Glacier National Park’s ‘Red Jammer’ buses are getting a major makeover this year

The iconic red and black tourist buses are being overhauled to reduce emissions—while getting an updated vintage look

One of Glacier National Park’s signature red buses. | Photo: Kelly vanDellen / Shutterstock

For many, a trip along Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road in one of the park’s vintage red and black buses is a bucket list item—but the trusty buses have each logged over 130,000 miles since their last restoration in 1999. With all those miles under their belts, the “Red Jammers” could use a little updating. This year, they’re getting just that.

Xanterra Travel Collection, the concessioner contracted by the National Park Service to operate the buses, has selected Legacy Classic Trucks in Driggs, Idaho to give the fleet a complete overhaul this year.

The 1936 buses, currently fitted on late ‘90s Ford truck chassis, will get an updated stretched Ford chassis along with a Ford 6.2-liter V8 engine with an electric hybrid system. The addition of the hybrid capabilities may reduce emissions by up to 25 percent for the fleet of 33 buses.

In addition to the new chassis and hybrid system, the buses will get some new wheels with a nostalgic design as well as new, retro-themed gauges. And, of course, rust, paint, and all the other basics of the buses will be addressed as well.

The end result? The Red Jammers will look more like they did in the ‘30s, but with all the modern advancements of today—an important step in a park that’s seeing real, permanent damagedue to climate change.

A Red Jammer near Saint Mary Lake in Glacier National Park. | Photo: Nick Fox / Shutterstock

History of the Red Jammers

When Glacier National Park was designated a national park in 1910, less than 500,000 “horseless carriages” had made it to the streets of America. By the end of the 1920s, over 26 million cars were registered in the United States. America’s love affair with the automobile had begun, and with it, our road- and bridge-building abilities reached new heights.

Case in point: Going-to-the-Sun Road.

When the park opened in 1910, it had just a few miles of rough wagon roads, and the primary mode of transportation was the railway, which took affluent guests to luxurious chalets. Officials convinced local businesses and Congress to support a trans-mountain road through the park.

Construction of the road carried through the 1920s and into the thirties until it was finally completed in 1933. Engineering and automobiles had changed over the course of its building, however, and the earliest portions of the road actually had to be rebuilt to modern standards by the end of construction.

Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. | Photo: Zack Frank / Shutterstock

While a modern marvel, park officials quickly realized many motorists were terrified of driving on it. They contracted White Motor Company of Cleveland, Ohio to produce a fleet of buses to be piloted by expert drivers.

White Motor Company wasn’t an unknown entity to the National Park Service—their buses were already in service at Yellowstone, clad in yellow and black just as they are today.

The Glacier National Park buses, however, carried their own color scheme of red and black, and soon became a staple of the park and earned their Red Jammers nickname.

For the next half century, the buses whisked visitors throughout the park, but an update to their power steering in 1989 led to problems for the Red Jammers. The entire fleet was sidelined until a partnership in the late ‘90s with Ford Motor Company led to the buses being remounted on stretched Ford truck chassis.

After 20 years, the Glacier National Park buses are due for another update, and thanks to their continued partnership with Ford Motor Company and Legacy Classic Trucks, they’re getting it.