Pikes Peak Cog Railway

photo courtesy of Denver Public Library, Western History

The Pikes Peak Cog Railway.  If you've visited Colorado, chances are you have ridden this modern train to the summit of Pikes Peak. 

We have, several times.  The views are incredible, the wildlife spectacular and once you get to the summit, your breath is taken away.

To get you to the top of the peak, the train traveled on, what looked like, regular tracks.  But if you look in the middle of the tracks, you will see a strip of steel with "teeth" in it.

This is the cog that lines up with the same steel strip under the train and pulls it up the mountain.

The tracks on either side are only there to steady the train on the ride up.

So as you look out at the 360 degree views around you, did you ever think about how the railway came to be?  The hard work in laying the first tracks?  The first tourists?

Well, in case you were wondering, I'll tell you all about my research into the Pikes Peak Cog Railway.

First of all, the early explorers struck their own trails to scale the summit of Pikes Peak and find gold and other treasures.

But in the 1800's a well defined trail to the summit of Pikes Peak was needed.

Many people were settling the area and like all curious folks, they wanted to see what was up that mountain.

With the new settlement of Colorado Springs, laid out in July 1871, the Fremont Trail was established to get from Mt. Manitou then on west to the peak.

There was some construction at the lower part of the trail and travel was made by mule or burro to the summit.  This was the Bear Creek Trail and the future route of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway.

Also in 1873, a U.S. Army Signal Service (future National Weather Service station) building was constructed at the top of Pikes Peak.  It consisted of a telegraph line that ran from the summit to Colorado Springs.

Travel up Pikes Peak was only possible during the summer months using the new trail.  So another trail was needed.

A good trail was discovered along Ruxton Creek and ran through Engelmann Canyon.  This trail was developed by the Manitou and Pikes Peak Toll Road Company on September 15, 1877.

In 1878, the trail was finished and joined up with the Bear Creek Trail to continue on to the top of the mountain.

Conquering Pikes Peak

Along the way of this trail, homes, hotels and campgrounds sprung up along the slopes of Pikes Peak.

Tourists and travelers came by horseback and burros to make the long trek.  On their way they found accommodations, food and rest.

The Halfway House, owned by the Palsgrove family, was the most popular destination because it was halfway up the mountain and a good place to take a break.

On one of these treks, a tourist from Wisconsin, Zalmon Simmons, who manufactured mattresses, had an very painful burro ride from Manitou Springs up to the summit of Pikes Peak and back down.

He vowed that there had to be a better and more comfortable way to travel as well as enjoy the sights and sounds of the peak.

And so, in 1891, Mr. Simmons formed and financed the Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway.

Tracks started being laid in 1889 at the summit and later worked down to Manitou Springs.  

Regular tracks were laid along with the toothed "cog rail" to help pull the train up steep grades.

The entire track was finished in October 1890 and the first steam engine train reached the summit of Pikes Peak on June 30, 1891.

Now travelers had a comfortable way to ascend the mountain.  And at the top, the old signal house was transformed into a hotel. Food was served and a gift shop was established. 

The views were fabulous, word of mouth spread and tourists started flocking to the Pikes Peak region for their health after hearing about the healing waters of Manitou Springs.

A new western expansion had begun, tourism.

There are many canyons, lakes, small mountains, old towns and settlements and such as you ascend the peak.

One particular stretch along the route is called "Son of a Gun Hill", which got its name from a steam engine fireman who had to shovel a lot of coal into the engine to get the train up the 25% incline.

The Pikes Peak Daily News had a building that took names of passengers on their way up the mountain and by the time they were on their return trip, the paper had been published with their names in it.

This was also a stop for the steam engine to take on water both up and down the peak.  All that is left is a old water tank.

Snow removal was difficult when the trains started running all year round.  An engine would push a flat, wedged car in front of it to clear the tracks, but men would still be needed to shovel the snow from the flat car.

And that pretty much tells the story of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway in old west Colorado. 

So next time you happen to be here visiting, take a trip on the modern train up to the summit and think back about how it was not really so long ago.

When all that was there were footpaths, then trails only big enough for a horse or burro and finally tracks laid and the first train puffing up the ascent.

Take a look at the Cog Railway website to find hours of operation and train schedules.

It's a trip worth taking!

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