At the risk of sounding like Yogi Berra, who was as famous for his illogical (and comical) musings as he was for his baseball prowess, we’re pretty sure that you know the White Motor Company’s Model 706 bus, even if you don’t know it.
How’s that? Well, if you’ve ever visited Glacier National Park, you’ve likely ridden in one. Perhaps you didn’t realize it, for a couple of reasons: White isn’t the best-known automaker in history, and the Whites at Glacier are actually red. (To add further confusion, Whites at Yellowstone Park are—you guessed it—yellow.)
The red 1930s Glacier National Park buses are among the most recognized modes of public transportation in America, and the distinctive fleet is about to get a modern makeover by Legacy Classic Trucks of Driggs, Idaho. Top priority is converting each of the 33 buses to a more environmentally-friendly hybrid system. The restorations will take place during the park’s offseason months, spanning multiple years.
“I’ve ridden in them, and they’re national treasures, no doubt,” says Dave Kinney, publisher of the Hagerty Price Guide. “It’s great to see them being updated once again so that people can recreate a fun part of the park experience that their grandparents had.”
Legacy specializes in restoring and modernizing vintage American vehicles. It has experience working on Yellowstone buses, a Mt. Rainier bus, and more than 100 classic Dodge Power Wagons.
White’s 190-inch-wheelbase Model 706 buses debuted at Glacier National Park in 1936. Of the 35 models that were purchased for use at the popular Montana tourist area, 33 are still in use there. Seventeen were built in 1936, 11 in ’37, four in ’38, and one in ’39. The remaining two buses also survive—one, in its original condition, is on display at park headquarters in West Glacier, Montana, and the other resides four hours south in Anaconda, where it continues to serve sightseeing tourists.
The 706 was designed by industrial stylist Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, in cooperation with officials of the Cleveland-based White Motor Company. White produced 500 of the 14- and 18-passenger buses from 1936–39, specifically for use in seven major National Parks in the western United States. The company closed its doors in 1980.
Each Glacier Park bus is painted red (and black) to match the color of Ripe Mountain Ash Berries found in the park. In addition, they have a roll-back canvas convertible top, right-side-only doors at the end of each seat row (to keep passengers from stepping into traffic), and a six-cylinder engine. The buses are known as “Red Jammers,” with jammers referring to the drivers, who would noisily jam the gears in the buses’ unsynchronized transmissions, which required double-clutching. Kinney says he naturally chatted up one of the jammers during one of his visits to Glacier.
“Back in the day, the jammers took pride in the fact that they were considered adventurous, courageous—kind of like pilots,” Kinney says. “I mean, these buses took skill to drive, and imagine the park roads back in the ’30s. Jammers were pretty cool.”
Each new bus cost about $5000 in 1936, equal to $91,000 today. According to the Glacier National Park website, they have a current value of $250,000 apiece.
“What they have going for them is ‘value in use.’ They’re still being used at their original location in the same way they always have, which makes them pretty much irreplaceable,” Kinney says. “It’s kind of like buying a classic Coke machine that still works. There’s value beyond the object itself, and if it’s in the right location and has specific history attached to it, it’s worth more.”
Legacy Classic Trucks will restore and update each bus with a new Ford chassis and Ford 6.2-liter V-8 engine. The powertrain will be bolstered by a pass-through hybrid electrical system that will increase fuel economy and lower emissions by up to 25 percent. The batteries will be charged through regenerative braking on downhill descents. Other upgrades include retro-looking gauges to give the buses a period-correct appearance, and 19.5-inch wheels, which replicate those on the original 1930s vehicles. The bodies will undergo rust repair and be repainted as needed.
The Glacier Park bus fleet was last updated between 1999–2002, in collaboration with Ford. Since then, each bus has logged between 130,000–150,000 miles.
While Glacier still owns 34 of its 35 buses, Yellowstone Park sold its entire fleet—which once numbered 98—in the late 1960s. In the early 2000s, Yellowstone bought back eight of its original buses and restored them for about $250,000 each. A Yellowstone Model 706 bus sold for $165,000 at RM Sotheby’s Hershey sale two years ago.
“These buses are iconic,” Kinney says. “Other than the park itself, they’re probably photographed more than anything else at Glacier or Yellowstone. If you’ve ridden in one, you certainly remember it.”
In other words, you know the White Model 706, even if you don’t.