COBWEB CORNERS: A forgotten anniversary
By Mel McFarland
This month a local landmark turns 101 years old. Unfortunately it is only a me-mory. Claude L. McKesson was the engineer who designed the Mt. Manitou Incline Railway. Charles W, Stiff, an artist and photographer, was the one who proposed building the Incline, then the world's longest.
Stiff and Frank M. Fishback initially raised the money and Dr. N. N. Brumback brought in the last contribution to the project. The Incline, built a year before to haul pipe up the mountain for a Colorado Springs water project, was a bit different than what McKesson converted it into. The pipe was also used to provide water for the new hydro electric power plant above the cog station on Ruxton Avenue. The power plant is still in use, now owned by Colorado Springs Utilities.
The first difficult task for the railway project was to move the power house from the bottom of the Incline to the top. A small motor dragged the equipment up the grade at a blazing 1/8 mile an hour. This meant two hours to get each part to the top. It took several days to get all the equipment to the top and set up to operate. The original track was extended from the construction incline. Toward the bottom, there was a slight easing of the grade at the station, which was located above the old Iron Springs Hotel site, just off Ruxton Avenue near the cog railway station. The hotel had burned down only a short time before the Incline project was planned.
The first trips cost $1. On July 4, 1908, the official opening, fares were only 50 cents. A 75-horsepower motor operated the cables, which controlled the two open cars as they moved up and down the mountain. One came up as the other went down. Near the top, each car was photographed and pictures were made available later. The line was purchased by Spencer Penrose, and maintenance came under William McKay of the Midland Terminal and the cog road. After the Midland Terminal closed in 1949, maintenance was done by the cog road.
McKesson moved on to Los Angeles in 1909, but he returned for the Incline's 40th anniversary. It was his first time back in all those years. When the line was taken out in 1990 after it was damaged in a landslide, much of the operating equipment was still original. The "Question Mark" lights were turned off and taken down. But the landmark still remains. The plans had been to have the old scar heal and the trees return, but hikers still disregard the No Trespassing signs to walk up the old ties.