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COBWEB CORNERS: When early snow left summit staff stranded

By Mel McFarland

       I have done a few stories here about early storms. If you have lived in the region a while, you probably have your own stories about early, late and freak snowstorms. My time on Pikes Peak (working as a railway conductor) helps out, because the strangest weather often involves the mountain.
       I am often amused as I read the old newspapers. They sometimes have amazing weather stories. But back in the 1920s, '30s and even '40s, it seemed as though no one ever read what happened before. There were stories every year or so about people getting stuck on Pikes Peak, or some other mountain road. Each one was written as if that had never happened before.
       I did find a story from 1936 that caused a bit of a chuckle. It seems a snowstorm at the end of September caught the railway summit house crew by surprise. The temperature dropped below zero, and the wind blew snow up to the edge of the roof, covering doors and windows.
       The storm continued for three days. The four employees who'd been caught at the Peak typically spent the early fall getting the summit house ready for shutting down, as the place normally closed at the first big storm. This time, there were still plenty of things to do outside, which would not get done - although the staffers were able to dig out the big shutter doors that cover the windows in the winter. Inside, the list of things to do was not even ready, because the first storms usually did not hit until November or December.
       The September 1936 storm also isolated the staff at the highway summit house, which was then on the southwest corner of the flat area at the top. The two summit houses communicated with each other by telephone. It was out of the question to go out and walk to the other summit house.
       The phone lines, wonderfully, survived the high winds. Not only could the crews talk to each other, but they could even talk to Colorado Springs and the outside world.
       A rescue train started up after the storm died down. At this point, the folks from the highway summit house moved over to the railroad house. The rescue train would take them down too. It took two days for the track to be cleared.
       This storm did not end the season on the summit. After a week, the weather turned nice and both the road and the railroad reopened. As can happen, October and November were mild months on the mountain, weather-wise.

(Posted 6/6/16; Opinion: Cobweb Corners)

       Editor's note: Local historian Mel McFarland has been writing his Cobweb Corners column in the Westside Pioneer since 2004. To see past columns, go to the Pioneer's Archives. Either look for desired articles under the Cobweb Corners category for any year, or search by keywords in the Find box.

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