It's a scene so many people who love Glacier National Park will never forget.
“There was Robby in Lake McDonald Lodge, singing the Star Spangled Banner as they brought that first log in at the beginning of the season and lit it in the fireplace,” chuckled Todd Ashcraft, location manager at Pursuit's West Glacier Village, his southern drawl even apparent in his laugh. “That was our best tradition, and Robby started that.”
Robby Lucke was memorable, to say the least. His time in Glacier started in 2001, when he was a driver for the celebrated Red Jammer tours. He soon became a supervisor, orientation manager, a undeniably likeable thorn in the side of some staff, and the history maker of Lake McDonald Lodge traditions, new and old. While the Glacier Park Collection now features the Motel Lake McDonald in the area, the stories about Lucke live on in legends told by employees.
Robert “Robby” Lucke passed away in April of 2018, after a long battle with cancer. Lucke was an author and storyteller living in Havre, Montana at the time of his death, but he’s still widely known for his time spent in Glacier National Park.
One of Glacier's Great Storytellers
“Robby was a vital part of my Glacier Park years,” says Ashcraft. “But I’ll tell you, he was a piece of work, too. He was great at what he did, he loved the limelight, but you could never tell if he was telling the truth or bluffing you.”
For example, when the bellman would lead tourists on the historical Lake McDonald Lodge tour, sometimes the ghost that they describe as old legend would actually “appear.”
“It was Robby alright,” says Ashcraft. “He got a lot of that stuff going because he loved the storytelling aspect of it.” Ashcraft is still laughing about it, a decade later.
In the 1960s, many of the mounts in Lake McDonald Lodge were stolen, and Lucke quickly donated about 10 mounts from his family’s collection—that are still there today—to replace them.
Art, History, and Jammer Driver Training
Prior to working in Glacier, Lucke was a history and English teacher in Glasgow, Montana, and later a car salesman and newspaper columnist in Havre, Montana. In 2003, Lucke moved to Lakeside to be with his mother and begin his tenure as a red bus driver and keeper of traditions for Lake McDonald Lodge.
“To be blunt about it, he was my 'bullshit artist',” says Dave Eglsaer, Transportation Director for Xanterra, which operates the red buses.
“As a jammer driver, you can’t just tell people the facts on the red buses like a lecture,” Eglsaer goes on. “You have to spin a yarn, tell some jokes, say the facts and then tell a story you make up on the spot. That was Robby’s magic.”
His "tricks" to making a great story come to life are still in the red bus driver manual, “and they’ll be in there as long as I’m here,” says Eglsaer.
After driving the buses for five years, Lucke helped with driver training, which he took very seriously. In his later years, he would go up for a day to give a speech at training. “He’d talk about the importance of the park and what it meant to be a driver, and the history of it all,” says Eglsaer. “Now, the newer drivers have definitely heard the lore of Robby Lucke, but the drivers who have been around a decade or so definitely remember what he represented in the park.”
Lucke was determined to keep traditions alive and to elevate the professional work of all who steward that heritage.
“He was a great leader, really—inspiring and people would follow him. But he didn’t look the part, which is the charm of Robby,” adds Ashcraft. “He was an older guy, always wore shorts and cowboy boots, always telling stories. But he was the soul of this place.”
Bear Paw Meanderings in Havre
The Lucke family were longtime residents of Havre, and Robby was the son of Lou “Bee” Lucke Jr. and Harriet Thackeray Lucke, and the grandson of Lou Lucke.
According to the Havre Daily News, Grandfather Lou started The Lucke Store, which was one of Havre’s show places for decades, rising from a humble two-man shoe shop in 1903 to the store that bragged it had “Everything for Men.” The store was something of a tourist attraction in Havre, which allowed the Lou Lucke Co. to flourish.
Until shortly before his death, Robby Lucke wrote a column for the Blaine County Journal called “Bear Paw Meanderings,” where he’d cover any topic in the local newspaper, much to the surprise and delight of readers.
“He loved the Bear Paws. That was his other place—the part outside of Glacier,” says Eglsaer. “If you could have two hearts, his heart was in both places.”
Prior to Bear Paw Meanderings, he authored the “Howdy Beaver” column for the Havre Daily News for over ten years. Lucke was quoted stating: “I told myself when I started writing the column that I’d quit it when I ran out of things to write about. That day hasn’t come. I still have something to say every time I sit down to write the column.”
In his last published article for the Journal on January 10, 2018, Lucke wrote about New Year's resolutions and dreams. He said, “I dream in resolution form about world peace and how to make my church a better place and what I can do to better serve the community through my writing at this late stage of my life.”
Lucke the Legend
Robby Lucke said working in Glacier was the best job he ever had. His enthusiasm for the place and people was unmatched by other employees, and served as an inspiration to all. With the former Stockade Lounge in Lake McDonald Lodge now renamed the Lucke Lounge, his memory will live on in Glacier National Park.
Danny McIntosh, Manager of Marketing and Brand Experience at Glacier Park Collection by Pursuit, came to Glacier in 2003 and immediately felt connected and inspired by Lucke.
“It was my first time away from home and, like many other kids, I thought Montana was beautiful, but it was Robby who helped foster my love for Glacier,” McIntosh remembers. “I was the night auditor that summer, and Robby would bring me books about ‘mountain men’ and the history of Glacier, to read over the night. I gobbled up everything he brought me.”
Lucke always kept in touch with his “young friends” like Ashcraft and McIntosh. Ashcraft remembers, “He’d call me a lot when he was away to check on the park, see how things were in Glacier, and always make sure we were doing the right thing for the park. He cared more than anybody I know.”
With the former Stockade Lounge in Lake McDonald Lodge now renamed the Lucke Lounge, his memory will live on in Glacier National Park.
At the end of every season, that same log tradition that marked the opening of each summer season would come around again. Lucke started this one too, a closing ceremony. Ashcraft remembers that the lobby, lounge, and upstairs hallways would fill with seasonal employees, ready to “raise some hell and let loose at the end of a long summer.”
The log burning in the fireplace was the last log of the season. Two employees would remove the charred, smoking, often still-burning piece wood and walk it through the building and out to Lake McDonald, where they'd launch it into the lake. Amidst cheers, the bellman would dive into the lake, and the season was over.
Robby Lucke will be remembered not only for the traditions he created, but also his legendary personality that lives on in Glacier National Park.
“It’s because of Robby’s stories and passion for Glacier and willingness to share that with me, that I fell in love with it,” McIntosh says. “I couldn’t thank him enough for that.”