COBWEB CORNERS: The unusual railroad project

By Mel McFarland

       As a kid in Colorado City I was fascinated by the smoke I could see going up Pike's Peak. I knew it was a train, I had seen it in Manitou. My family regularly rode the Incline cars, but the cog train was something different. I would eventually take my first train ride up, but it was a diesel. Later, when one of the steamers was restored, I did get to do part of the trip in front of a steamer.
       One of the most unusual Colorado railroad projects was proposed in the 1880s, but it took a while to get going. The Manitou and Pike's Peak would haul, not freight, but people to the top of the great mountain. The earlier Pike's Peak Railway and Improvement Company had laid out a line from Manitou through Crystal Park to the summit, and part of the roadbed was built before it went broke. On September 28, 1888, the Manitou and Pike's Peak Railway Company was incorporated. Zalmon Simmons was the main financial backer of the project. The odd little railroad was unlike any other in the country and used the strange, Swiss-invented Abt System of cog and rack rail.
       Work on the grading started down from the summit on September 25, 1889. Once work had progressed to the base, work started in Manitou. Equipment started to arrive in 1890. A single engine pushed completed sections of track from the yards to the workmen putting them in place. The odd looking engine's boiler set at an odd angle to be level as it climbed the mountain. Huge cylinders drove cog wheels on the drive axles, which fit into a set of teeth on a pair of offset rack rails. As the track passed one mile, a second engine had arrived, as well as the passenger coaches. The tiny steam engines were located downhill from the coaches, pushing them uphill and holding them in place downhill. Tourists were even brought up to view the progress. Snow did not stop construction, but it did make it difficult. The last spike was driven on October 22, 1890. The line was by no means finished. Once the line was cleared of snow in June, final touches were finished. A storm prevented the director's train from reaching the top, but the next train had the distinction of being the first to the summit. The diminutive engines pushed the cars up the mountain from the spring to fall of each year starting in June 1891.