COBWEB CORNERS: A visiting palace on wheels

By Mel McFarland

       “The handsomest railroad train that ever crossed the continent and maybe the finest in the world arrived in Colorado Springs yesterday, April 10th, 1901, over the Denver and Rio Grande from Denver,” a local newspaper wrote.
       The party, Dr. and Mrs. Seward Webb and family, consisted of a dozen passengers, plus 10 servants. including chefs, porters, policemen, waiters and valet. There were also a number of pets belonging to the passengers, including, dogs and parrots. Dr. Webb was the son-in-law of Cornelius Vanderbuilt, who had interest in a number of local projects as well as a number of large investments in the east.
       The train parked at the Rio Grande's station, where it was guarded against too-curious inspection by the public. First in line was a special horse car, used for baggage; then the café car "Genesta," used by the staff for meals; the private car "Swananono"; and last but not least Dr. Webb's own car "Elsmere." The two private cars had their own kitchens and dining rooms. All of the cars were lettered "New York Central and Hudson River" across the top and were vestibuled (a recent addition to railroad cars).
       Dr. Webb was in constant contact with New York through his private secretary's telegraph. Even though anxious to get on to California, they met with many of the important residents of the area. A lunch was arranged for some of these in the privacy of the train.
       In the afternoon, after the lunch, Denver and Rio Grande engines pulled the train to Manitou. The size of the train required more than normal power to make the trip. This must have made quite a scene going through the streets of Colorado City. Upon the return to Colorado Springs, the train continued south to Pueblo and on to Salt Lake City. The rest of the trip was made with as much speed as possible to get the train to Coronado Beach, California. The return to New York was another quick trip a month later. Ah, what a way to travel!
       In the 1890s, Vanderbilt himself rode up the mountain in the cab of one of the little steam locomotives. The story of famous visitors who went up the mountain was rarely recorded, and mention in the Manitou paper was often just a paragraph.