When Rob Braig drives down Central Avenue during the Winter Carnival parade Saturday afternoon, his vehicle will be as Whitefish as it gets.
Rob will be steering the wheel of the “Ski Limo,” an eight-door 1953 Chevrolet that delivered skiers from the train depot to the mountain almost seven decades ago.
The vehicle was originally purchased by Roy Duff, owner of Hertz Rental in Whitefish, in 1953. Its main job was transporting skiers up to Big Mountain Ski Resort, which Rob says is a beautiful image.
“We have in our office a picture of people getting off the train with their suitcases, putting them [up on the limo] and standing their with their skis — in the mid-50s,” he says. “Think about that, that’s crazy.”
Roy Duff’s son, Dale, remembers the vehicle — called a “stretch-job,” he says, though he was still a kid when it was ferrying skiers up the mountain.
“In that day, it was just a stretch — it wasn’t used as a limousine. We weren’t doing the SNOW Bus stuff, it was just arrivals here at the Depot,” he said. “It was just a fun rig. I’m so glad Braig refurbished that.”
The vehicle was later sold to the West Valley School, where it was converted to a school bus.
The Ski Limo turned up in the Braig family in 2015, when Rob’s father Bob discovered the vehicle behind a friend’s shop. The vehicle was probably going to sell to a man in Seattle, Bob’s friend told him, and if that fell through, it was headed for the junkyard crusher.
“I said, ‘You can’t do that, that’s part of Whitefish history,’” Bob said. “To make a long story short, the next day he arrived at my farm pulling a trailer with the limo.”
Bob and others started the limo’s rehab in 2017, along with Butch Chamberlin. The car needed a new motor, drive line, transmission, brakes, and more. With a new paint job, done by Charlie Ellman’s shop in Columbia Falls, the limo was set for the streets.
“It is completely renovated. It’s what they call a resto-mod, which means it’s been restored but it has been modified,” Bob said, noting the project cost “a small fortune.”
Rob said once the project was finished, his father was content. It took nagging to get the limo back out for others to see.
“My dad is a pretty private person. He’s born and raised here, we’re third generation Montanans in Whitefish, and this to him was so important. But he wasn’t going to say anything. I was like, ‘Dad, why would you do all this and just park it in the garage?’” Rob said. “This is a piece of Whitefish history that is amazing. It’s what made it a ski town.”
“It’s a pretty special automobile,” Bob said. “It really is part of Whitefish’s history, I believe.”