By Seth Eagleton
In the summer of 2011 one of our guests on the Great Lodges of Glacier Tour was a man named Mr. Bill North. It turns out Mr. North was a Tour Bus Operator for the Glacier Park Transport Company in 1961, which was later purchased by Glacier Park, Inc. Although I have never met Bill in person we were able to visit over the phone as I found out what it would have been like to be employed as a Jammer back in ’61. Bill’s experience “way back when” was intriguing. Just to be clear, the term Jammer was the nickname that was given to the tour bus operators because it was difficult to shift gears in the 4 speed non-synchronized manual transmissions of the Reds and referred to the terrible grinding as they shifted between gears.
|Second floor of dormitory at Waterton. |
We slept in sleeping bags we carried
with us on the bus.
Each night was spent at one of the four hotels in a bunkhouse with the other Jammers who ended their tours for the day at the same location. It was just not feasible to have a married couple in the bunkhouses with a bunch of guys, so the company simply required the position to be filled by single guys.
|My bus getting serviced.|
Bill had worked as a teacher in California for about a year and a half, when he bumped into one of the administration staff members in the school lunch room. The man had previously worked as a Jammer in Glacier National Park and made the suggestion to Bill. He sent in his application but Bill got the impression that he was hired after only the short conversation he had over the phone with the Glacier Park Transport Company. He took a Greyhound bus from L.A. to Montana for a summer which he recalls as one of the most memorable of his life.
In 2000, the Ford Motor Company spent two years refurbishing 33 of the Reds and a few of the differences that Bill noticed were the sizing of the wheels and tires being smaller on the newer versions. Also, the floors used to be made of wood instead of the modern steel floorboards. One other difference is that what is now the rear seat used to be an area used for storage.
|Baggage compartment on buses.|
Now there's an additional seat on them -
with no leg room.
The buses now have an automatic transmission and modern suspension for a much smoother ride. Also interesting, is that the Jammers are no longer required to be single so there are many who are married and return year after year to operate the buses. Bill Trimble, a friend whom Bill North met that summer was the man responsible for Glacier Park, Inc. first considering the idea of hiring married Jammers.
The single jammers didn’t want to stay single, so they usually only stayed on for a year or two. The new policy allows the Jammers to keep coming back and each year add to his (or her) knowledge of the Park and its history, so they are able to give much more informed tours with better stories and the like, according to Bill. The Jammers are responsible for the bus they are assigned to and typically have a special affection for it. Even after 50 years, Bill made sure to track down his bus #95, which is now operated by Mr. Jim O'mara.
Bill used to say, “If you want to survive, don’t ride #95!” I’m sure that was not exactly true, especially since he also mentioned that he was one of the few who was a careful enough driver to not grind the gears as he shifted. On the third day of his Bill’s tour in 2011, the tour operator shouted back and asked Bill if he wanted to take a turn behind the wheel, but Bill replied, “No thanks! I wouldn’t know how to drive an automatic.”
Visiting with members of an older generation is one of the most rewarding experiences I know, and for sharing your experience with me, I am truly grateful. Thank you Bill, and don’t wait another 50 years before you visit Glacier National Park again, OK?
Follow this link to our Facebook album of several more photos from Bill’s Jammer experiences in 1961.