We love the Red Buses of Glacier National Park.
We signed up for one of the Red Bus Tours early in our stay near Glacier. The International Peace Park Tour would begin at the Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier, MT. Each year between two and three million people visit the Park between the months of June to mid-October.
We commented that had we planned this trip a decade earlier, we probably would have decided to arrive by the Empire Builder, Amtrak's daily passenger train between Chicago and Seattle. East Glacier's train depot still looked majestic and was just a short walk to the Glacier Park Lodge.
Since we had arrived early, we walked around the parking lot of the Lodge. What a thrill to happen upon this classic car and teardrop RV.
I asked the driver, "Do you mind if I take a photo of your beauties?"
"Not at all," he answered.
"You have three of them," I quickly added.
As I walked past the passenger side of the car, the gentleman's wife said in a barely audible tone, "Nice save."
I just smiled.
Then, off to the side of the train depot, I noticed the Red Bus "depot." There must have been a dozen of the Park's 33 Red Buses in this lot. Most of the 17-passenger buses were manufactured in 1936 or 1937, with a few manufactured in 1938, and one in 1939 by the White Motor Company in Cleveland.
The story goes that when the first buses were being ordered, the park manager sent a jar of Mountain ash berries to the company explaining that this was the color that he wanted the buses painted. In 1999, after more than six decades of service, the entire Red Bus fleet was retired because of growing safety and environmental concerns associated with metal fatigue and polluting engines. They were saved from the auction block by Ford Motor Company, which agreed to refurbish the entire fleet at no cost to the Park.
Since every bus was a little different, parts had to be made for each unique bus. Total cost to Ford was $7 million. The 18-month refurbishing project consisted of (among many changes) using a Ford E450 camper chasis and developing an engine that would run on propane.
When I mentioned arriving early, we still had time to walk to the Glacier Park Lodge, nestled at the foot of Squaw Peak Mountain, and take some photographs of the lobby.
Upon entering the Lodge, we were wowed by the enormous Douglas Fir trees that surround its majestic lobby and realized why it is commonly called the 'Big Tree Hotel'.
The interior features massive Douglas fir pillars, some 40 inches in diameter and 40 feet tall.
This magnificent hotel, built in 1912, is steeped in history and culture of the Great Northern Railway and the Blackfeet Indians.
Before boarding the Red Bus with Larry Perry, we had time to watch the activity of both travelers and staff. We eagerly anticipated out trip to the Prince of Wales Hotel and Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada.
As I said, we really liked these buses.
Our travel to Canada will follow.