Historic Yellowstone touring bus

This 1936 Yellowstone touring bus found a new home after getting sold for $170,000 at the North American Auction Company in Bozeman, Montana, Saturday.

BOZEMAN, Montana — After fewer than six minutes and $170,000, an original 1936 Yellowstone National Park bus went to the highest bidder Saturday — an anonymous new owner with plans for the time capsule on wheels still unknown.

The touring bus was one of 27 of its kind and carried visitors past the park’s erupting geysers and mysterious landscape for more than 20 years. It was donated to the Museum of the Rockies in 1980 and has been a consistent prop in Bozeman parades ever since.

“It’s one of the nicest buses I’ve had the opportunity to see,” Tucker Markovich of North American Auction Company said to the crowd Saturday before rolling into the rhythm of taking bids.

Saturday’s auction brought buyers and curious witnesses alike who wanted to see what would become of the piece of Yellowstone history. A small group of older gents circled the yellow bus with a faded park sticker on it’s side displaying a bear. They peered over its retractable canvas roof and and through its large windows toward its four rows made to fit 14 passengers.

Museum executive director Shelley McKamey said while it will be hard to part with the bus, the museum has a second one on display that is unaltered from its days on the road and will forever remain part of the nonprofit’s collection.

“It’s been a lot of fun having it, but it’s valuable and that money can be used to care for our collections,” McKamey said.

It’s a Yellowstone Transportation Company original White Motor Company Model 706. For those who aren’t classic enthusiasts, that’s the last generation of the touring buses, according to the North American Auction Company.

Saturday’s bidding war for the bus went on more than five minutes, with the anonymous winner head-to-head with the Buses of Yellowstone Preservation Trust.

A man with a cellphone to his ear came out the winner. John Wallace of Continental Construction said he competed for the item on behalf of a client who he said at the moment would remain anonymous.

“It will more than likely stay in the state, probably on display in Big Sky,” Wallace said. “It’s a thing of prestige, a really cool piece of history.”

With a straw hat in the seat next to his and his thick glasses on, the bus caretaker watched as hands flew in the air to try to claim the prize. Dave Swingle with the museum has lubricated the bus every 100 miles, changed its oil every 500 miles and put the 1,600-pound vehicle on stands each winter to preserve its wheels. He also happens to be on the Chronicle’s editorial board.

“I’m getting old,” Swingle said. “You need someone who knows what they’re doing to drive and maintain it.”

Making it even more rare, he said, the bus is one the few to hold onto title as “fully originally,” from its engine and wires to its four rows of seats.

Kristi Mills, the museum’s director of finance, said the $170,000 from the auction will go toward protecting the museum’s collection. She said that’s even more important as the nonprofit’s crowds continue to grow.

In 2017, the museum set a record of 196,201 individual visits. And that increase continues, with June breaking the record for most people walking in its doors within a month with 27,632 visits.

“We’re happy the bus will stay in Montana.” Mills said. “It’s from a really unique time of history in Yellowstone that’s been preserved. We’ve owned it for 35 years, and it’s time for someone else to have it who’s going to really love it.”

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.