Earlier this month, in his Bigfork workshop made mostly of salvaged wood and metal, blacksmith Jeffrey Funk and his team turned up the music and went to work recreating automotive history. It's a tedious process; Funk will be the first to tell you the craftsmanship on cars and trucks from the early 1920s was not a cookie-cutter process, making revitalizing vehicles from this time period a trialand- error job. Funk and his crew, comprised of Darrin Beaudette and Seth Axelsen, are part of a project financed by the nonprofit group, the Jammer Trust. The term "jammer" is used for the tour car and bus drivers because they jammed the gearshifts to get around the parks, but it is also often used for the vehicles themselves. The trust seeks to revitalize old national park tour cars and buses to remind and educate people on the transportation history in these scenic venues. Part of this goal includes the accurate reproduction of automobile parts and manufacturing methods that have been out of production and use for almost 90 years. Such is the case for the 1925 White Motor Company tour buses used in Glacier National Park before the now-ubiquitous red buses. The fenders on these cars were created without welds, instead being held together by a complicated series of tight-fitting joints. So it would make sense to commission the work to a blacksmith rather than a modern metal worker, said Jon Derry, who also works on the vehicles for the Jammer Trust. "It's nice that the industrial technology that was used in the initial construction of these vehicles we can duplicate here in the valley," Derry said. Funk and his team of blacksmiths had to figure out how to recreate these joints through a long and often frustrating process of reverse engineering. And to add to the authenticity of the project, Funk found tools from the same era at the Miracle of America Museum in Polson, including a bead roller from the 1920s. The blacksmiths also had to create unique tools and accessories to finagle the fender joints into existence. Of these, Funk said he learned how to use a lathe to make the dies, which connect to the bead roller and shape the sheet metal into tight, uniform creases and angles. Another hurdle with the old tour buses was that they were built before automated manufacturing, meaning each was made by hand and is just a little bit different from all the others. Funk and his team have been working on this project for several years and have created brake parts, clutch parts, bronze door hinges and latches for the tour buses.
Restoring Glacier buses
Blacksmith leads effort to preserve park vehicles
Published: Friday, April 30th, 2010
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