie "Squish" Parke of Waterton and Pincher Creek.
I have to mention the romantic town site of Waterton. In 1941 there were young R.C.A.F. flying cadets in their Anson Bomber Trainers who, regularly buzzed the Prince of Wales, and spent their off duty time in Waterton. We also enjoyed the R.C.M.P. in their brilliant uniforms - they were mounted on real horses! Then there were the great gals of Waterton who liked to hike, swim, and even fish! My wife and I honeymooned in Waterton in 1956.
A couple of memories may be of interest - in 1941 I had a half bus load of elderly teachers from Chicago on a Cook's tour. On Logan Pass that day, in a terrific thunderstorm, every loose rock on the mountainside decided to follow gravity. To the rolls of thunder, lightning, and falling rock, I could hear an occasional scream. I did my best to calm them, but I'm sure some of the ladies probably soiled their linen.
On another occasion, this time in 1946, I had the Mayor of Philadelphia and his group of friends and staff - a truly great crowd. We stopped at the top of Logan Pass and the Mayor broke out some jugs full of martinis, while a female member prepared some very fancy hor dourves. Everyone enjoyed the trip, driver included.
Also in 1946, as a senior driver, I was selected to take an Italian Countess and her secretary through the Park. I was taunted by other drivers who were envious of my assignment - they needn't have had concern.
Waiting at G. P. Station (East) I stood waiting for what I thought would be two lovely women - they must have walked right past me. Later, on introduction, I found that the Countess was not a "fair young lady", and her secretary was a white Russian male, wearing perfume! I had them for four days, giving them the deluxe tour, but they seldom conversed in English (both fluent), and my tip, I believe, was $5.00! So much for royalty.
One last item. During my watch, we listened to the greatest music the earth will ever hear - the big bands of the 40s - and we knew how to dance!
by Dick Schwab (MGH 1948-1952)
The most unique sound to be heard in the lobby at Many Glacier Hotel was the loud and high-pitched voice of Sid Couch announcing the departure of the red tour buses of the Glacier Transport Company. There is no way of characterizing in prose the peculiar timbre of Sid's voice. It was more than simply high-pitched; it had a sharp, almost tinny overtone which I have never heard from anyone else. Sid Couch was a middle-aged schoolteacher from California, and his special domain included scheduling the gear jammers and the buses and everything else that had to do with the arrival and departure of the buses. He was very competent at this and spent a good deal of time at the transportation desk and on the entry porch. Even when he was not making an announcement, his conversational voice had a penetrating and strange sound. He was a small, round-faced man, with glasses so thick they made his eyes look huge and frog-like. It was rumored that they were ruined when he was fighting in the smoke to save the hotel during the 1936 forest fire. I think he had dark glasses on most of the time. He always wore a suit and the kind of brimmed fedora hat common in the thirties.
Although he was legally blind, amazingly he reported that he actually drove back and forth to his school in the terrible Los Angeles traffic. He could never have passed an eye test for a driver's license, but he said he had a way to find out what the letters projected on the wall were at his Department of Motor Vehicles office so that he could always memorize them and get through the test.
In spite of his having the prickliest temperament in the Lobby when he was irritated, he was usually cheerful and friendly; and I admired his conscientious and exacting dedication to the operation of the complex mechanism of the transportation system. Sometimes now when I am in the Lobby it occurs to me that I would like to hear that curious piping voice ring out again. It was part of a scene about which I have very good memories.
by Bill "Deacon" Trimble (1961 -1966)
In 1961, 1 spent my first summer in Glacier Park. I learned of the bus driver position from a fraternity brother (Van Price) who had worked there the previous year. I immediately became enamored with the park, and it became a focal point of my life for several years. This was the first year of the Don Hummel ownership of Glacier Park, Inc. Lyle McMullin was the manager of the Glacier Park Transport Co. which Mr. Hummel now owned.
The busses were still "original" but I had no difficulty learning to "double-clutch" as I had driven tractors and farm trucks for many years. Van Price was the trainer for the new drivers that year. He warned us that the passengers (peeps) might ask some funny questions during our tours. Sure enough, on my very first tour I was asked, "Who put all the colored rocks in the stream?"
The "old timers" told us stories about the good old days when the Great Northern was running the place. The Transport Agents included two who had been there for many years - Ino Belsaas at Lake McDonald and Bob Haase at Many Glacier. The young agents that year were Jimmy Nichols at Glacier Park Lodge and Bob Jacobson at the Prince of Wales.
The busses were still in remarkably good shape in those days-thanks to the mechanics, Breck Stevenson and Louie Andersen. Both lived in East Glacier all year and worked on them during the winter. However, I do remember Breck "growling" about a driver who got a little too close to the wall along Going-to-the-Sun Road and the right running board was bent upwards in a 45 degree angle. And Louie would complain when a driver failed to check his gas with the dipstick in the tank and ran out miles from the station.
At the beginning of the season, each driver had to wax his bus. I don't recall any complaints about this as everyone was full of enthusiasm. As summer rolled on, the daily washing of their bus wasn't always so much fun if the driver was in a hurry to meet his "friend." By far the worst job was the end of season "steam cleaning" on the rack outside the garage at East Glacier.
Some drivers would negotiate with the gas boys to do some of those tasks for them. I remember several very good workers who serviced the busses such as Mike Buck and Jim Sterrett at East Glacier and Clyde Bremer and Bill Heath at Many Glacier. We still had a garage at Many Glacier in those days. In later years, Mike drove busses and trucks out of the warehouse.
I worked as the agent at Many Glacier the last few weeks of 1962 when Mr. Haase had to attend a college summer school session to maintain his teaching credentials. In 1963, I was the agent at Glacier Park Lodge. That winter Lyle McMullin resigned from the company and moved to Visalia, California. Mr. Tippet (and Mr. Hummel) then hired me to be the Transport Manager. Being 24 years old and single, I was more than happy to return to Glacier Park with a full time job. When I arrived in March, 1964, the snow was deep and the temperature was cold. I remember one morning when the thermometer registered 35 degrees below zero. After that, I agreed to spend the next winter in the Tucson office with the others of the permanent staff.
Hiring the drivers, training and supervising their behavior was a new experience for this young manager. The vast majority were really good guys and didn't cause any problems. I always worried a little as I remembered my days as a driver and agent when a few showed up for "line-up" in the morning with bloodshot eyes and sun glasses. I knew they had had a rough night.
Some were better than others when it came to giving tours. They appreciated the history of the park, geology, Indian legends, etc. Among the best were Dino Natta, Neil Scott, Jim Shore, Roger Tointon, and Dick Ilicks to name just a few. Tointon was a mountain climber and spent most of his off hours hiking and climbing.
Another driver had a little trouble relating the story of Chief Mountain. During our training (and in the books) we were told about the Indian legend of climbing the mountain to seek a "vision" etc. After telling the story, we often ended with the names of others who climbed the mountain in more recent times. Among those well known persons was Henry L. Stimson who later became President Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of War during World War II. This jammer (who will remain nameless) told his version of the story that ended with Franklin Roosevelt climbing the mountain! When another driver subsequently learned of this, he came into my office laughing and wanted to know how Roosevelt was able to climb the mountain in his wheelchair. Needless to say, some remedial training was implemented.
My first summer as manager was full of excitement as 1964 was the year of the big flood. The bridge over the Two Medicine River was washed out as well as spots into Many Glacier and along Going-to-the-Sun Road. Our schedule was revised for several weeks.
In the early sixties, we had end of the season "Great Northern Spectacular" tours which required every bus and driver we had. Also, 1962 was the Seattle World's Fair which brought a large number of tourists to the park. That year, drivers spent a lot of time "dead-heading" to either East Glacier or Belton to meet the train for another tour.
In 1965, we started contacting various companies to ascertain their interest in repowering the buses. A small number were sent to Great Falls where a new motor and transmission was installed. I believe one was done by the International Harvester dealer and one by the Chevrolet dealer. These were to be tested and evaluated for a few seasons to determine if either was feasible. The original motors and transmissions were not going to last forever, and replacement parts were no longer available. Perhaps someone else can continue from this point and advise how the re-powering of the buses continued. I visited with a driver last summer (1998) and noted the bus he was driving had a Ford motor and AUTOMATIC transmission. The current drivers don't know what they're missing-not having to double clutch those old transmissions.
I have nothing but fond memories of my days in Glacier Park. The beautiful country, the caliber of employees Mr. Tippet hired for the hotels, the many friends, the wonderful hikes, etc. all combine to make it a very important part of my life and something I will always cherish.
In 1966, I left the company to begin a career in law enforcement. I retired 30 years later as a deputy chief with the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department. I am now able to return to the park for more frequent visits.
by Keith Pearson (1975-1977)
Harry Wood, a good jammer buddy, was deadheading (an empty bus) from Many Glacier to Lake McDonald one afternoon when he decided to stop for a piece of pie at the Rising Sun Coffee Shop. As he was sitting at a table eating some pie and drinking coffee, three really rough motorcycle guys came in an sat near him. After a short while they got up, came over to his table and started harassing him. They squirted ketchup on his white shirt, spilled salt in his coffee and made a mess with coffee creamer packets.
Harry isn't the type of person to get "riled" very easily. He just waited until the three thugs were finished, got up, paid his bill and left. Soon the waiters came over to the table where the three motorcyclists were sitting. One of them said to the waiters, "He ain't much of a man, is he?" The waiter said, "He isn't much of a driver, either. He just drove over three motorcycles in the parking lot."
This story is a joke (although Harry is a real jammer), and it illustrates the tradition of "jammer jokes" that has flourished in Glacier over the years. I got many laughs with this tale while driving groups over Going-to-the-Sun Road.
by Bill Schade (1961-62; 1999)
My father, Fritz Schade, worked at Glacier Park in the '20s while he attended college and medical school.: He was a bellman at Many Glacier Hotel. He encouraged me to work at Glacier Park while I was in college. I did so. I was a jammer the summers of 1961 and 1962.
It's not the splendor of the park I remember most, not the crisp coolness of those early summer mornings in the open bus. It's not those repetitive trips up and down curving roads next to steep drop-offs on Going-to-the-Sun Road, nor all those trips to fetch passengers at the train station at West Glacier. It's not even the sounds of straining engines and grinding gears.
What I remember most is the fun of interacting with my passengers, all different, but all coming to see the wonders of the park and to have a good time. Although Glacier's staff trained jammers to deliver appropriate narratives along their routes, I never could resist lacing my daily presentations with jokes.
My jamming summers were close to 40 years ago, so some of the jokes lodged in my memory aren't quite politically correct these days. Remember the island in St. Mary Lake along the Going-to-the-Sun Road? "It's called Paradise Island," I'd confide to my passengers, "because no woman has ever set foot on it!" The men would laugh and some of the women would make theatrical groaning sounds, but most of the tourists seemed genuinely amused by the corny joke.
All jammers recall how nervous some passengers became as we wound along narrow roads with steep drop-offs on Going-to-the-Sun Road. I figured a little humor would ease the tension and used two jokes to accomplish this. On the west side of Logan Pass, I would point out an old yellow road maintainer parked in a valley so deep it looked like a yellow speck. "That's the bus I was driving yesterday," I said, implying that the vehicle had tumbled over the edge. Further along the route, I'd say "If this makes you nervous, do what I do while I'm driving. Just close your eyes. I do and it helps!"
While driving to Many Glacier Hotel, I'd feel compelled to tell passengers that the park staff had been diligently searching for a little Indian boy named "Falling Rock" who'd become lost in the park. Then, just around the next bend shortly before arriving at the hotel, I'd point a yellow warning sign "Watch for Falling Rock." "See, we're still looking for him."
Working at Glacier National Park is a tradition in the Schade family. Not only did my father and I work there, both of my children did. My son, Brian, worked as a bellman at East Glacier the summers of 1988 and 1989. He was a jammer for half of the summer of 1990. My daughter, Suzy, was a waitress at Many Glacier Hotel the summers of 1989 and 1990. While there, she met her future husband on the job. Their wedding was on Lake McDonald on August 6, 1994. The park allowed us to use Bus #94 as part of the wedding, which was the bus I drove in the summer of 1961. It still worked!
Last summer I gave consideration to returning to Glacier as a jammer. I finally decided to do so part-time starting mid September of 1999. It was necessary to go to Glacier Park in early June for training. The buses were the same except they now have power steering and automatic transmissions. [QUARE: Weren't we called "jammers" because of the repetitive shifting?]
Shortly after returning home I received a phone message that all of the buses were taken off the road because of "metal fatigue" suggesting that the jammers worked too hard.
It is unfortunate that the good-old-days buses were taken off the road. It will be very interesting to find out more details about the current problems. Hopefully, repairs can be made and the buses can be returned so that Glacier Park will remain as it was intended to be.