Glacier National Park Feature

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Jammer Joe and Glacier's Famous Red Buses

Harking back to the early days of automobile touring in the parks, each summer a fleet of red "jammers"—vintage buses—weaves through Glacier and Waterton Lakes national parks. Drivers began jamming gears on the coaches in 1936, but today only guides licensed with Glacier Park Inc. (406/892–2525 www.glacierparkinc.com) operate them. Park visitors ride them for special tours, as well as to traverse the park and go up the incredible Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Almost Famous

One of the most popular drivers is Joe Kendall, known as "Jammer Joe" to passengers. "I love doing it. It's absolutely the best job," he says. "What I enjoy the most is the fact that we have the most pristine, beautiful, scenic area in the mountains … to show that to our visitors is a lot of fun."

His lively narration and colorful descriptions have endeared him to many park visitors. In fact, he’s become so popular in more than a decade of service that the park has named a pizza parlor (near Lake McDonald Lodge) after him. "I think it's great," Kendall says. "It's as close to what you might call famous as I'll ever be."

The Early Years

Kendall's interest in Glacier began in 1949, when he joined the park's summer staff, which was all college-aged kids at the time. He worked as a dishwasher that summer and then came back the following summer to be a busboy.

In those years, he says, you had to be a prelaw or premed student in order to have the coveted job of driving the jammers. He was training to be a farmer, so he never thought he'd have a chance to drive one of the famous red buses.

Behind the Wheel at Last

But in the 1990s the park's concessionaire, Glacier Park Inc., started hiring seniors, and Kendall got his chance. "It's every bit as good as we thought it was in the early days," he says.

Besides driving the jammer, he has just been happy to be back in Glacier. "You know how the mountains are," he says. "There's something just spectacular about them. It had that effect on me in those earlier years, and I've just never gotten over it."

Updated: 2014-03-07

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