On August 17-18 was Yellow Bus Weekend put on by “Buses of Yellowstone Preservation Trust” at the Yellowstone Historic Center in West Yellowstone, Mt. The weekend included presentations on the White Motor Company touring buses that once ran in the park and a raffle drawing to ride in one of the historic buses in the park. The weekend concluded on Saturday afternoon with that special ride in the all original 1937 touring bus. Of course I had to be on that trip and was fortunate enough that my co-worker filled my shift so that not only I could go but also Christina.
What makes the Yellowstone Buses so special is that most of them still run in the park today, unfortunately the ones operated by Xanterra have been totally restored and altered by Ford Motor Co.. There is a small fleet of tour buses dating from the 1920s into the 1930s still running in there original condition. Meaning they still have no powering steering, 6 Volt electrical and stick shift. During the summer months at the museum a 1938 White Motor Company bus is displayed and I am lucky to be able to drive it each day to and from the museum. The bus fleet for Yellowstone was built by White Motor Company in Cleveland, Ohio. The company started building buses in the 1930s, White produced 500 of their small Model 706 buses specifically designed to carry passengers through the major National Parks of the western US. The distinctive vehicles, with roll-back canvas convertible tops, were the product of noted industrial designer Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, and originally operated in seven National Parks.
Today, Glacier National Park operates 33 of their original 35 buses, where they are referred to as “Red Jammers”, and 8 (of an original 98) have been restored for renewed service in Yellowstone National Park. Glacier National Park’s 33 buses were refurbished by Ford Motor Company and TransGlobal in 2000-2002, while Yellowstone National Park’s eight buses were refurbished by TransGlobal in 2007. Glacier has kept one bus in original condition. Yellowstone has five White buses in original condition, two model 706s and three older units as well. In addition, Gettysburg National Battlefield operates two of Yellowstone’s original buses.
Along with the 1938, 706 model on display at the museum the The Buses of Yellowstone brought another 706 model built only a year earlier in 1937. This Bus along with the other is in art deco style and has a long bold horizontal black stripe running the length of the body and a black oversized teardrop rear fenders are in contrast to the yellow body and chrome radiator shell, bumpers, and door handles.
The bus has a six-cylinder engine which were the latest from White and featured 318 cubic inches and could climb a hill in the Park in 3rd gear! The engine underwent some modification after 1936 but remained essentially similar through 1939.
Each of the four seats has a grab handle and a roof bow support bar for passengers to hold as they stand to view scenery through the open top. Behind the fourth seat, yet separate from the luggage area, are two compartments where the driver could keep tools, personal belongings, and blankets, and yes we had classic plaid blankets on our trip into the park!
So, about the special trip into the park. We left at 3pm with one full bus of 11 people, each seat can hold four people. We first looped downtown West Yellowstone so everyone could stand up and experience what it was like going through the park back when, unfortunately today the Park service does not allow you to stand up while in a moving vehicle even if it is a historic bus. The top speed of the bus is 35mph, which is a perfect cruising speed to allow you to fully enjoy the views of the park. With the canvas top rolled back you could look way up and see the tall mountains and canyon walls.
The trip took us up to Madison Jct. then over to the original road which is now Firehole Canyon Drive along the Firehole River. The road is now a one way road as it is only wide enough to have one direction of cars. Once we were on this one way road we were able to stand up as there was no park ranger around to bust us and give us a ticket and really got a feel for what it was like and boy did the early tourists to the park have it made. This was really the way to see Yellowstone.
Our ride did stop at a couple of locations, one was Firehole Falls and another along the Firehole River. We even made it over Gibbon Falls and thats when the rain moved in so the canvas top was rolled back over. Not only did we get to stand and look out but also got the warm and cozy feel of the top on the bus as well. Over all the trip lasted 3 hours and was quite the experience.
Everyone on the trip had a grand time and a Big thank you goes out to Buses of Yellowstone Preservation Trust for preserving these buses and taking the public through the park today. Also thank you to Don and Leo who were our drivers and keepers of the bus, you guys do a great job and bring smiles wherever you go!
The Trust is located out of Red Lodge, Mt. and they host private and public rides over the Beartooth Highway. If you would like to learn more about the Trust follow this link and help them out by donating to their cause! Yellow Bus Preservation Web Site