Glacier’s red buses to see an overhaul

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A red bus head into the East Side Tunnel in Glacier National Park.

Glacier National Park’s coveted red bus fleet will undergo a complete rehabilitation in the coming years. The first bus is expected to be shipped to Driggs, Idaho, in the next few weeks, said Glacier National Park Lodges general manager Marc Ducharme. The bus will be protected in a special haul trailer.

This year just one prototype bus will be completed. The remainder will be done on a rotational basis each winter, with six or seven buses done at a time so the fleet of 33 buses will always be in service during the tourist season, Ducharme said.

The cost of the work is expected to run between $10 million and $11 million, Ducharme said. The restoration work is part of Xanterra Travel Collection’s contract with the Park Service and the cost is borne by the company.

Xanterra is the parent company of Glacier Lodges.

Legacy Classic Trucks is doing the work, which will include replacing the current Ford engine with a Ford 6.2L V-8 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 as the buses traverse the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

The buses will be remounted on new Ford chassis retaining the existing 176-inch wheelbase, as they were with the previous restoration. The tire size will be expanded from 16 inches to 19.5 inches to approach what it was historically.

Also gone are the ugly standard Ford dashes — the new 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 White Motor Company Model 706 red buses were originally manufactured between 1936 and 1939, were painted the color of ripe mountain ash berries, and were originally purchased by the Glacier Park Transportation Company.

Glacier Park Inc. the previous concessionaire, decommissioned the entire fleet in 1999 after they were found to have and aging chassis. One frame even reportedly failed while the bus was traveling the Sun Road.

The Ford Motor Co. then rebuilt the fleet. A prototype bus — Bus 98 — was brought to the Park in 2001 and had a V-10 engine that ran on gas and propane. GPI donated the buses to the National Park Foundation, which allowed Ford to rehabilitate the buses as a donation and presumably, a tax write-off.

The foundation, in turn, gave the buses, which were completed in 2002, to the Park Service, which continues to own them. Ford’s rehabilitation cost the company $6.5 million.

During a ceremony celebrating the return of the reds in June, 2002, there was a snowstorm with more than three feet of snow falling in East Glacier Park.

And that V-10 bus? It cost $500,000, but it went back to Ford and was fitted with the standard V-8 engine.

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