Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My Dad, the Jammer

My father wasn't a big talker. Perhaps this was a combination of being both Norwegian and male. Sure, we heard some stories over the years, some more than once, even before he was diagnosed with dementia. Mom and I would "lovingly" exchange glances at the dinner table when we were about to hear another rendition of a familiar tale.

I remember stories about his first few jobs: a soda jerk, a code breaker, and a tour bus driver. In high school, he worked as a soda jerk at the local drugstore. In the Marines, he worked decoding messages. And one summer in college, he drove a tour bus in a national park. When I looked through my parent's massive book collection this summer I was surprised to find evidence of one of these jobs. And no, it wasn't a book on how to make an egg cream (milk, seltzer, chocolate syrup) though he would often reminisce about how much he enjoyed them back in the day. Something even better.

I found a 1949 driver’s manual for Glacier National Park (GNP). Did he drive Bus #91 as scrawled on the title page? The manual is annotated throughout with notes about the flora, and where in the park they could be found. These notes were all in his handwriting, despite the fact that others had used this manual before him. I never knew he could identify Solomon's Seal or Pearly Everlasting. It’s obvious he took this job very seriously – as he did most everything – from the completeness of his notes.

The funny part is, my mother was the master gardener in the family. Was she impressed about his interest in the flowers and trees in that park? Did she see all these notes? Did she visit him when he worked that summer? It was the Summer of '51, the year before they graduated from Univ. of Michigan and two years before they married. I like to think she did.

GNP is still using the same buses that my dad drove over 60 years ago. They’ve been refurbished and are now automatic (though still not handicapped accessible). Built by the White Motor Company in Cleveland, Ohio, between 1936 and 1939, the buses were the third generation of buses to be used for touring the park.

So why are the tour bus drivers called "Jammers"? According to the brochure provided by the Red Bus, “The drivers of the Red Buses are called Jammers by the locals; a name which carries over from the days when the Buses had standard transmissions and the drivers could be heard ‘jamming’ the gears as they drove up and down the rugged mountain highway.” So I wonder if my father jammed those gears on Bus #91? I like to think he did.

My parents took a cross-country tour in 1985, after my dad's early retirement and prior to their move to Botswana. They started out in Connecticut and went through Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and down through Michigan. One of their stops was GNP, where they took these amazing photos, including the one with the old red buses.


  1. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing. Great pictures. I'll bet your father was an wonderful man and it must have been very interesting to hear him talk about his days driving in GNP.


    Terry Tedor
    North Pole, Alaska

  2. Thanks Terry! He was kind of a quiet guy so I'm still searching for any written stories about his days in GNP. He sure loved that job, that much I remember. On another note, North I have a brother in Talkeetna,AK, and I thought that was exotic. I'm glad you found my blog and hope you enjoy more stories to come! Soon will be my dad's twenty trips around the world. I have thousands of slides to scan starting in the 1960s.