US National Park Transport

By John Quilter                                               Nov 2014


In 1936 four companies were asked to produce prototypes of a bus that could be used in US National Parks. Yosemite National Park was chosen as the test area for the prototype. After evaluation, the prototype, produced by White Motor Company using a 318 cubic inches six cylinder engine won the nod largely due to its powerful engine’s ability to deal with a fully loaded bus in the sometimes hilly or high altitude national parks. The striking upright grille was a design of Russian immigrant Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky who had also produced the radiator grille for Packard. The body of the bus was a combined effort of Herman Bender and the president of White, F. W. Black.

Yellowstone Park ordered the first 27 buses but by 1940 there were 98 in operation there in a yellow and black livery. Glacier National Park also ran 36 of them in a red and black livery. Known as “jammers” due to their non-synchronized gearboxes many were used up until the 1960s but were gradually phased out as major maintenance became necessary. Some were bought by the Skagway, Alaska Street Car Company and run until the 2000s. In 1989 many were upgraded to more modern automatic transmissions and engines that could run on either propane or gasoline and power steering, thus ending the era of the “crash box” although drivers are still known as jammers. Interestingly this work was carried out by the Ford Motor Company. In the interests of history bus number 78 was preserved in its original specifications and is kept at the East Glacier Montana maintenance facility.

Open Top Bus Company 1937 White 1:48

Now to the model. A small firm known as the Open Top Bus Company has launched a replica of these White 706 buses in multiple liveries. The bus I reviewed is dark green with black fenders and has a logo on the side of the model maker, Open Top Bus Company. Other versions are a red and black issue with Glacier Park logo, and a yellow and black one with Yellowstone logo. Made in 1:48th scale to be compatible with American O gauge model railroading they are very close to the common 1:50th scale used for commercial vehicles and buses by Corgi and others.

They are great replicas of an historic American vehicle and detailing is good with the railroad lantern style rear lights, period wheels with holes, twin large rear view mirrors, a four spoke steering wheel and a gear lever for the jammer gearbox. The base shows a ladder type chassis, engine sump, gearbox and exceptionally long propshaft. Except for the drivers door all doors are on the right side. The packaging is a simple windowed cardboard box with a period photograph reproduced on the back. Much greater detail and history is available at their website: fomentek.com. And the very long and interesting turbulent history of the White Motor Company is available at Wikipedia for those who are real students of history.


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