Posters of the Grand Canyon and Yosemite. Patches sewn with towering trees and cascading waterfalls. T-shirts emblazoned with Smokey Bear. These are the typical souvenirs you’ll come across when visiting our country’s sublime national parks. If you’re looking for something outside the norm, a piece of memorabilia that certainly won’t find its way into a box in your basement, may we suggest a vintage tour bus from America’s first national park?
Over on the auction site Bring a Trailer, a seller in Cody, Wyoming has listed a rare tour bus from Yellowstone National Park that dates back to 1925. The White Model 15-45 is an exquisite sightseeing vehicle with a hand-crank engine, canvas top and four rows of seating for up to 11 passengers. Oh, and they’ve even got video proof that this almost 100-year-old beaut is still very much in working order.
According to the listing, which currently holds a top bid of $15,000 at the time of writing, this bus was one of 214 models that were ordered from the White Motor Company between 1920 and 1925 by the Yellowstone Park Transportation Company.
“The Yellowstone Park Transportation Company (YPTCo) was created in 1898, 26 years after President Ulysses S. Grant signed the congressional act protecting the land,” wrote Car and Driver, which surfaced the auction (the magazine also has the same parent company as Bring a Trailer). “The company initially used horse-drawn stagecoaches, but after securing the exclusive rights to transportation at the park in 1916, the YPTCo commissioned a fleet of sightseeing vehicles from the Cleveland, Ohio-based White Motor Company. (White’s early vehicles used steam power, and two sitting presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, were owners.) The Model 15-45 joined the fleet in 1920, and White would go on to build buses for several national parks — including Yosemite and Grand Canyon — through the late 1930s.”
If you’re picturing these yellow tourist buses simply putting around the entrances, think again. In another auction listing for a 1925 White bus from the park, through RM Sotheby’s back in 2016, it’s stated that these vehicles “were used to carry as many as 11 passengers on 4½-day excursions, up and down Yellowstone’s highest and most scenic peaks.” Another interesting detail from the previous sale? When these buses are in good condition, they can fetch eye-popping prices. The RM Sotheby’s model went for $88,000.
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The Bring a Trailer auction runs through the middle of the day on Tuesday, February 14, so it has plenty of time to climb up closer to that selling price. But there are a few issues bidders should be aware of.
On the plus side, there has reportedly been a relatively recent rebuild of the GR inline-four engine, which was originally rated at 50 horsepower; the current owner gave it a fresh coat of paint and installed the new canvas top in 2010; and the hand-crank starting mechanism still works like a charm. As for the downsides, the Goodyear tires are exhibiting signs of dry rot; and the headlights, while converted from the original acetylene flame to electric, do not currently work. For a 98-year-old piece of machinery, though, that’s not bad. Not bad at all.
Whether you’re looking for something to ferry the homecoming king and queen in your local parade, or something classier than an ATV to get around your Yellowstone-style ranch (with some actual Yellowstone heritage), you can find the auction listing on Bring a Trailer here.
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