‘Jammer’ is a moniker for a Red Bus driver in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA.
The term 'Jammer' is a truncation of ‘Gear Jammer’, a moniker for the men and women who provide National Park tours driving the incredible Going-to-the-Sun Road.
The name ‘Jammers’ carries over from the early days when drivers would frequently jam the gears in manual transmissions as they negotiated steep hills on rugged, and often muddy, mountain roads.
In the early 1930s, partially as an initiative to counter the dramatic impact of the Great Depression, the US National Park Service commissioned the White Motor Company of Ohio to build 500 custom tour buses as an attraction to increase tourist participation. The vehicles are classically unique.
Each vehicle seats a maximum of 17 thin, friendly passengers plus the driver and are equipped with a tight-fitting canvas top which can be rolled back to provide amazing overhead views of cliffs, mountains and waterfalls. When these vehicles were first used in National Parks, most of the roads through wilderness areas were not paved. The red buses took a beating.
All of them eventually fell permanently out of service. Between 1999 and 2001, the Ford Motor Company offered to rebuild some of these historic vehicles at their own expense. The restoration cost is reported at $233,000 per vehicle to install a new chassis, engine and automatic transmission. Fuel was changed from gasoline to more environmentally-friendly propane: bodies are restored including new seat covers and the manually operated, convertible, canvas tops.
There are 41 of these historical vehicles remaining. Thirty-three red buses are used in Glacier National Park. Eight are used in Yellowstone National Park and they are yellow.
Past hiking missions to Glacier National Park in Montana, USA have considered the possibility of taking a Red Bus Tour, however, with nearly 750 miles (1,200 KM) of trail to hike, and incredibly good weather, there has been plenty to do just trying to hike the best trails in each park quadrant.
The Red Bus pick-up occurs in the Swiftcurrent Inn parking area at 9 AM. The bus drivers are legendary and gifted raconteurs. Our driver is Richard from Tennessee and he is an amicable wealth of history and information.
The experience chosen is the Crown of the Continent Tour with an estimated duration of 7.5 hours.
The tour travels from the rugged east Many Glacier area, south to St. Mary, west on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, over the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, and down to lunch at the historic Lake McDonald Lodge which opened its doors on June 14, 1914. Weather is less than ideal.
Additional passengers are picked up at St. Mary Lodge and Rising Sun. There are mule deer feeding at the edge of the Rising Sun parking area. In total there are 11 of us comfortably seated plus Richard driving. Blankets and towels are provided. The canvas top is closed for protection from intermittent inclement and cool weather.
Our first stop for views and photos is at Wild Goose Island. The origin of the name is unknown but hopefully it has something to do with birds.
Logan Pass, at 6,646 ft. (2,025 m) is completely socked in. Visibility is less than 100 yards but Bighorn Sheep at roadside provide entertainment. Construction delays along Going-to-the-Sun Road are are brief and well-managed.
Lunch is served at the Russell’s Fireside Dining Room in the Lake McDonald Lodge. Lots of hot food and beverage is consumed to counter the chill of the day.
On the return trip the first stop is a view of pristine, cascading water along McDonald Creek. Rain has stopped so a vote is taken to roll the canvas top back.
Rolling the canvas top back is a manual exercise so Richard does one side and I volunteer to do the other. Climbing on the bus exterior is involved.
There are many, fog enshrouded, mystical viewpoints to enjoy but rain begins again at Logan Pass so the roof canopy must be restored.
In spite of poor weather, the motor tour is an excellent way to productively relax on a non-hiking day. This is the first opportunity to witness the impressive and narrow, twisting, turning Going-to-the-Sun Road with someone else driving.
When driving on this amazing but understandably narrow highway, full attention must be dedicated to the road.
Should you ever have the chance to drive this road, and it is recommended you do, then you will clearly understand the importance of full attention. The traverse through Glacier National Park on Going-to-the-Sun Road is an amazing and memorable experience.
Richard drops passengers off at points of origin and confirms the site of the Altyn Cemetery just before drop-off at the Swiftcurrent Inn at 5:45 PM.
Reams of fascinating, historical information about Glacier National Park has been absorbed. Richard is a fountain of knowledge and the day has been fun. Photography has been challenging.