Manitou & Pike's Peak Cog Railway

Pike's Peak is named for Zebulon Pike, an early explorer.  He first saw the peak in 1806 and attempted to climb it in mid-November.  Heavy snow turned his party back and he later stated that this mountain would never be climbed.  He estimated the altitude at 18,000 feet.  (Current measurements are 14,110)  However, Edwin James climbed the peak in 1820, followed by the first woman, Julia Holmes, in 1858.  It is also believed the Ute Indians made frequent trips to the summit prior to this for ceremonial needs and the collection of eagle feathers.

Due to its visibility across the Colorado plains it led to the expression of "Pike's Peak or Bust" during the westward expansion.

A mule line was running up the peak in the late 1800s.  The journey took three days.  The views were so spectacular that resorts were built along the route.  One of the first persons to heavily promote the area was General Palmer, who built the Denver & Rio Grande railroad and founded the city of Colorado Springs.

Sometime in the 1880's, Zalmon Simmons, inventor and founder of the Simmons Beautyrest Mattress Company, rode to the summit of Pike's Peak on a mule, to check upon one of his inventions: an insulator for the telegraph wires which ran to the Army Signal Station on the summit.  He was so enthralled with the view, and exhausted by the long mule ride,  that when he was approached by the manager of his hotel about a railway to the top he readily agreed to provide the needed capital.

In 1889, the Manitou & Pike's Peak Railway Company was founded.  Wages were 25 cents a day and six workers died in the construction.  Baldwin Locomotives provided all six steam engines to operate on the mountain.  They worked on the Vaulcain Compound system.  (Only #4 is still operational and is only ran for special occasion, and then only a short way up the mountain.)  They used the ABT rack system: gears on the locomotive engage "fingers" on the rack.  This system can work with grades of up to just over 25% (steepest grade on this line is 25%).  Steeper grades require a ladder rack system.

In 1891, the first train reached the summit.  Three water and coal stops were required on both the ascent and descent.  The fireman had to be in great shape to shovel the coal required to power up the numerous steep grades.  One of the first grades is the steepest and was soon nicknamed "Son of a Gun Hill", or something like that.

The 1938 saw the introduction of self-propelled rail cars powered by diesel or gasoline.  The first rack railcar ever built was on the Pike's Peak railway, it was built locally and gasoline powered.  General Electric built and delivered the first diesel-electric railcar a short time later, eventually building numbers 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12.  These railcars ran through 1965.  Each carried 56 passengers.

General Electric had no further interest in building cog railcars, so in the early 1960's, Swiss Locomotive Works in Winterthur, Switzerland, was contracted for a new generation of equipment.  The first units were put into service in 1964.  Trains 14, 15, 16 and 17 each carried 80 passengers.  The were diesel-electric with Cummins power.  Generators driven by the diesel engines provide the power to traction motors for the ascent. For the descent, the diesel engines are shut down and the traction motors work as generators. The electric power generated is consumed by resistor banks on the roof of the railcars.   (A very similar system is used in dynamic braking on today's standard locomotive.)

Swiss Locomotive Works was again contracted to build bigger railcars in 1974.  Numbers 18, 19, 24 and 25 were delivered between 1976 and 1989.  Each seats 214 passengers.  These are a two-unit articulated railcar, with four sets of drives.  These are also diesel-pneumatic.  Braking is done with a pneumatic retarder, requiring the diesel engine to remain powered on the descent.

Snow is a constant battle along the route.  Windy Point drifts over almost every day in the winter, and occasionally during the summer.  There is a locally built snow blower on the line, along with a snow ram.  It is neat to watch the snow blower moving ahead of the train, too bad there are no stops for photo ops.  The large articulated trains require track crews to manually widen the curves through the snow, then a pass with the blower to remove the knocked down snow from the track.

There is no provision for on-line reservations.  An email system is used, or you can call.  Payments are only accepted in person at the Depot, and only after they confirm how far up the track the train can get today.  Rates are then pro-rated accordingly.

There is minimal access to the yard and equipment for photos.

A brief note about altitude - no matter how warm it is at the station, it will be much cooler, and probably very windy, at the summit.  I saw folks board wearing shorts and light jackets.  It was 17 degrees, -2 wind chill, up top.  They were miserable.

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