COBWEB CORNERS: Students on the cog then and now

By Mel McFarland

       This time of year the cog railway is host to hundreds of school children, mainly 4th graders, as part of their lessons about Colorado history. I ran across a story about what may have been the first school field trip up the railway. It was in July 1892.
       Fifty area summer-school students and teachers took a train from downtown Colorado Springs to the Iron Springs station on the Colorado Midland in Manitou. A short walk found them at the cog railway station. Engine Number 1 and the coach "Leadville" waited at the station. The little steam engine pushed the coach loaded with the excited youngsters up Englemann Canyon. Along the way Professor Cannon from Denver explained the rocks and their formation. The view of Minnehaha Falls started an explanation of some of the plants in the area. The train paused at Half Way House for a short stop. Up beyond the passengers got their first look at Pike's Peak, and the views up to Windy Point added to their delight.
       The train stops were different in those early days. The train stopped at Gulch Station for water. This area is known today as The Saddle, where you can see back to Colorado Springs. With a mile and a half to go, while water was added to the engine's tanks, the passengers left the train to gather wild flowers.
       Reaching the summit, one of the teachers brought out a telescope. Boats on Prospect Lake were seen and described in detail. It was a bit hazy, so views to Kansas were not as clear. A rainstorm near Canon City was examined, as well as one near Denver.
       Some students collected mineral samples. In 1892, Cripple Creek and its gold were just starting to grow.
       After lunch and a group picture, the group divided. Some hardy souls walked down, while others rode the train back to Manitou. Later trains retrieved many of the hikers, who discovered the difficulty of the mountain stroll. The last of the students and teachers arrived in Manitou by seven in the evening.
       Today, everyone usually rides down on the train they come up on. Then the trip usually took just over four hours. Today it is just over three hours. Most school groups do a morning trip, to fit into a normal day, including the bus ride. Occasionally older students will also walk down Barr Trail, which was not there in 1892. Also, I've found no mention of hot chocolate and donuts!