#Lookback: Yellowstone Park Transportation Company

Living a mere 82 miles away from the southern gate of Yellowstone National Park means it is easy for residents of the Upper Wind River Valley to drive into the park for the day without much thought. Paved roads, signage along highways, and heated or air-conditioned vehicles with GPS navigation and a thousand safety nets make for an easy drive. Accessible food and bathrooms also mean that a drive into YNP doesn’t require intense planning for its regional neighbors.

An easy ride to or through the park was not always the case. Indeed, it was only in the last decades of the twentieth century that all the main highways in the park were paved. Horses provided the safest and most reliable transportation in and around the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. But that truth did not stop people from trying their hand at bringing earlier models of automobiles into the park. Park managers did not allow motorized vehicles inside the borders of YNP until August 1915, when the first vehicle permit was given to a man from West Yellowstone.

After several conflicts between motorized vehicles and horse-drawn stagecoaches resulted in injuries, park officials made the motorization of all park transport mandatory by the fall of 1916. The Yellowstone Park Transportation Company contracted with White Motor Company in Ohio for the procurement of over 100 motor buses, also called touring cars. While functionally unimpressive, the vehicles’ bright yellow paint job, fleet size, and working conditions drew the attention of tourists and industry experts alike. By 1936, Yellowstone boasted a fleet of over 350 English Coach Yellow vehicles. These buses loaded up at popular places like the Old Faithful Inn, the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, and the Canyon Hotel. This image shows one of Yellowstone National Park’s famous yellow buses pulling away from the front of the Canyon Hotel. Specifically, the bus shown here is a 1936 White Motor Company Model 706 fourteen-passenger bus.

The use of private automobiles ultimately made the system of yellow buses obsolete. By the end of World War II, less than 125 touring buses remained in YNP, and the park sold the remainder of their bus fleet in the 1960s. The Skagway Streetcar Company of Alaska acquired eight of these buses, which were used until 2001 when the SSCA sold them back to Yellowstone National Park for restoration, exhibition, and limited tour duty.

Nostalgia is a powerful force, and it fueled the restoration of these buses. Each bus received new engines and other modern improvements, but they maintained period chrome bumpers, original license plates, and their distinct yellow paint. These eight yellow buses returned to service in Yellowstone National Park in June 2007.

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The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander, or the Riverton Museum are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits, and services that have become their hallmark. Our museums educate, entertain, and help create awareness for people of all ages. We are a vital part of cultural heritage tourism and economic development for our communities and need the help of our communities to continue to grow and benefit our communities. Please make your tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.