Glacier’s Iconic Red Bus Fleet to Undergo Rehabilitation

Work will occur each winter for several years on the historic red buses

By Tristan Scott
A jammer takes a passenger's photo during a Red Bus tour in Glacier National Park. Beacon File Photo

Glacier National Park’s iconic White Motor Company Model 706 red buses will begin an extensive rehabilitation this year, park officials announced Nov. 30.

The buses, manufactured between 1936 and 1939, were painted the color of ripe mountain ash berries, and were originally purchased by the Glacier Park Transportation Company.

The rehabilitation will replace the current Ford engines with a Ford 6.2L V8 engine assisted by an electric hybrid system to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. The electric hybrid system will be powered by a battery bank that will charge when the vehicle decelerates including on downhill runs, which are frequent in the park.

The buses will also be remounted on new Ford chassis retaining the existing 176-inch wheelbase, as they were with a previous restoration. Tire size will be expanded from 16 inches to 19.5 inches to approach its historic circumference.

The dashboard and gauges will be replaced with historic replicas. The buses will undergo refinishing including rust removal and painting using the historic mountain ash color at a later time.

“The improvements will ensure that the fleet continues to operate in Glacier National Park for the foreseeable future, with improved safety and serviceability, while retaining the same visitor experience in the park that has existed for over 80 years,” according to a statement provided by Glacier Park officials.

As the historic buses age, rehabilitation work is required to keep the fleet safe and operational. The custom rehabilitation work is expensive.

The last time a rehabilitation occurred was 1999.

Between 1999 and 2002, the entire fleet was rehabilitated with the assistance of the Ford Motor Co., which invested $6.5 million in the renovation. The 1930s-era bodies were refurbished and mounted on new chassis, with new transmissions, power trains and other components. They also switched to a new clean-burning fuel system, reducing emissions by 93 percent, which qualified the buses as ultra-low-emissions vehicles.

This time, the National Park Service included the rehabilitation as a responsibility in the most recent concession contract that Xanterra Travel Collection was awarded in 2014. Xanterra Travel Collection has selected Legacy Classic Trucks, based in Driggs, Idaho, to do the rehabilitation.

Each bus currently has between 130,000 and 150,000 miles on them since their last restoration (each bus puts on an average of 10,000 miles during the season of summer tours through the park).

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