More than a half century ago, Bill Trimble showed up for his summer job in Glacier National Park and took the driver’s seat of a red bus.
It was a life-changing experience for the young Missouri man.
That summer job gave way to a 30-year career as a Kansas City police officer, but Trimble never quite got the romance of the “Reds” out of his system. When he retired, he got his old summer job back and now spends every summer shuttling visitors around Glacier Park.
“I started driving this same bus when I was a 21-year-old college student,” said Trimble, now 72.
It was 1961, and Trimble was anxious to find a better summer gig than his previous laborious summer job of setting railroad ties by hand for the Rock Island Railroad. His roommate at Northwest Missouri State University suggested Trimble vie for a job as a red-bus driver as he had done.
Once Trimble saw the splendor of Glacier, there was no turning back.
“I was enamored by the beauty,” he recalled. “I was young and maybe a little bit naive.”
In those days drivers for the fleet of 33 red buses were largely college students, strapping young men who could handle the four-speed nonsynchronized transmission that forced them to double-clutch the gears.
Drivers to this day are called “jammers,” a term that carries over from the days when they could be heard jamming the gears as they drove up and down Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Although Trimble comes from flatter terrain, the mountains didn’t intimidate him for a moment. He took to driving his red bus like the proverbial duck to water.
In the early ’60s drivers were called on to entertain passengers by telling jokes. These days it’s a different story.
“Now there’s much more emphasis on the quality of the narrative,” he said.
Trimble’s polished presentation informs visitors about the park’s many features. His eyes are trained to spot wildlife, often long before his passengers do.
“There’s a mountain goat,” he exclaimed during a tour last week, pointing to the animal a ways off in the brush as excited passengers readied their cameras.
Trimble spent six summers driving the Reds in his youth until his law-enforcement career kept him anchored in Kansas City. He kept coming back to Glacier, though, and when he saw in the early 1990s that many of the drivers were older and retired, “it planted a seed.”
If those older drivers could handle the buses, surely he could, too. So when he retired as deputy police chief, Trimble wasted no time in getting his old summer job back.
By then the red buses looked the same, but to his delight had been upgraded with automatic transmissions, power steering and power brakes.
Built by the White Motor Co. of Cleveland, Ohio, in the late 1930s, the Model 706 buses — about 500 were manufactured — were spread among several national parks and were painted to each park’s specifications, Trimble said.
Yellowstone National Park’s buses were yellow, while other parks had green buses. After it was decided that Glacier’s fleet would be red, officials sent a jar of ripe mountain ash berries to the manufacturer to match the exact red hue that was desired, he explained.
While most other parks eventually disposed of the aging tour buses, Glacier Park Inc., the main concession contractor in the park, had the fleet of Reds refurbished in 1999 when signs of metal fatigue and other wear were detected. The vehicles returned to the roads after a $6.5 million overhaul.
The restoration was made possible through a partnership between the National Park Foundation’s Glacier Fund and the Ford Motor Co.
The buses now have modern frames and safety features, along with engines that can run on gasoline or propane, but are fueled primarily with the cleaner-burning propane. The 25-foot-long buses are less bulky than they used to be, but they’re still not NASCAR-swift as they average about 11 miles per hour on park roads.
Glossy red, appointed with leather seats and a canvas top that can be rolled back on sunny days, the buses have the feel of early-day motor coaches.
Trimble’s steady demeanor and easy-going personality make him a natural for the tours. It sometimes takes nerves of steel to negotiate traffic on Sun Road.
He’s never had a mishap along the way, but a couple of times each summer the outside rear-view mirror gets knocked off his bus by oversized pickups that are just too wide for the narrow road.
He’s quick to calm any passengers who may be unnerved by the steep drop-offs along Sun Road. One time a man experiencing white-knuckle fear asked to get out and wait at the Bird Woman Falls pull-out until the bus came back down from Logan Pass.
Trimble’s law-enforcement background became an asset for him in 2004 when First Lady Laura Bush visited Glacier. He was the one chosen to train a member of the Secret Service to drive the red bus up to Logan Pass.
“I was informed that a protectee [such as the First Lady] can only be driven by the Secret Service, so I had to train him,” Trimble said. “I took him up the road about three times.”
Trimble hopes to continue driving his red bus for several more years.
“I’ll be here as long as I have good health,” he said.
Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at email@example.com.
When First lady Laura Bush visited the park in 2004, Trimble trained a member of the secret service to drive the bus as he sat in the passenger seat and told stories of the parks history.
The Big Red Bus tours started giving rides to visitors in Glacier National Park in 1936. Bus drivers inform, entertain, and share stories of the parks history.
The Big Red Bus heads down Going to the Sun Road towards West Glacier during a three hour tour up to Logan Pass July 23 in Glacier National Park.
Mount Clements is one of many mountains visible from the Big Red Bus as it heads up to Logan pass on Going to the Sun Road July 23.
The view from the Big Red Bus looking over McDonald Creek from Going to the Sun Road. A number of tours are offered to guests, with room for 17 passengers on each bus.
Beverly Gaussiran of Sun City Center, Fl. and passengers take in the views as the Big Red Bus makes its way up Going to the Sun road in Glacier National Park on July 23. The fleet of 33 Red Buses have been in use since 1936.
Trimble, pictured at 21 years old, became a driver, also known as "Jammer" in 1961. Drivers earned the name "Jammers" because they could be heard "Jamming" their gears.
Big Red Bus tour driver Bill Trimble began driving the bus in Glacier National Park in 1961 when he was 21 years old. Following the summer of 1966 Trimble moved to Kansas City, Mo. for a 30 year career in law enforcement where he retired, and has now returned to the park to once again drive visitors to the park.