Geyser Bob's Yellowstone Park History Service
Serving the Greater Yellowstone & Surrounding Gateway & Historic Communities
The Early Stagecoach Companies
Bassett Bros Stage Line
YPTCo, Monida-Yellowstone, Holm Stage Companies
The Horseless Carriage Takes Over
Boat Service on Yellowstone Lake
White Buses in YNP
White Bus Specs
White Bus Personalities
White Buses in YNP

Copyright Robert V. Goss 2011 

Before the Auto Stages - The Early Days . . .

Prior to the founding of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, travel in the park was limited to small horse parties and mule pack outfits. Up until 1883 these folks were generally on their own in this wilderness, perhaps guided by or having taken the advice of an acquaintance that had traveled there previously. The earliest commercial transportation venture in the Park seems to be the log toll bridge built by Jack Baronett in 1871 just upstream of the confluence of the Yellowstone and Lamar (East Fork of the Yellowstone) rivers, near what is today known as Tower Junction.  He had hoped to seize upon traffic to the gold mines near the northeast entrance of the park and the occasional explorers and hunters in Yellowstone. Following along the shores of the Yellowstone River was the easiest route of travel in those early days.

In 1873, John Werks, George Huston, and Frank Grounds embarked on the operation of a primitive pack and saddle business from Mammoth Hot Springs into the depths of the park.  A year later stagecoach service to Mammoth from Bozeman, Montana commenced on a weekly basis by Zack Roots Express. Construction of a primitive road in 1878 by Park Supt. Philetus Norris and his crew from Mammoth to Lower Geyser Basin finally opened sections of the park to wagon travel and allowed Marshall & Goff to initiate a stagecoach business in 1880 to the Geyser Basins and Marshall’s Hotel. Continued expansion and improvement of the road system over the years enabled a variety of transportation operations to improve and diversify.


Burton Holmes Travelogues
Left: Undated stereoview, view near current Indian Creek Campground.
Bottom: John L. Stoddard's Lectures. YNPTCo stage in front of National Hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs.

During the next 36 years numerous companies operated stagecoach lines, including Wakefield & Hoffman in 1883, Monida & Yellowstone Stage Co. in 1898, Yellowstone & Western in 1913, and Holm Transportation Co. in 1912.  In 1886 the Yellowstone Transportation Co. (YTC) became the first of the successive companies that led to the current transportation operation in the park. It was followed by the Yellowstone National Park Transportation Co. (YNPTCo) in 1891, which was taken over in 1898 by the Yellowstone Park Transportation Company (YPTCo) under the ownership of H.W. Child, Silas Huntley and Edward Bach. By 1902 Huntley had passed on and Bach sold out, leaving Harry Child as the sole owner of the company, although heavily backed financially by the Northern Pacific Railroad. A variety of camping companies also operated their own stage and wagon operations for their customers, including the Wylie Camping Co., Shaw & Powell Camping Co., Bassett Brothers and many others.   (See my Stagecoach & Camping pages for detailed info on these various operations)

This plethora of transportation options came to an abrupt termination with the close of the 1916 season. In an effort to streamline and standardize the concession operations in the park, the new National Park Service consolidated the various transportation, hotel, and camping entities. The big winner in the transportation arena was Harry Child, who became sole provider of transportation within the park’s boundaries. And as owner of the
Yellowstone Park Hotel Co. he also obtained monopoly status on all hotel ventures. Of even greater significance in this huge upheaval was the requirement to eliminate the stagecoaches and replace them with automobiles. Gone were the mighty steeds of yore, unceremoniously turned out to pasture and replaced with the noisy, smoking, gas-guzzling, although admittedly faster and more efficient auto stages. A new era was launched in Yellowstone.

Cody-Sylvan Pass Motor Comapny . . .

            Prior to this shakeup private automobiles had been allowed into the park in August of 1915 and they had shared the roads with the stagecoaches. The mixture of the two foreign modes of travel proved incompatible and provoked the eventual transition to automobiles. By the end of the 1915 season Holm Transportation Company had gone bankrupt, leaving no service provider from Cody and the east entrance into Yellowstone. To alleviate this situation, the Park Service authorized the creation of the Cody-Sylvan Pass Motor Co. for the 1916 season. This company became the first commercial motorized transportation concern allowed into the park and it journeyed from the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad depot in Cody to Lake Hotel where passengers were loaded onto YPTCo stagecoaches for travel into the interior of the park.

Letterhead from the Cody-Sylvan Pass Motor Co., Courtesy Bruce Austin. It lists the officers involved in the company.

Bottom: Kid Wilson driving a 1916 White TEB for the Cody-Sylvan Pass Motor Co.

This was a cooperative venture with Frank Haynes of the Yellowstone & Western Stage Co. owning 40% of the shares and Harry Child and Billy Nichols of YPTCo controlling 35%. A.W. Miles of the Wylie Permanent Camping Co. and J.D. Powell and Leo C. Shaw of the Shaw & Powell Camping Co. shared 25%. This new company was incorporated April 4, 1916 in West Virginia to avoid higher taxes in Wyoming and a lease was received on June 16 for the period January 1, 1916 to December 31, 1916.  Daily service began on July 1, a late start in the season to allow the snow to melt on lofty Sylvan Pass. Seven 3-4 ton White buses with open bodies and five Buicks were brought into service. After the end of the season, the vehicles and assets were sold to YPTCo on January 29, 1917 for $25,000.

(Check out New York Times article from April 29, 1917 about the end of the stagecoach era and entry of motorized buses in Yellowstone.)

White Motor Company Buses in Yellowstone

In 1916 Harry Child began negotiations with the White Motor Co. for the purchase of motorized vehicles to supplant the stagecoaches in the 1917 season. After negotiating a new 20-year contract with the Park Service, Child obtained a mortgage for $427,104.67 from the railroad companies serving Yellowstone and purchased one hundred ¾-ton 10-passenger White TEB open-sided buses and seventeen White 7-passenger touring cars. He also contracted for seven ¾-ton service trucks and one 4-5 ton truck. The TEBs featured acetylene gas headlights powered by a canister mounted on the running board, front and rear kerosene running lights, a canvas top with detachable bows at each seat, along with side curtains and celluloid windows for use during inclement weather. General practice specified the open top when practical.

The new vehicles were stored at Mammoth Hot Springs (current Xanterra Aspen dorm site) in an elaborate barn built in 1903-04 that was designed by Old Faithful Inn architect Robert Reamer and originally used for the stagecoaches. For his transportation superintendent, Child hired Fred E. Kammermeyer, a native of Iowa and military transport officer during WWI. Kammermeyer proved to be an excellent choice and remained in that position until his retirement in 1948.

Top: White buses at Gardiner Depot

Bottom: Buses at MHS with FE Kammermeyer (L), WM Nichols (R) YNP#33935

  Between 1918-24 Child purchased forty-seven additional White 7-passenger touring cars, two 8-passenger cars, eight more TEBs, along with a few Lincoln touring cars. Beginning in 1920 YPTCo began purchasing White Model 15/45 tour buses. These 10-passenger units sported a split windshield right and left, with twin openings top and bottom – a key distinguishing feature from the TEBs, which had a full windshield, split top and bottom. The 15/45s also had a slightly longer wheelbase and improved chassis and motor. Twenty-four units arrived in 1920, twenty each in 1921 and 1922, and sixty in 1924.
     In the meantime, Child formed the Yellowstone Park Lines that ferried visitors from Cody and Moran (Grand Tetons) to the park, and which in later years ran from Gallatin Gateway (north of West Yellowstone) and Red Lodge, Montana where the route crossed over the majestic Beartooth Highway. The old stagecoach ‘Barns’ along the Madison River just east of West Yellowstone were converted for bus use and serviced the west side of the park, while a garage was built at Old Faithful.

In 1923 the YPTCo purchased two White Model 50 25-passenger buses that were used to transfer passengers from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful. These buses sported the luxury of electric lights, dual rear wheels, and a 198” wheelbase. (See photo below left)

Above Left: TEBs in front of the Northern Pacific RR depot in Gardiner, Montana.
Above Center: Model 15/45 bus on road above Mammoth Hot Springs terraces. YNP Archives #124731
Above Right: 1923 YPTCo Letterhead depicting a White TEB Bus. YNP Archives, Letter Box 21, Folder 1.

White Model 50 Touring Bus
Two of these 25-passenger units were purchased in 1923 and generally used for the West Yellowstone to
Old Faithful route.
From "Buses in Yellowstone" - Bruce Austin

Bus Fleet at YPTCo Barns in Mammoth
YNP Archives #129342-2

Rear View of YPTCO Bus Barn in MHS
Shown are some of the buses and White service trucks.
YNP Archives #129342-3

Read about the Lander-Yellowstone Transportation Company

Disaster Strikes the Yellow Buses in 1925 . . .

    All seemed to running smoothly and life was good, when suddenly – tragedy struck!

On March 30, 1925, around 2:15 in the afternoon, fire broke out in the Mammoth main bus barn. Apparently an oil furnace exploded sending fiery debris all over the shop. With a swift breeze from the south, the fire spread quickly and furiously - within an hour, the entire Reamer-designed barn was a total loss. Included in the damage were the carpenter and paint shops, the top shop, oil house, new storage shed and the residences of Fred Kammermeyer and J.C. Drew, the master painter. Fortunately another garage containing 215 vehicles was saved. However, inside of the main storage barn lay the smoldering ruins of about 93 vehicles, including 22 7-passenger White touring cars, 53 10-passenger White buses, 6 White trucks, 4 Ford roadsters, and 8 other vehicles, 4 of which belonged to the YP Camps Co. Luckily there were no fatalities or serious injuries. Damages were estimated to be close to a half million dollars.

Bus Barn at Mammoth Hot Springs
Designed by Old Faithful Inn architect
Robert Reamer and built 1903-04 for the stagecoaches.
It was converted for use by the White buses.
YNP Museum Black Scrapbook #2G-31_1919

     But now – what to do? The opening of the summer season would arrive in a mere 2-1/2 months – the vehicles had to be replaced!  Harry Child quickly got in touch with Walter White of the White Motor Company. Negotiations were soon finalized for the purchase of ninety model 15/45 buses, along with five 2-1/2-ton trucks and two 4-5 ton trucks. Because of the tremendous business potential involved, the White company scrambled together all their resources and focused their production on Yellowstone Park. They were successful and the new vehicles arrived in time for the opening of the 1925 season.

    Coincidently, YPTCo had been constructing larger and more modern garage facilities in Gardiner. Although originally scheduled to open in the fall, this project too was rushed to completion in time for the June opening. This new facility included modern mechanics stalls, body and upholstery shops, carpenter shop, blacksmith shop, tire and battery shop, paint shop, and a coal-fired heating plant. The building is still in use and accommodates Xanterra Parks & Resorts Transportation and Human Resource divisions.
YPTCo Garage at Gardiner
Built in 1924-25 for the White buses, it is still in use today.
     By 1926 YPTCo was operating 269 White buses and 51 touring cars, which included 23 Lincoln 7-passenger cars purchased in 1925-26. Aside from buying a few White service trucks, the status quo remained for the next five years. In 1926-27 the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul RR opened rail access from their main line at Three Forks, Montana to the small logging town of Salesville in the Gallatin Valley north of West Yellowstone. The town was renamed Gallatin Gateway and the Gallatin Gateway Inn opened in 1927 to lodge and entertain vacationers enroute to Yellowstone. White buses brought visitors into Yellowstone from the depot.

Left: Article from The Helena Independent dated Tuesday, March 31, 1925,
describing the fire at Mammoth Hot Springs

A New Era is launched . . .

Visitors entering and leaving Yellowstone via the Cody Road through Wapiti Valley and Sylvan Pass gained significant touring comfort in 1931 when YPTCo introduced eight new White Model 614 buses. These14-passenger units featured permanent tops, glass side windows, and an opening top cover so that guests could stand up to enjoy the heights of scenery offered on this scenic thoroughfare. The buses had a more powerful 75hp engine to facilitate climbing the pass and hydraulic brakes provided increased safety.

Photo: White Model 614 at the Upper Geyser Basin.  YNP Archives #114502

Sadly, 1931 was also the year that an icon of Yellowstone concessionaires passed from the scene. Harry W. Child, aged 74, who had been serving Yellowstone visitors for almost 40 years, died at his home in La Jolla, California. Son-in-law William “Billie” Nichols took over the helm of the various Child enterprises and Vernon Goodwin, executive in the lodges & camps operation became vice-president.  Five years later even bigger changes were in store when the various Child concessions were all merged into a newly created entity called the Yellowstone Park Company (YPCo). This new company became the umbrella for the YP Hotel Co, YP Boat Co, YP Transportation Co., and the YP Lodge and Camps Co.

By this time the Yellowstone buses were aging and it was decided that modernizing the fleet with buses utilizing more powerful engines and greater passenger capacity was necessary. Transportation operations in the other western national parks were facing the same problems and coming to the same conclusion. In response, representatives of those parks got together and began searching for a bus that would meet the needs of the rigors of travel in the mountainous west. Negotiations began with the major auto makers in 1935 and trials were conducted in Yosemite of various models. Participants included Ford, REO, GM, and White.

Left: Undated photo of Harry W. Child

The model that best seemed to meet their current needs was White Motor Company’s Model 706. The proposed 14-passenger bus featured two squared-glass windshields, lantern-style rear running lights, 13A engine, and measured about 26 feet long. A canvas cover on the roof could be pulled back to allow for an open top and unobstructed views. Yellowstone acquired twenty-seven of these models for the 1936 season. Similar models became the norm in other western parks, including Yosemite, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Zion, Mt. Rainier, and Rocky Mountain national parks.  Content with the 706’s performance, YPCo purchased forty-one more in 1937 and twenty in 1938 which included improved 318 cubic inch 6-cylinder engines. A final purchase of ten more was made in 1939, bringing the total to ninety-eight Model 706 buses – more than any other national park.

White 706 buses at canyon Hotel - undated. Private Collection.
Bottom: Side panel from a refurbished 706 bus showing the door panel logo used on the buses.
Right: News article from Helena Daily Independent June 17, 1937 announcing the arrival of the new 706 buses to Yellowstone. Elizabeth A. Watry Collection.

End of an Era . . .

Sales of the older White buses began in earnest in 1936 and by 1940 seventy-eight 10-passenger buses and fourteen 15/45 models were sold. This trend continued and during the war years from 1941 to 1946 one-hundred sixty-nine model 15/45s permanently left the park. Times were a’changin’ in the world and in the park. WWII and the attendant gas rationing and tire shortages had put a huge dent in travel to the national parks, while the military became a prime user of rail services throughout the country. After the war the American public rapidly became infatuated with the idea of personalized travel in private vehicles, a trend that had been building for a number of years. Rail travel, once the primary source for Yellowstone’s bus tours, was rapidly fading into obscurity. Park bus tours, originally 5-1/2 days in the stagecoach days, had dropped to 4-1/2 days with the advent of auto tours and by 1940 had been reduced to 2-1/2 days.

The days of quaint, leisurely tours through the park were becoming a thing of the past.  The demise of passenger rail service to the park started around 1948 and ended completely by 1960. Although Amtrak reinstituted some rail service in 1971, it was never became a significant travel factor in Yellowstone. With all these changes the fleet of hundreds of historic vehicles to cart visitors around the park was no longer needed. Changes in travel of a magnitude similar to that of the transition from horse-drawn stagecoaches to autos would assault the park late in the 1950s. Private vehicles became king of the road and the future for guided tours in park buses dimmed rapidly. The prospect of large, modern-looking and seriously unaesthetic buses for the remaining traffic loomed on the horizon. 

Crown School Bus ready for use in Yellowstone.
"Buses in Yellowstone", Bruce Austin 

MCI MC5B Bus next to the Xanterra
Parks & Resorts garage in Gardiner.
     The final blow to the quaint ambiance and serenity of group travel in small buses occurred in 1958, when YPCo signed a 5-year contract to lease six 41-passenger school buses from the Charter Bus Transportation System in Los Angeles. School buses for the L.A. City School System would spend their formerly idle summers now idling and smoking along the mountain roads of Yellowstone. These were Crown model A-779-11S with a 232” wheelbase and powered with a Hall-Scott 779 cubic inch engine. Fifteen more units were leased in 1959 while more of the classic old White buses unceremoniously hit the auction blocks. 
     These were difficult times for YPCo and these changes were inspired through financial necessity. In 1956 the National Park Service instituted and forced upon park concessionaires throughout the park system a federal plan to upgrade and improve visitor facilities, sewage systems, campgrounds, picnic areas, and roads. In Yellowstone this affected both YPCo and Hamilton Stores, operator of the general stores in the park. The complete Canyon Village area was being dismantled and moved north a few miles to its current location. YPCo was forced to build a new lodge with eating facilities and hundreds of cabins. Hamilton was spending a million dollars for a new store and service station. The plan called for YPCo to build new lodges at Grant Village and new marina facilities at Bridge Bay. The company constructed Canyon Lodge, but ultimately reneged on their obligations for the other amenities.

     This economic strain heavily affected the company’s transportation options and leasing school buses was apparently seen as the most cost effective plan to upgrade the fleet. This trend toward larger and modern vehicles persisted with GM Model 5302 buses hitting the roads in 1965 and Crown diesel Model AD-743-11’s entering the scene soon after. In 1975 YPCo settled on fifteen MC-5B buses from Motor Coach Industries (MCI) with 8V-71 diesel engines. Eight of these carried forty-one passengers and featured a restroom. The remaining buses could hold about forty-five passengers. The following year ten more buses were acquired. A mere ten years or so later, TW Recreational Services (TWRS), successor to YPCo who lost their contract in 1979, ended the somewhat profitable out-of-park charter runs under pressure from the park service, thus reducing the need for much of the MC-5B bus fleet. Sales of the buses commenced and by 1999 only nine of the original twenty-five remained. 

Return of the Yellows Buses - 2007

    While all of these changes were going on, Steve & Gayla Hites, of the Skagway Street Car Company in Alaska, had managed to acquire eight of Yellowstone’s 1936-38 Model 706 White buses from various collectors across the country. He put them back to work as tour buses in the quaint panhandle town of Skagway, located about 90 miles northwest of Juneau. In 2001 Hite decided to modernize his fleet and offered his old Yellowstone buses for sale. He contacted Xanterra Parks & Resorts (latest in the lineage of names changes from YPTCo to YPCo to TWRS to Amfac) and current operator of the hotels and transportation system in Yellowstone.

    The original bus numbers with the current Xanterra bus numbers in parentheses are:
              1936 Models:       372 (516)      377 (510)      
              1937 Models:       404 (514)      408 (511)     413 (512)      419 (517)      434 (513)      
              1938 Model:         450 (515)
Their Skagway names (in the order listed) were: Cripple Creek; Yellowstone; Little Rocky; Hollywood; Great Falls; Monty (Full Monty when loaded); Big Rocky; Mason City.

Ones of the Yellowstone buses upon its return from Skagway. Notice the door panel logo. These buses sat for a while at the Gardiner garage prior to being shipped off for refurbishment.
Looking to capitalize on an opportunity to restore the yellow buses to Yellowstone and score a historical, political and hopefully economic coup, Xanterra decided to purchase the eight buses. Sometime after their arrival in late September 2001, the buses were contracted to Transglobal Design and Manufacturing (TDM) in Livonia, Michigan for complete renovations.  Each bus was carefully removed from their original chassis and placed on a Ford E-450 chassis with a Ford 5.4 liter gas engine. TDM refurbished the interior seats and oak trim throughout the vehicle. They replaced the old canvas tops with more modern materials and installed a public address system for guides to narrate the tour. Other upgrades included heaters under the seats and boxes with warm lap blankets, so that even on brisk Yellowstone days, passengers could comfortably see the beauty of the park through the open top. Rotten wood in the body was replaced and wood floors were replaced with aluminum for better insulation. Years worth of paint were stripped to reveal the original yellow paint and find its match using modern paint-mixing techniques. The eight buses cost a total of $1.9 million to purchase and refurbish.

Return of the Yellow Buses through the Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner. This was part of the welcome home ceremony held at the Arch Park in Gardiner in June 2007.

The project was not without controversy and the exact nature of the intended changes to the buses were the source of heated debates between bus preservationists, the Park Service, Xanterra, and other interested parties. Purists wished to keep the buses as original as possible and from a historical standpoint that would have been the preferred option. But without modernization the buses would not have met current safety standards and no doubt would not have been allowed back on the road on a regular basis, remaining as museum or special event showpieces only.  It is obvious the old 706s are not “original” buses by any means, but they at least maintain a casual “original” flavor and look to them. And differences aside, I think most everyone is happy to see the “Yellow Buses” back on the roads in Yellowstone once again! If you haven’t had the privilege of taking a ride on one yet, do so by all means. Sit back, imagine the days of yore, and savor the experience of touring Yellowstone in the golden age of auto stages.

Copyright Robert V. Goss 2011



Yellowstone – The Chronology of Wonderland, by Robert V. Goss

Making Concessions in Yellowstone, by Robert V. Goss

Buses in Yellowstone National Park,
 by Bruce Austin & Robert V. Goss
“Motor Coach Today, Apr-Jun 2000, Vol. 7, No. 2.

Yellowstone National Park Archives


      Please support these important and valuable Yellowstone bus preservation efforts!  Visit their websites (links below)

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