It's been a long journey home for the Bruck, but the one-of-a-kind shuttle bus is back where its life began - at the train depot in Whitefish.
Stumptown Historical Society, which invested $20,000 in restoring the combination bus and truck, brought the vehicle home to Whitefish earlier this month and plans to erect a plaque that officially puts the vehicle on the historical walking tour of the resort town.
"It's the only one in existence of 12 Brucks that were built by Kenworth," said Paul Snyder, who spearheaded the restoration project. "There were rumors of one down at Plains," but no Bruck was found there.
With Great Northern Railway's trademark orange-and-green color scheme, the Bruck looked like a train car that had jumped the tracks and sprouted tires. It stood out from the rest of the vehicles on the road when it took its inaugural ride from Whitefish to Kalispell on July 17, 1951.
Faster and more fuel-efficient, the Bruck replaced the popular gas-electric Galloping Goose, the one-coach railroad motor train that transported passengers, mail and freight
from Kalispell to Whitefish and Columbia Falls.
When Great Northern moved its division point from Kalispell to Whitefish in 1903, the railroad still needed a way to shuttle passengers and freight between towns. A "dinky" was used before the Galloping Goose came online in 1923.
Only a dozen of the Brucks were custom-built by Kenworth Motor Truck Corp.; all 12 were used in Montana, Snyder said.
It was a workhorse in its day, Orris Kastella recalled in an earlier Daily Inter Lake interview. He handled railroad baggage and freight for three decades and loaded everything from Nabisco cookies to Sears catalogs on the Bruck. The vehicle averaged six round trips to Kalispell every day until it was put out to pasture in 1972, when Amtrak took over rail passenger service.
Railroaders lost track of the Bruck over time.
It was simply by chance that the aging vehicle was discovered about seven years ago at a salvage yard in Great Falls by railroad buff Larry Hoffman of Michigan. Coincidentally, he was attending a convention of the Great Northern Railway Historical Society.
Hoffman couldn't believe his luck, and word of the Bruck's existence spread to other railroad fans. He died a few months later before he could buy the Bruck, but his wife, Connie, bought the rusty, dilapidated vehicle as a memorial to her husband and donated it to Stumptown Historical Society in 1999. She stipulated that the historical society had to restore the Bruck to its original condition within five years.
Bringing the Bruck back to that original condition was no easy task, Snyder said. It was hauled to Special Effects, a body shop near Columbia Falls, where Roger Shattuck and Chad Taylor spent two years chipping away at the restoration.
Chrome parts were sent off to a firm in Canada for replating. Finding replacement parts was difficult.
"Parts were nonexistent," Snyder said. "We're having to replace some things with more modern parts."
A small swatch of the original wool seat covers was found tucked underneath rotted layers of fabric, allowing restorers to match the color of the original interior.
Snyder is still trying to find replacement lenses for the four clearance lights on the Bruck's exterior. Other small amenities need tweaking, too, he said.
"We're asking for input from anybody with past contact with the Bruck, like drivers, who can give us the historical view," Snyder said. "We'd really like to have some information on the gauges" on the driver's panel.
It's doubtful the engine will be replaced. That would cost another $12,000 or so.
"It's a Hall-Scott engine, unusual in that it's a pancake engine that lays on its side," Snyder said.
It seems the Bruck can't go anywhere without making a scene. A man offered to buy it while it was at the body shop, and now that it's parked at the depot, passers-by are curious about the unusual vehicle.
"When it first got here, there was a guy crawling underneath, looking at the engine," Snyder said.
Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org