From its beginning in 1872 until the early 1900s, all Yellowstone National Park visitors traveled through the park aboard stagecoaches or wagons, or on horseback. With the advent of automobiles in the early 1900s, this was about to change.
In West Yellowstone, in 1915 Sam Eagle became the first car owner in town – a Model T. Alex Stuart quickly followed that up by purchasing a car the next year, and Roxy Bartlett, owner of the Madison Hotel, bought his in 1918. In 1916, Sam Eagle had the No. 1 Park Permit issued to him for $7.50. It was about this same time that the first five miles immediately inside the west entrance to the park were paved.
The roads leading to West Yellowstone were not routinely plowed until they were paved in the mid-1930s. Therefore, even though cars were available, most winter travel prior to then was still by way of dog sleds and skis.
First Cars and Touring Buses in Yellowstone
Although the first car entered the park early in the 1900s, cars were not officially authorized for use in the park until 1915. This authorization was much to the chagrin of the stagecoach drivers. This newfangled vehicle startled the stage horses, causing accidents and runaways. Several unfortunate incidents resulted in injury to both animals and passengers. Frequently, horses had to be used to rescue cars that became stuck in the muddy roads or broke down miles from any places they could be repaired. It was obvious that the old and new forms of transportation could not share the roads. By the fall of 1916, the motorization of all park transportation became a necessity.
In a reorganization of concessionaires in Yellowstone, the Yellowstone Park Transportation Company gained exclusive rights for operating the public transportation systems which were to be motorized by the following season. The Transportation Company contracted with the White Motor Company of Cleveland, Ohio for 116 motor buses for a little over $427,000. While the vehicles themselves were not unique, their livery of English Coach Yellow with black trim, the sheer size of the fleet, and the operating conditions at Yellowstone attracted the attention of tourists and industry observers alike.
The buses had four pairs of doors, each opening onto a three-seat bench, providing space for eleven passengers and the driver. The street-side doors, except for the driver’s door, were eventually eliminated, leaving only the safer, curb-side door for passengers to enter and exit. There were also smaller-capacity touring cars, as well as a few 25-passenger buses. Luggage was stowed in a canvas-covered wooden platform at the back of the bus. A canvas top was able to be opened, except in inclement weather, leading to the nick-name of “open-top buses.” Lap robes were provided for chilly days.
The fleet of buses reached a height of 325-vehicles in 1936. As the personal automobile increased in popularity and train travel decreased, the demand for buses similarly waned. By 1946, at the end of World War II, only 124 buses remained in service.
The Buses of Yellowstone Preservation Trust is a not-for-profit organization whose mission includes the preservation of motorized vehicles used by the National Parks prior to World War II. Visit their website at www.busesofyellowstonepreservationtrust.org to learn more about their efforts to preserve this icon of Yellowstone and other national parks.