They are as ubiquitous as the beautiful scenery and views seen in Glacier National Park.
The red buses that take people throughout Glacier National Park in Montana have a storied history. The buses have been in service for more than 100 years, starting with their creation by Roe Emery and Walter White, a vice president of the Cleveland-based White Motor Company, which built the red buses.
The iconic red buses were the first authorized mode of motor transportation allowed in the park. Each bus is valued now at $250,000, although they originally cost $5,000 each to manufacture back in 1936, according to Glacier National Park Lodges.
“The fleet of 33 buses in Glacier are widely considered to be the oldest touring fleet of vehicles anywhere in the world,” said Matt Berna, Intrepid Travel president for North America. Intrepid Travel has its guests use the buses when visiting the park. “We want to highlight the human history and heritage of the park when taking in the stunning views of the mountains. The historic buses use an alternative fuel technology, gas and propane, which supports our awareness around our emissions.”
The drivers are called “Jammers” because they could be heard “jamming” the gears of the red buses going up Going-to-the-Sun Road when the buses had standard transmissions. Going-to-the Sun Road, an iconic national park landmark, first opened in 1933.
No tours were offered in Glacier between 1943 and 1946 due to fuel rationing because of World War II. From 1914 through the 1970s, the drivers were college-aged men. The first female red bus driver in Glacier National Park was in the 1980s.
“The rolltop roof allows for more visibility while seasoned park veterans share their insights and history with the riders,” Berna said. “Since the Going-to-the-Sun corridor is often impacted by heavy traffic, we decided to enhance the experience with the red bus.”
Of the 33 buses on the road today, 17 are from 1936, 11 are from 1937, 4 are from 1938 and 1 is from 1939. On average, the red buses transport 60,000 tourists each summer through Glacier National Park.
In 2016, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell traveled to Glacier National Park and rode a red bus to kick-off the National Park Service’s 100th Anniversary Celebration.
During the event, Jewell highlighted the effects of climate change on national parks, including Glacier National Park. To that end, Glacier has designed several sustainability initiatives.