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"Jammers" back on the job: after restoration, Glacier National Park buses look like the old ones, drive like new ones. (Industry News).

"There is no more representative symbol of Glacier National Park than these classic Red Buses," said Jim Maddy, president of the National Park Foundation as he witnessed the first of the fleet of 33 striking red tour buses returning to Glacier National Park in Montana in June. These 17-passenger White touring sedans are much more than mere means of transportation for local residents and visitors -- they are cherished, elegant symbols of the park's history. With their multiple doors and roll-back canvas tops, the Whites are as much a part of Glacier National Park as the Going-to-the-Sun Road on which they travel carrying tourists across the Continental Divide.

In the 1930s, the National Park Service developed a program for the production of canvas-topped touring sedans to provide transportation for visitors within national parks. The White Motor Co. built some 500 of these touring sedans for Bryce Canyon, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Mt. Rainier, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion National Parks. Most were retired in the 1950s.

Glacier's fleet of 33 red with black trim vehicles were built by White between 1936 and 1938. Glacier's Whites are considered to be the oldest fleet of passenger-carrying vehicles anywhere. Each one probably has traveled about 600,000 miles over Glacier's roads before they were withdrawn from service in 1999 for safety reasons, but only temporarily.

In 1999, National Park Service issued a General Management Plan for Glacier Park with a key objective, to honor the public's desire to "keep Glacier as it is." This included keeping the Red Buses in service. Indeed, the contract with concessionaire, Glacier Park, Inc., which operates the buses, requires that the buses "shall not be sold, transferred, or physically removed from Glacier National Park or its immediate area without the written consent of the Secretary (of the Interior)."

About the same time in 1999, a complete inspection of the fleet was done after one of the buses lost its front axle when the spring carriers broke loose. Fortunately, it was traveling slowly enough so there was no further damage or injury. The inspection showed cracks in many of the chassis so the buses were taken out of service. Otherwise, the bodies of the "reds" were generally sound. They were replaced by a fleet of 30 Dodge 15-passenger vans. While the vans had the latest amenities, they lacked convertible tops and, of course, the character of the Whites. Both tourists and drivers wanted them back. There was also fear that the buses would be sold to collectors.

The park was faced with a decision. Repairing was not an option because of difficulty in finding replacement parts and fabrication of new parts would be too costly Also a major, $800,000 retrofit project in 1989 included new tubular axles replacing the original drap front I-beam axles that weakened the structural integrity of the front portion of the frame and associated components.

Stresses on the front of the frame and frame components resulted in cracking of the front frame members in many of the vehicles. The 1989 project retrofitted the vehicles with power steering, new engines, modern brakes, and automatic transmissions. The latter replaced manual transmissions requiring double clutching, earning the buses their nickname, "jammers," with drivers and local residents. Despite their age and usage, the old buses' sturdy bodies have held up remarkably well and according to experts, without the unfortunate 1989 retrofitting, the jammers might have run another 60 years.

Another option was to replace the entire chassis and reuse the original bodies, highly feasible if a manufacturer could be found -- which turned out to be the Ford Motor Co. The other was to build replica buses with an estimated cost of $120,000 to $130,000 a copy, considerably more than restoring the buses. Ford undertook an 18-month restoration of the buses in 2000 as a participant in the Proud Partner of America's National Parks program, a partnership between Ford, the National Park Foundation, the Glacier National Park Service and concessioner Glacier Park Inc., which operates the park's bus fleet. TDM of Livonia, Mich., was contracted to work with Ford engineers and perform the restoration. One of the touring sedans was kept in as original condition as possible for historical purposes.

During restoration, the original metal skin-over-oak frame body was carefully removed from the chassis and replaced with a Ford E-450 chassis modified to fit. Damaged areas of the body were repaired, cleaned and repainted in the original red and black color scheme. New sheet metal or fiberglass components were blended into the vehicle where needed, such as the fender wells and the rear door. All the door latches were replaced and the plywood floors were replaced with composite aluminum sheeting.

The original carbureted gasoline engine was removed and replaced with a new fuel-injected Ford 5.4 L Triton V8 bi-fuel engine, capable of running on either gasoline or LPG. Operating on clean-burning propane, they are 93 percent cleaner than the original buses. As part of the Red Bus project, Ford helped fund two LPG fueling stations at the park. One is located at West Glacier and will be used primarily to fuel the Red Bus, while the second is located in East Glacier. Both stations will be available for use by other propane-fueled vehicles as well. An all-new exhaust system also was fitted and electronic four-speed automatic overdrive transmission was installed. The brake system was replaced with a production four-wheel disc ABS system.

All windows were replaced with safety glass and external lights were replaced or repaired and brought up to current standards. Passenger and driver seats were refurbished with new comfortable, fire-retardant materials, New padding was added to the handrails on the seat backs. Running boards were replaced, but remained consistent with the original design. Wherever possible, ornamentation was refurbished.

"This has truly been a labor of love on Ford's part," said Sue Cischke, vice president, Environmental and Safety Engineering for Ford. "The level of detail in bringing these buses back has been astonishing, and the fact that we were able to use alternative fuel technology to make them run so much cleaner and quieter than the originals makes it even more satisfying."

Bill Siuru, PhD, PE, is an independent technical journalist based in San Diego, Calif.
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Comment:"Jammers" back on the job: after restoration, Glacier National Park buses look like the old ones, drive like new ones. (Industry News).
Author:Siuru, Bill
Publication:Diesel Progress North American Edition
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2002
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