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Skiway Cloudliners: The Floating Bus That Sank

Posted on 03 October 2015

Oregon’s Timberline Lodge is best known as a mountain getaway, an historic WPA project, and that charming hotel in The Shining. But it was once briefly home to the longest stretch of arial tram in the world! The Skiway Cloudliners ran three airborne miles from the town of Government Camp, 2,100 feet up Mt. Hood to the Lodge.

The Cloudliners themselves were a blobular bus/bus hybrid vehicle, made from the front halves of two Kenworth Pacific school buses, with extra headroom for skis and a super flashy paint job. They cost around $40k each, and at around 31 feet long, the Cloudliners were the largest arials anywhere. 

Each set of wheels was separately powered by a bottom-mounted engine, which wrapped the cable fed down through the upper wheels, and pulled the bus up the mountain. To my layperson’s ears, this sounds wildly sketchy, but it apparently worked pretty ok and could haul folks up the mountain in close to 10 minutes. Unfortunately, pretty ok isn’t quite enough when you’re dealing with impatient skiers and a massive bus suspended in air. 

This long, large and arguably visionary endeavor cost over $2 million to build by its 1951 opening, and was entirely deconstructed by 1961. Between mechanical troubles and disappointing rider turn out, the Skiway Cloudliner was a sinker. Apparently when the roads are so bad your sky bus is the only easy way to go skiing people will take it… but when the roads are improved - as they were in the mid-1950s - they’ll take the ground bus instead. 

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