Glacier National Park’s iconic vintage 1930s red buses came out of the garage over the weekend to start the summer season. They’re an exciting part of the Glacier experience for many visitors—and even more meaningful to the people who drive them all summer.
"If it was possible or legal I would marry it,” says Cas Holt, a red “jammer” tour driver. “I haven't had much luck with marriage, but I would marry red bus number 91."
Holt is a retired real estate broker from California. In 2012, he traded beaches for mountains and a seat behind a wheel of a red bus.
The tour guides are known as “jammers,” because they can be heard jamming the gears of the manual-transmission vehicles.
“This is my favorite spot in the world,” he says. “I grew up on the beach, but I trade the beach for the mountains now."
And he fell in love with Bus 91.
"She's got some rattles and some shakes and some doors that don't shut tight, and the heater doesn't work all that great, but I know it, I know what I'm in store for every day," he says, "Because her and I are best friends."
Tour operators say this year, the fleet of 33 red buses will take about 50,000 people up the stunning views of Going to the Sun Road.
Transportation Director David Eglsaer says these red buses have been on the road since 1914.
The red bus tour through Glacier was the very first motorized tour in any national park. It began as a hotel shuttle for guests, but expanded in 1936 to take visitors up Going to the Sun Road. In the 1980s, the tour expanded to half- and full-day park tours.
Experiencing the park in the buses—which can roll-back their tops in good weather to allow for an immersive viewpoint—is timeless.
“It's just a great experience to see the mountains sitting down, looking up, without a top, finding your way,” Eglsaer says. “It's one of the reasons why this bus, this style of bus was so popular.”
The buses tour every year for 100 days—then they’re stored in Columbia Falls where the jammers turn into technicians and historians, carefully curating parts to keep the historic fleet on the road.
"What we can fix, we definitely fix. If we can’t fix it, we try and get the exact similar part from a different type of automobile, a Ford or Chevy or something like that, that matches what the whites had in 1936 and alter them to make them fit on the buses."
Even on a day when the jammers were doing some of the more tedious tasks of washing and waxing the fleet—it’s clear they love their job.
Click here for more info on reserving a ride on a red bus tour. The 2019 West side tours run from May 18-Oct. 20, and the East side tours go June 8-Sept. 22.