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national was floating on Waterton Lake.

Losing the tender was a problem. There was no way to get to shore without it, except to swim. Swanson and the crew built a makeshift boat out of wood scavenged onboard the Polson and floated it to shore. From there, Swanson walked to the small town of Columbia Falls and bought lumber and material for a new tender, which they built the next day.

In 1938 Swanson sold it to Arthur J. Burch and Carl Anderson of Kalispell, who operated the enterprise as the Glacier Park Boat Company. By 1985 the company had consolidated all the boat operations in Glacier and had nine boats sailing on six lakes. The International and the Waterton Lakes operation were later sold to Shoeline Cruise Company of Alberta.

“The trip up the river took us through Red Lick Rapids, and some folks said we’d never make it—can’t get through,” Swanson recalled. “We had 1,800 feet of steel cable, and I fastened it to a rock and ran the cable along the riverbank. We picked up the end and used a winch to wind the boat over the swift current. It took about fifteen minutes to get through, then we went fishing.”

Gear Jammers and the First Tour Buses

Before they finally reached Apgar, they had to pull through fifteen more gravel bars, gouging deep channels as they passed. When the boat was launched on Lake McDonald, it was christened the Lewtana, for John Lewis. Swanson captained the Lewtana until Louis Hill’s Glacier Park Hotel Company contracted with him to build and operate tour boats for the park. He built many of the boats that cruised Glacier’s lakes, including the forty-passenger Rising Wolf, later renamed Sinopah, which cruised Two Medicine Lake, the DeSmet on Lake McDonald, the sixty-three-foot International on Waterton Lake, the St. Mary on St. Mary Lake, and the Little Chief, which was added to the Two Medicine fleet.

Consolidating the


For several years there were at least three separate boat concessions in Glacier, and ownership rotated through the years. The boat operations on Lake McDonald that began in 1895 with George Snyder’s F. I. Whitney were eventually transferred to the Glacier Park Transportation Company. In 1911 both James T. Maher and the Glacier Park Hotel Company had boats floating on St. Mary Lake to take guests, staff, and supplies to Sun Point. Ten years later Bill Swanson’s boat concession for the Glacier Park Hotel Company had launches cruising Two Medicine and Swiftcurrent lakes and in 1927 their flagship—the Inter-

The predecessors of today’s red tour buses, or “reds,” Glacier’s early buses began replacing stagecoaches in 1915. These buses, affectionately called “jammers” or “jammer buses”—and their drivers, known as “gear jammers”—are a beloved part of Glacier National Park history.

The First


In 1913 Walter White of the White Motor Company convinced Louis Hill that motorized buses could transport visitors around Glacier at least as well and probably better than the stagecoaches then being used. Hill agreed to test White’s vehicles for the 1914 season, and in mid-June ten eleven-passenger buses, five touring cars, and a couple of two-ton trucks arrived by railroad at the Glacier Park Station at Midvale (East Glacier). There were no garage storage or repair facilities; the operators would just have to “make do” for the season. The 1914 buses were black, open-top buses with canvas tops that could be pulled forward in case of rain. The tops hooked to the windshield with long straps that extended down to the front fenders to hold the canvas in place. Instead of a door on the driver’s side, there was a spare tire and a tank, so the driver had to climb over the tire and tank to get into the bus. The headlights were illuminated by acetylene gas. When the skies grew dark, the gear jammer had to stop the bus, get out, and turn the knob on the gas tank on the left fender, which fed the acetylene line to the headlights. Then they lit the headlights with a match. Heavily loaded with carefree sightseeing passengers

Crown of the Continent  

University of Montana's Crown of the Continent