Yellowstone from the backseat of a 37 Touring Bus.

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.

Glacier’s Red Buses

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.

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Standing inside the bus looking toward the back.
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Looking down on the front seat and dash board.

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.

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Looking out the window of the bus, driving through the Park.

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.

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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.

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Here we are at Firehole Falls. I dressed for the special occasion in my new top hat that I found on my trip to Virginia City.

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

 

Vintage postcard of Old Faithful and a yellow bus.
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The Railroads, Yellowstone, & Old Faithful Inn

The Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone, now what does that have to do with a railroad?

Well if it wasn’t for the Northern Pacific Railroad we wouldn’t have the Inn or even Yellowstone National Park. Most lodges in the western National parks were built by a railroad company. The lodges in Yellowstone include, Mammoth, Lake Hotel and Old Faithful Inn. The Lake Hotel is the oldest in the park, constructed in 1898. Now Yellowstone National Park came into existence thousands of years ago with the Yellowstone hot spot and the large magma chamber far below the earths crust. Fast forward to 1870, the Washburn Party was exploring the area of Yellowstone, the name Yellowstone comes from the Indians who named the area for the yellow rock that can be found in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

The Washburn Party is where the so called story of creating a “park” for everyone to enjoy instead of dividing the land for private use. This is the great campfire story that was not told until five years later… One main thing to take from this Washburn Party is that sitting around the campfire during this expedition was a man named, Jay Cooke

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Jay Cooke

who was the financier of the Northern Pacific Railroad. As he sat around the fire and listened to the men talk he knew that the Northern Pacific Railroad (NP) would be building across southern Montana in a couple of years and put them within 60 miles of the Yellowstone area.

In the coming year the Hayden Party came to the Yellowstone and Grand Teton area to study and survey the the thermal features, since this was a scientific expedition.

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William Jackson Photo of the Hayden Party

That party had two extra people on it, Thomas Moran and William Henry Jackson these men where put on the party due to Jay Cooke and the NP influence stating that these men would be a good addition to the party and they were. Moran and Jackson took many photos and sketches of the area. With these photos and eventually the famous painting Moran made helped congress to sign the Yellowstone area as a National Park in 1872.

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Thomas Moran painting of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This would be the first color image of Yellowstone people back east would see.

By 1882, the Northern Pacific Railroad reached Livingston, Montana, and soon they added a spur to Cinnabar, close to the north end of the park. By 1902, their trains reached Gardiner, adjacent to the north entrance to the park. Tourists boarded stagecoaches in Gardiner to continue their trip through the park.

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Northern Pacific train in Gardiner Mt.

The Northern Pacific wasted no time in promoting the new National Park. Many classic advertisements were released by the railroad. Early campaigns featured the park as “Americas Wonderland” and  “Alice in Wonderland”.Image result for northern pacific yellowstone wonderland

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Northern Pacific Poster

Eventually the NP constructed three different hotels, mentioned above. By 1903 the Old Faithful area was in need of a new hotel since the old one was a shack and eventually burned down. Travel to the park was for the wealthy and high class. A train ticket from the east cost $45 in 1900 and most people barely made $40 a month! If you wanted to take the train from the east to Gardiner and stay 5 1/2 days in the park that would cost you $75 which is about $1,256 today. So visitors expected modern amenities when seeing the wild west.

The old faithful Inn replaced the Upper Geyser Basin Hotel, also known as the “Shack Hotel”, which had burned down. The Northern Pacific Railroad, in the form of the Yellowstone Park Association operating company, was required by the terms of its concession to build a new hotel no closer than 1/8 mile of Old Faithful geyser, a stipulation the Yellowstone Park Association observed to the letter. An initial design was prepared by architect A.W. Spalding in 1898, producing a design typical of the time, a turreted Queen Anne style hotel. The design was approved by the Park Service, but construction never started. Mr. Child instead hired Robert Reamer to design a much more radical building with antecedents in the rustic camps of the Adirondacks.

Design work took place in 1902, and construction started in 1903, with work continuing through the winter to open in 1904. The original cost of the Inn was about $140,000, using materials gathered from within the park. The hotel was furnished for another $25,000. Most of the logs came from a location about 8 miles south of Old Faithful, where a temporary sawmill produced boards as needed. Stone came from the Black Sand Basin and from a site along the road to Craig Pass about five miles to the east. The unusually-shaped log brackets were collected from the surrounding forests.

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Inside the main Lobby of Old Faithful

The Inn was complete for opening season of 1904 only becasue of the hard work put forth by a crew from the bridge department of the Northern Pacific. This crew knew how to hoist the heavy timbers into the rafters of the hotel since they were used to erecting large trestles to span rives and canyons for the railroad. This was an all exclusive hotel and you were only allowed in if you had a reservation. Each night at 10pm the front door was locked and if you arrived late you better be able to show your paper reservation or you were not let in. This was due to the many stagecoach robberies that took place in the early days of the park.

Most you may have walked into the Inn many times and might not have noticed the front door is painted red and black. This is because the NP main colors were red and black and they were the ones who built the Inn, giving a little subliminal advertising.

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My girlfriend, Christina standing in the door way of the old Faithful Inn.

Due to the foresight of the Northern Pacific with protecting the Yellowstone area a National Park was formed and service to the new park brought hundreds of people to a remote area. The Northern Pacific set standards for other railroads to follow when Great Northern, Union Pacific and Santa Fe started servicing other national parks they too built wonderful beautiful lodges that are now famous and much loved by all.

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Northern Pacific Railroad Poster advertising Yellowstone.

Historic Bus Keeps Rolling Along!

For the past 81 years this International School Bus has been rolling along the country side past houses, farms and fields. This is the first thing kids saw in rural America in the morning heading for school and with great joy watched it roll away each afternoon after dropping them off back at home. Life was simpler in America in the 1930s while also difficult for most people. The dirty 30’s were called that for a reason, After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the largest stock market crash in American history, most of the decade was consumed by an economic downfall called the Great Depression that had a traumatic effect worldwide, leading to widespread unemployment and poverty. The 1930s also saw a proliferation of new technologies, especially in the fields of intercontinental aviation, radio, film, and school buses.

School buses before the mid 1930s were made from old utility trucks called “Hacks”. These hacks were used from police wagons to hauling kids around, kid hacks. By the 1930s school bus manufactures started using all steel construction for the bus frame since before most of the buses and hacks were made with a wood body. One such manufacture of bus bodies that were mounted on truck frames of the era was Hicks Bus Body Co. of Lebanon, Indiana. IMG_0591The Hicks Bus Body Co. was one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of school bus bodies, ranking 5th in total production at the start of the Second World War; its major competitors being Wayne, Blue Bird, Carpenter, Thomas and Ward. During the 1930s Earl M. Hicks designed, developed and patented several bus-related inventions, one of which was one of the first driver actuated remote school bus stop signs.

Now Hicks would build on whatever chassis desired by the customer in this case with cover photo of a International D30 truck. The school bus business was a highly seasonal enterprise, with four months on, then eight months off. Most school boards and superintendents put off ordering any new buses for the coming school year until the very last minute,  typically in April or May but demanded the vehicles be ready in time for the upcoming school year. Consequently many Hicks employees were part-time farmers, relying upon their bus building income to tide them over during the hot summer sabbatical.

An unfortunate rise in fatal school bus accidents resulted in an April 1939 conference in New York City where representatives from all 48 states gathered to develop a set of national standards for school bus construction and operation. The symposium was chaired by Frank W. Cyr, a Columbia University professor and a former superintendent of the Chappell, Nebraska school district.

The conference was attended by representatives of the bus body industry and at the end of the 7-day event the group released a list of minimum standards and recommendations. Among them were specifications for type of body, length, ceiling height and aisle width and color.

To determine the right color for the school bus strips of different colors were hung from a wall and the participants in the conference slowly narrowed down the colors until three slightly different shades of yellow remained and it was here that National School Bus Chrome became the chosen shade with slight variations allowed as yellow was a difficult color to reproduce exactly. Yellow had been decided upon because it provided good visibility in the semi-darkness of early morning and late afternoon.

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1937 International D30, School Bus. I am the current owner of this marvelous vehicle.

Fast forward to June of 2017, I started maintaining this 1937 International School Bus, pictured above. A good friend of mine, Doug Rutan had been the driver of the bus for the past 20 years and was willing to let me not only drive it but also keep it at my place to work on it.  This particular bus lived its life in the Twin Falls County of Idaho transporting kids to one of the small farming towns in the county. Eventually school buses progressed in design and safety and the bus was sent to the junk yard. One wintry day in 1998 Doug Rutan noticed the bus in the junk yard and wanted to bring it back to where he lived to have it restored and on display at the Meridian Historical Society.

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Bus before restoration in 1998.

After a couple months later the bus was brought back on a trailer and restoration began. The Bus was restored between 1998-2001 by the Meridian Historical Foundation. The Meridian Historical Foundation and the West Ada, Boise and Kuna school districts pitched in help and money for the project.

The bus was rebuilt, rust removed, holes welded shut, body painted and interior completely redone. The project was funded, in part, with a $3,000 grant from the Idaho Heritage Trust, along with $5,000 from the Boise School District, and $1,500 from the Meridian Historical Foundation. Students from the Boise, Kuna and Meridian districts volunteered their time to restore the Bus. The Kuna FFA Chapter designed and fabricated 12 new seats for the Bus based on the original.  Students at the Dehryl A.Dennis Professional-Technical Center did much of the bodywork along with students at Boise State University.

The School Bus made its debut at the Kuna Days Parade in 2001 and since then has seen many more local parades and car shows. Since I started working on the bus it is now running better then ever with new spark plugs, oil, and belts. After 20 years it was time for a service. Soon the bus will be converted to 12 volt system since its still running the old 6 volts. After about a year of running the bus I acquired the bus out rite in April of 2018. I am a proud owner of a very rare school bus since its in its original condition still. I have been able to take it to many car shows and cruises and it wins awards anywhere it goes. It is a joy to drive and take out. Thanks to Doug Rutan and his efforts to restore this vehicle it can now be enjoyed by kids and adults alike for many years to come. I now carry the torch and am proud to keep the bus running.

Thank you Doug for giving me this opportunity…

Here are some facts about the bus:

  • The Bus is an International D-30 truck built in 1937 with a Blue Diamond Flat Head six cylinder motor.
  • The top speed is 30mph and has no power steering and must be double clutched to shift gears.
  • The school bus frame was constructed by the Hicks Bus Body Co. of Lebanon Indiana and mounted onto the truck frame.
  • The bus was built two years before the official School Bus Chrome, Yellow was mandated.
  • This particular bus operated in Twin Falls County, Idaho for most of its life. It is uncertain which school district used this bus.

Historic Nevada City

Day two of my weekend adventure to Virginia City, Mt. included a ride on the 3ft. narrow gauge train to Nevada City just a mile down the road from Virginia City. Now a train never did come into either town as by the time a railroad built from the main line at Whitehall, Mt. down to Sheridan most of the riches had played out in Both Nevada and Virginia Cities. Many years later in the 1980-90s a small railroad was put in for fun by the wealthy Mr. Charles Bovey. Now Mr. Bovey was an only child and loved history and trains. His wealth came being part of the formation of General Mills. Charles Bovey collected many old buildings from all around western Montana and bought up buildings in Virginia City creating a time capsule of history. Unfortunately Mr. Bovey’s only son was not interested in the history and more into the night life and party lifestyle. His son did not have any kids of his own so once his father died the up keep of the buildings collected by Mr. Bovey and put on display at Nevada City fell into disrepair and finally the son donated the entire land holdings to the state of Montana. When his son passed away there were no more family member’s or even money left to go to the museum.

The train ride was idea of Mr. Bovey and not only did he collect small narrow gauge rolling stock but also full size standard gauge passenger cars and box cars. The small yard and engine house in Nevada City is a quaint step back in time for railroad buffs such as I.

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Engine House

The train between the two towns leaves every hour and you can get admission to the museum in Nevada City and ride the train, a great deal! IMG_4806The ride only takes 20 minutes and is narrated. Once arriving in Nevada City you have one hour to look around, definitely not enough time to really see everything, but in this day and age an hour is enough since people just walk through everything. If you wish to take more time you can get your train ticket rescheduled or come back with your car. (I spent two and half hours).

Before going into the museum across the street I explored the end of the line and yard area for the train. There are a line of vintage passenger cars dating over 100 years old along with a Milwaukee Road and Great Northern passenger cars. At the official end of the line is the engine house with a full size steam locomotive that used to run on the line between the two towns. Unfortunately the boiler has a crack in it and at this point it will never run again.

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1910 Baldwin Locomotive

Across from the railroad is the living history museum of Nevada City. Most buildings on the complex were moved to the area and set up in a town fashion. Only one house is original to Nevada City and is only there because the lady who was born and raised in the house refused to sell out to the dredging company. She would later die in the house and because of her actions she saved her house and the old town of Nevada City from being obliterated by dredge mining.

Nevada City Museum, photo of the main street above the post has a collection of preserved historic buildings from the first school house in Montana to blacksmiths shops and sheriff office and a two story outhouse! The first building you enter when coming into the complex is a room filled with player pianos and 1900’s musical organs. Most of them still work and for a quarter or two you can listen. One of them was used in a dance hall while others were for carousels in fairs or amusement parks. Ill do a separate post just about the Gavioli organs since Mr. Bovey bought the entire four story building in New York and brought all the contents to Nevada City.

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Vocalion Reed Organ Ca. 1890s

If you would like to hear one of the organs play click here: Listen to the Organ      

In Nevada City there is a small rustic hotel that you can stay at along with a sweet shop and small cafe. Overall you can spend a day and pack a lunch and explore the complex and sit on the front porch of the old house and just enjoy a relaxing afternoon. Both towns are quite and dont get that many tourists. A great escape from the hub bub of Yellowstone. I finally packed up and left Virginia City around 4pm for home, a perfect little get away for the weekend.

Montana’s Old West

I stumbled into Virginia City, Montana after a early afternoon thunderstorm. I knew by the look of things this town still had that old west Montana feel. This was the place where gold fever had run rampant through the valleys and gulches providing men with untold riches and hardships. My weekend in Virginia City would be a perfect get away from West Yellowstone.
Virginia City is located about an hours drive north westerly from West Yellowstone. I had seen the brochures and flyers talking about how Virginia City is a time capsule of the old west. The flyers were correct, all of Main Street has its original stores and businesses. Most of the stores have everything inside them sometimes the owner literally just walked away and left everything as it was. The town was bought building by building in the 1950’s by Charles Bovey and his wife. Mr. Bovey stabilized the old buildings and in time created a time capsule of the old west. There are modern cafes and shops located inside the buildings and Virginia City is still the county seat with a marvelous court house. The town has kept its small town charm and does still have current residences.

To give you some background on Virginia City, gold was discovered on May 26 of 1863 by a group of men returning from a exploration party in the area. William H Fairweather, Henry Edgar, Thomas W Cover, Michael Sweeney, and Harry Rogers found gold nuggets in the creek flowing through Alder Gulch. Once discovering the gold they headed back to Bannock, Montana to pick up more supplies. The towns folk noticed that these men left Bannock broke and little supplies and yet now were eating steak dinners and buying up lots of supplies. When the men five men headed out of town and back to the Gulch half the town of Bannock also followed and the gold rush of Virginia City began. Alder gulch has produced over $100 million in gold. Size in production considered it ranks as the worlds richest placer gold gulches.

Today gold mining is no more and only one mining company is still in the gulch, mostly mining garnets. The town has never been a ghost town being continuously inhabited since 1863. Today it is a living history working town and great place if you want to loose the tourists of Yellowstone. My weekend trip was to spend a night in Virginia City and take the small narrow gauge train to Nevada city which is a full living history museum created by Mr. Bovey.  I arrived by noon time and walked up and down the the main streets checking out the historic buildings. One of the more impressive buildings in town is the old court house.

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Virginia City Court House

The building is still in use as a court house and recently went under restoration. Once climbing up the front steps you walk inside to be greeted on the right side by an impressive staircase that spirals up to the second floor. On the second floor of the court house is the court room and other offices.

 

 

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Front entry of the Court House

Other interesting buildings in town include the hangman’s building and general store. The hangman’s building started construction in 1863 and by January 14, 1864 the building was only partly finished. The log walls were up and a heavy main beam to support the roof has been erected, but there was no roof. On that morning, the vigilantes captured five criminals and were determined to see them punished. A short trial was held in front of the Virginia hotel, diagonally across the street. The men’s guilt was without question in their crimes judge to be devastating nature. The five murderers were marched to the unfinished building. After a period of last requests the death sentence was given. Their lives were not spared and clubfoot George Lane died first, the road agents were placed on the sidewalk in front of the building after the hanging and we’re buried on a boot hill by their friends.

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model of the hanging taking place. You can still see the beam of wood when going inside the building.

A group of men called the vigilantes took law and order into their hands for about seven weeks because the sheriff and his group of men were robbing prospectors of  their gold as they headed out of town. People had, had enough and a group of men formed to stop the “road agents” as these robbers were called. These men called themselves the vigilantes. During a seven weeks that the vigilantes were in charge they hung about 24 men and brought order to western Montana.

Just down the street from the Hangmans building is a general store that has been a general store from its beginnings in the early 1870s. The store sells everything from magnets and postcards to some grocery items and a large collection of reproduction antique clothing. You can find women’s bonnet, Victorian dresses, and old hats. I myself found a top hat and after purchasing such hat I headed back to the car, parked near the train depot at the end of town. I decided to drive Alder creek to explore the area and look for a place to camp that night. I wound up driving in seven miles and found three mine shafts boring into the side of the mountain. Two of them looked in good shape and was able to walk inside one of the mines. IMG_4771As soon as I walked in the temperature cooled and found a long shaft heading strait into the darkness. On the floor of the mine was still logs used to nail down the mine rail. I did not venture too far in as I did not have a good flashlight with me. The other one located not too far from the one I went into, had been mined more recently since a modern day electrical panel was still outside of the portal. This mine had a fence and rock slide in front and I was unable to go inside but from my echo into the mine I could tell it went in a long ways. The dirt road up Alder creek takes you up into the forest and 1,000ft. up. When I was driving up I rounded a corner and startled a black bear which took off running up the hill, I was not excepting that.

After exploring the mines I headed back to town and checked out the point of discovery where those four men found the gold in the creek. The creek area today in and around Virginia city has been destroyed by dredge mining. large dredgers came through the area some of them carving out rock all the way down to the bed rock. These dredgers left behind tailing piles and totally reshaped the creek. At the point of discovery there is a large stone monument talking on the discovery of gold in the creek. IMG_4779The area is easily accessible by car or stagecoach. In downtown Virginia City there is a Wells Fargo style stagecoach that will take you from town down to the creek to see the monument.

I decided to have a dinner in town at the Virginia city café and then partake in an old-fashioned hard scoop ice cream. The town cleared out by the evening time and most the tourists were gone and leaving the quiet Main Street and the old-fashioned glowing lamp street lights. I decided to camp in town in the large dirt parking lot next to the train depot. The next day was going to be exploring Nevada City which is only a mile down the road.

Want to see more photos from the trip? Check out and follow my Instagram page!

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Goin out with bells on

“Ill be there with bells on”, is a common response when a person gets invited to a party. The phrase originated in the late 19th/early 20th centuries and most of the early citations of it suggest a US origin. The meaning of the saying is that you are happy to come to the party and could have additional ornamentation on. Going out with bells on is always a good idea when hiking in bear country and when I set out on my hike last night my hiking stick was adorned with bells. You never want to sneak up on an animal especially a bear.

West Yellowstone as you can imagine is surrounded by natural beauty and wildlife. Just outside most peoples front or back door you can quickly escape into the forest and loose all your cares. It is really great for stress relief until you find yourself startling a black bear or a grizzly bear. If you are a serious back country hiker then you not only carry lots of water but also bear spray. Bear spray is like pepper spray for bears and can deter a charging grizzly bear away form you, saving your life. If you are not a big time hiker but still find yourself on short hikes here and there its best to hike in groups and make noise.

There really is nothing quite like finding yourself in forest where you can hear your thoughts as you rest on a log but when you continue hiking the sound of comfort should come from the bells on your hiking stick.My hiking stick is nothing much but an old branch I found on one of my hikes that had a perfect place for my hand. I attached some old silver bells from my Christmas stash and away I go.38128657_2248771498472376_3882110021323980800_n Last night I found myself following the snowmobile trail that runs north from downtown West Yellowstone out to the Gallatin Mountain Range. The trail runs just behind my place which is the last house before the highway goes up and over into the mountains. I didnt worry about running into any bears in the area being mid July now, but I have seen deer up on the ridge. There is another actual hiking trail behind me called “Fir Ridge Trail” which will take you from the road all the way into Yellowstone National Park and does have bear warning signs posted.

When working and driving 70mph along the main road back and forth to town each day for work you kind of miss the forest. The everyday commute makes things all blend in. I remind myself of where I live with these short hikes as within a few short steps im surrounded by fresh mountain air, aspen and pine trees. The snowmobile trail rides up and over the ridge behind and drops down to follow the main road to Bozeman before riding up again into the hills. During the summer the trail sees few ATV’s, just enough to make two dirt paths for me to walk along. In about 30 minutes I can be up and beyond looking down on where I just walked and seeing over the ridge line and the valley of West Yellowstone.

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Looking South back to West Yellowstone. Far mountains in the distance is the Continental Divide and Idaho.

For this hike I did about 2.5 miles round trip which didnt seem like I had really gone that far. I left at 7:40 and returned by 9:15pm. It was a great evening hike and really did me good, after just completed a 9 hour job sitting all day at a desk checking people in can get tiring and boring after just completing two days of 10 hour shifts (dealing with the public can have its own wears). On my walk I didnt see one animal and not that many mosquitoes, maybe the bells worked. The next time you feel kind meh take hike. It can really be just what the doctor order.

 

“Speak softly and carry a stick with bells”

 

Union Pacific & Yellowstone

For the summer I work at the 1909 Union Pacific train depot that has now been turned into a museum of Yellowstone transportation history. The Union Pacific Railroad serviced the west entrance to Yellowstone for 71 years with passenger and freight. I mentioned passenger service first since the main reason the railroad came to the area was to serve the national park. Passenger trains started arriving on June 11, 1908 and continued every summer season from then on till 1960.

The Union Pacific wanted to get in on the revenue that the Northern Pacific was banking on by servicing the North Entrance to the park at Gardiner, Mt. The UP started their Yellowstone Branch Line in Idaho Falls and ran it through the farming communities of Rexburg and St. Anthony. When the line reached the town of Ashton, Idaho the rails dropped into the Warm River Canyon and proceeded to climb the grade up into the Island Park area. The rails left the gentle farm land behind and entered thick Pondarosa Pine trees. As the line headed for Yellowstone the tracks crossed the Idaho/ Montana border at Reas Pass which is also the continental divide at 7,990ft.

The rails came right up to the park boundary and ended, 107 miles later from Idaho Falls. Here the railroad constructed a depot, baggage building and dining hall. Over the years new buildings and additions to the complex took place such as bunk house and generator building. The town of West Yellowstone started its life at the same time as the railroad in 1908. prior to this the area at best had a stage stop.

By 1926, the UP hired Gilbert Stanley Underwood to design a new larger Dining Hall to serve all the people arriving by train. Underwood’s design of using all native materials from the area became known as rustic architecture. yel8830F741E8C5DA0BDThe new dining hall could seat up to 500 people at one time. Trains from Salt Lake City, Utah departed at 8pm for West Yellowstone and arrived at the dining hall by 7:05am the next day. Here passengers were greeted by the “Beanery Queens” these ladies could dish out fast and efficient service to all who eat in the dining hall. The kitchen, bakery, butcher shop, and scullery could put out 2,000 fresh rolls, 18 prime ribs of beef and 100 brook trout for breakfast and dinner combined. The building still stands and is in all original condition. Its currently open to visitors during the museums guided tours or can be rented for special events.

Coming to the National Park in the early 1900’s were for the rich as train tickets and lodging in the park was not cheap. Once trains dropped you off at the park then you would take a stagecoach or bus into the park. train tickets that included a stay at a lodge in the park could run as high as $75 and when the average person only made at best $40 a month you could see that this area was a play ground for the rich. In 1915, one year before the first automobile entered the Yellowstone the park had just over 32,000 visitors out of that 29,000 came by rail. The railroads were making good money on the tourist trade. Yellowstone Park at one time had five different railroads servicing each entrance to the park. You had Gardiner, Mt., Gallatin Gateway, Mt., West Yellowstone, Mt., Lander Wy., and Cody, Wy. all had railroad terminus’s dropping people off for the park.

Running the railroad from Idaho Falls to West Yellowstone was not easy and the line only saw service from mid March to early November. Between those months the line was snowed shut and each March the “spring Campaign” took place where a rotary snow plow took seven or more days to clear 57 miles of track up and over the pass.img_1633.jpg At the Reas Pass the train crew could see snow as deep as 13-18ft and just over 6ft. in town. Passenger trains rolled into town from mid June through Mid September. By the late 1950s taking the train from Chicago to L.A. would cost $14.50 but most people were coming in their cars which finally hurt business enough to stop running passenger trains. The last train left at the end of September of 1960. Freight trains continued to serve the community of West Yellowstone until that was no longer profitable in 1979. The rails were scrapped out from West Yellowstone in 1981 back to Ashton, ID where they still remain as a agriculture railroad serving the local towns in the farming valley.

Today the former UP complex and buildings are owned and maintained by the city of West Yellowstone. The railroad right of way from Ashton to West Yellowstone has been turned into a ATV and hiking trail. Here and there you can still see remnants of the railroads presence.

The union pacific going to West Yellowstone was the most popular route to Yellowstone national park since it reached the park boundary and because convenient train service was available from so many cities both on the west coast and in the mid west. It was also the last route to provide passenger train service to the park boundary. What was once the only reliable source of transportation to Yellowstone and most western National Parks is now part of the history books as almost no park is served by any railroad today. Make sure to visit the old UP complex in West Yellowstone, Mt. the next time you come to see the park. Without the railroads the parks would not be the way they are now.

Fur traders and tourists, the Grand Tetons

In the vast openness of the west early travelers were the brave and hardy group of men, fur traders. These men came by foot across thousands of miles to trap and collect all kinds of animal furs. These men would be away from “civilization” for months at a time only coming back to sell their goods and collect their payment.The first fur traders to the present day Jackson Hole Valley of Wyoming arrived around 1810. These men were mostly of French descent and would name areas in their native tongue. Now these men had been away from everything including the caresses of the female sex so when the men came over the hills of Wyoming and saw most remarkable heights in the great backbone of America, the Rocky Mountains, they had one thing on Their mind…

In this specific area of the Jackson Hole valley the Rocky Mountains jet up into the air and peak at over 13,000ft. Three large peaks jetted into the sky and were named “Les Trois Tetons” which in french means The Three teats.

These peaks can be seen at a distance of one hundred and fifty miles on a clear summer day. Over 200 years later civilization has come west and with it thousands of people from all over the world still trying to capture the wilds of the west.  I myself along with my girlfriend of four years, Christina drove out to see these peaks and the Jackson Hole valley. I came from the west side of the mountain range in Idaho crossing over Teton Pass at an elevation of 8,400ft. A majestic view of the Jackson Hole Valley  and the town of Jackson lie below. IMG_4006At the pass there is a sign that welcomes you to the cowboy state, Wyoming along with a clever wood sign that announces ” Howdy Stranger Younder is Jackson Hole, The last of the old west”. I think at this point we both felt that this was turning into a exciting trip.

Once we dropped down into the valley we entered the city of Jackson. The town was platted in 1901 and is now famous for its old west feel, shops, and a playground for the rich. Many movie stars such as Client Eastwood have homes here. To give you perspective on how expensive it is to live in the area, a normal house in town can go for over a million dollars. The town may have not come into existence until the early 1900s but the area has a rich history. Starting in the 1870s just to the north Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872. The Hayden Party to the Yellowstone area sent their Snake River Division map the Jackson Hole and the Teton Range. Many names of topographic features not named by the fur trappers come from this survey, including Mount Moran and Phelps, Taggart, Bradley, Jenny and Leigh lakes.

Once we parked the car in downtown Jackson which is not easy as summer time in Jackson is quite busy, we strolled through town and enjoyed the many shops and had dinner. Before the trip I found free campsites above the National Elk Reserve which is located next to town. About a 30 minute drive up a dirt road and we found a spot to camp with a great view of the valley and the Tetons. The next day we headed for Grand Teton National Park which became part of the park system in 1929. Grand Teton is located right next to Yellowstone but only sees half of the tourists. You can visit Grand Teton and actually drive around and find parking, Yellowstone, forget it.

As I stated above, this valley is home to the rich and big time name people with preservation in mind came from the east starting in the 1930’s. The valley of Jackson Hole remained in private ownership until the 1930s, when conservationists led by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. began purchasing land in Jackson Hole to be added to the existing national park. Against public opinion though and with repeated Congressional efforts to repeal the measures, much of Jackson Hole was set aside for protection as Jackson Hole National Monument in 1943. The monument was abolished in 1950 and most of the monument land was added to Grand Teton National Park the remaining part between Grand Teton and Yellowstone became the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Park Way. This way the land was protected but did not have all the restrictions of land use as a National Park would.

The trip through the park turned out great and the weather was clear blue sky making for great viewing of the Teton Range. This area must have been impressive to early pioneers who settled along the headwaters of the Snake River. The area along the front range is grass prairie and spots of pine and aspen trees. The fall is also a beautiful time to visit with spotting of many moose’s and the autumn colors. When visiting the Jackson Hole Valley and the Grand Tetons the tourist can almost feel the majesty of the west and what it could have been like 100 to 200 years ago. The modern day fur trapper now catching photo memories and taking them back home to share with friends the wonders of the old west.

 

 

 

The stars are calling and I must go..

Does anyone really stop and look up at the sky anymore? We work, sleep and drive home each night under it, never fully appreciating. To stop and set everything aside and look up at the sky could be the best thing for all of us. Our ancestors lived by the sky, traveled and harvested by the stars. Now with our ever progressing human race we have turned our heads down form them even washed them from the sky in our city. We have let go something we didn’t know was important.

Go out and find a dark place and just lay quietly staring up. You will find yourself communicating with your inner thoughts. What the past has shown us what the future might be and what is happening now. The stars make me relax and I feel at peace. All the worries we put on ourselves about life and work and pleasing others and how the people on the road can’t drive the right way or fast enough, to only arrive within minutes of each other. When you are with the stars and nature surrounding you, you are one, complete to yourself. It can be a stress relief.

So take time tonight, if anyone would like to sit and look at the stars and talk about anything the stars and myself are waiting.

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