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COBWEB CORNERS: Cars driving up the cog tracks

By Mel McFarland

       The first car to the summit of Pike's Peak was a little steam-driven rig in 1901, and it actually went up the cog railroad tracks! I have seen pictures of it on the steps of the Summit House.
       In 1920, as a publicity stunt, "Bear Cat" Brown, one of the Hill Climb racers, took a stock Paige automobile up the tracks. The railroad climbs up to 25 feet in 100 feet, much steeper than the highway. The car's wheels were just outside the spacing of the track (called standard gauge) of four feet, eight and a half inches. The car also had to negotiate past several switches. This had to be done slowly and carefully. Most of the trip was done in low gear, but in the middle of the trip, second was possible. It had to be bone-shattering! The speed was between 5 and 18 miles an hour, with the car bumping along on the ties and ballast. By the way, the fastest the train gets on its way up is 10 mph.
       A train followed the car up the line while not one but two film crews recorded the event! The Paige Automobile Company intended to use these films in advertising its vehicles. Paige rented the railway and the train.
       The 1920 ride was advertised as the the first time a car had driven that span of tracks, but it was far from it. In 1913 another car went up the road, then down the railroad. This was prior to the first summer of the automobile road. Spencer Penrose had just purchased the rights to operate the old carriage road from Cascade and was improving it. He started the Hill Climb for publicity.
       The trip down the railroad was more of a challenge, because of the quality of automobile brakes in those days. The problem was controlling the speed. In addition the tires were wrapped with rope to provide both traction and protection of the rubber.
       If you drive the current Pikes Peak Highway, the old carriage road can still be seen in a few places.

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