Yellowstone's Yellow Buses
Progress is good, but how it's achieved isn't always good.
Take, for example, the return of the "yellow buses" to Yellowstone National Park. Back in the 1930s the White Motor Co. rolled out a fleet of 14-passenger touring buses for a number of national parks, including Yellowstone and Glacier.
While Glacier held onto its famed fleet of "Red Jammers," Yellowstone's yellow buses pretty much disappeared from the landscape by the early 1960s as train travel declined and personal automobiles carried families on their vacations.
A dose of nostalgia has brought a handful of "yellow buses" back to Yellowstone, but they've been refurbished and modified in a way that, while environmentally much more sound than their forefathers, has lost the classic lines of the original buses.
In a word, you could say the new version is ugly.
I'm not alone in my opinion of the updated model. John Mueller, a Billings, Montana, auto restorer, helped bring some of the yellow buses up to snuff, but wasn't particularly happy about how he had to do it. Mueller told the Billings Gazette earlier this year that he tried to talk Park Service officials into fully restoring the eight old buses they had obtained, but his arguments fell on death ears.
"Once they chop the eight we can never get them back again," he told the newspaper. "They're gone."
As you can see from the picture above, the new versions are nothing like the originals, one of which you can glimpse in the background. (The Red Jammer below gives you a better idea of what the original yellow buses looked like.) The restoration work involved lifting the shell of the old buses off the original White Motor Co. frame and fitting it onto a new Ford chassis. But you don't see much of the original shell, sadly, as it was cut up to allow installation of large windows on the sides and roof and to enable the buses to be ADA compliant.
If you ask me, Glacier officials, helped by a sizable grant from the Ford Motor Co., got it right when they ordered the refurbishment of their 33 Red Jammers. Not only do they retain their classic lines and appearance, but the engines have been updated to use cleaner-burning propane that makes the fleet 93 percent cleaner than the originals.
Plus, when you're touring Glacier in one of these beauties, if the weather is nice the driver rolls back the canvas top and the views spill practically into your lap while the wind tussles your hair. That's something Yellowstone's yellow buses can't duplicate.
Granted, it would have cost Yellowstone and Xanterra Parks and Resorts, the concessionaire that is operating the tour buses, quite a bit more than they paid to return the yellow buses to Yellowstone's byways in more of their original appearance. But, as John Mueller said, once the chopping began, the original buses were lost forever.