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Manitou and Pike's Peak Cog Railway 7/22/2016

by Chris Guenzler

Elizabeth and I packed up before we picked up Robin and left the Super 8 motel at 5:45 AM to get out of Denver before the traffic started. We escaped and stopped at MacDonald's for breakfast. We then drove to Manitou Springs and stopped in town for a few minutes.

Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway 0-4-0T cog 2 on display at Manitou Springs. We then drove to the station, parked the car in the parking lot, picked up our tickets and parking pass then went down to the platform to watch the action and wait to board the train.

History of the Trains, Maintenance and Snow Plows What is a "Cog" Railway?

Conventional railroads use the friction of wheels upon the rails, called "adhesion," to provide locomotive power. A cog, or rack, railroad uses a gear, or cog wheel, to mesh into a special center rack rail to climb much steeper grades than those possible with a standard adhesion railroad. An adhesion railroad can only climb grades of 4 to 6%, with very short sections of up to 9%. A "rack" railroad can climb grades of up to 48%, depending upon the type of rack system employed. Some Swiss trains use a combination of "rack" and "adhesion" systems, enabling the trains to reach much higher speeds on the adhesion sections. The majority of rack railroads cannot go much faster than 15 miles per hour or they run the risk of dislodgement from the rack rail - the top speed of the Pikes Peak Railway is about 9 mph. The Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway uses a double cog, or Abt, system.

The first cog railway was built in New Hampshire in 1869. The Swiss, seeing the benefits of such a system, were quick to make use of this technology and numerous rack railways were built in Switzerland. Indeed, Switzerland is the country where most rack railways are located. The Pikes Peak Railway, however, is the highest rack railway in the world as well as the highest railway in North America and the Northern Hemisphere. The Pikes Peak Railway also has a perfect safety record!

History of the Trains

In the late 1880's, one of the tourists who visited the Pikes Peak Region was Zalmon Simmons, inventor and founder of the Simmons Beautyrest Mattress Company. Mr. Simmons rode to the summit of Pike's Peak on a mule, partly to enjoy the view and partly to check upon one of his inventions: an insulator for the telegraph wires that ran to the Army Signal Station on the Summit. In those days, the arduous, two day trip on a mule was the only way to reach the top. Mr. Simmons was awed by the scenery but determined that the views should be experienced in a more civilized and comfortable manner. He was relaxing in one of Manitou Springs' mineral baths after his return, when the owner of his hotel mentioned the idea of a railway to the top. Mr. Simmons agreed with the concept and soon after set about providing the capital needed to fund such a venture.

In 1889, the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway Company was founded and track construction began in earnest. Top wages were 25 cents an hour with six workers dying in blasting and construction accidents. The Age of Steam dominated the late 1800s, and in 1890, three engines from Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania were delivered. Limited service was initiated in that year to the Halfway House Hotel. These locomotives were eventually converted to operate using the Vauclain Compound system (with two cylinders, one high pressure and one low), and a total of six engines were in service during the "steam" era. The original three engines were named "Pikes Peak," "Manitou," and "John Hulbert," but were soon assigned numbers. Of the original six, only 4 is still operational and, along with a restored coach, is able to make infrequent trips short distances up the track.

The spring of 1891 was a snowy one, and the opening of the line was delayed until late June. On the afternoon of June 30th, 1891, the first passenger train, carrying a church choir from Denver, made it to the summit of Pikes Peak by train. A previously scheduled group of dignitaries had been turned back earlier in the day by a rock slide around 12,000 feet. Regardless, the railway was now operational!

A new era began in the late 1930's with the introduction of gasoline and diesel powered locomotives. Spencer Penrose, owner of the Broadmoor Hotel, had acquired the Railway in 1925 and efforts were underway to build a compact, self-contained railcar, which could carry fewer passengers during the slow parts of the season. These efforts culminated in engine No. 7: a gas-powered, 23-passenger unit, which made its first run on June 16, 1938. It is believed that No. 7 is the first rack railcar ever built in the world.

The experiment was a huge success, and within a year of No. 7's debut, No. 8, possibly the world's first diesel-electric cog locomotive was delivered from the General Electric Company. These diesel locomotives eliminated the time-consuming water stops as well as the back-breaking job of shoveling coal. Coupled with "Streamliner" coaches, Nos. 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 formed the backbone of the Railway's fleet from 1940 through 1965. The coaches could carry 56 passengers in comfort and style.

The modern age of the Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway began with the requisition of railcars from the Swiss Locomotive Works in Winterthur, Switzerland. In the early 1960's, as tourism began to increase in Colorado, the Railway needed additional equipment, but the General Electric Company was not interested in the project. With that in mind, Mr. Thayer Tutt, President of the Railway, traveled to Switzerland to arrange for modern railcar acquisitions.

The first units to arrive from Switzerland were Nos. 14 and 15, which were put into service in 1964. They proved so successful that soon after, the Railway ordered two more nearly identical units, Nos. 16 and 17. These Swiss railcars are self-contained units, powered by two Cummins diesel engines mounted underneath the seating area. As with the GE locomotives, they are diesel-electric trains. 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. Heat is disippated by resistor banks on the roof of the railcars.

Bigger units were needed as tourism continued to grow into the 1970s. The Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway officials returned to Swiss Locomotive Works in 1974 with a request for a train which could carry over 200 people. The results were the articulated railcars Nos. 18 and 19. These cars resemble the smaller single units but are joined by a "bellows" in the middle. In addition to capacity and size, a key difference between the two trains is that the larger units are diesel-hydraulic. Power is provided by a transmission/retarded made by Voith Turbo of Germany. Somewhat like the smaller units, the engines must idle on the return trip. These units originally came equipped with a TwinDisc transmission and a stand-alone retarder by Voith. These have now been replaced with the Voith T211rzze transmission which functions as a transmission going up and a retarder coming down. These first two modern railcars were put into service for the 1976 season with Nos. 24 and 25 being added in 1984 and 1989, respectively.

As an adjunct to the arrival of the first big Swiss railcars, new switches were installed along the line. Prior to 1976, trains departed the Manitou Depot only three times a day in the summer. The equipment needed to transport the passengers at the depot was brought down from the shop, loaded up, and arrived with the train at the summit. With the addition of new sidings at Minnehaha and Windy Point, trains can now run up to eight times per day and pass along the line. Now, trains depart in mid-summer, every eighty minutes, from 8:00 am until 5:20 pm.

In the mid-1960s, a young Swiss engineer by the name of Martin Frick was hired from Swiss Locomotive Works. Over the next 30 years, Mr. Frick brought the Railway into the modern age. The Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway is deeply indebted to Mr. Frick for his years of dedication and hard work. In addition to the first 80 passenger railcars, he did a major expansion of the shop facilities; oversaw the installation of new, modern electric and manual switches both in the yard and along the line; designed and built snowplow #22 with shop personnel; helped with the design and supervision of the acquisition of four 214-passenger railcars; and many other improvements too numerous to mention. As of April 2005, Mr. Frick continues to help with Swiss and German transactions and offers expert advice.


Since we're closed five days a week in the winter, a lot of people ask, "What do you people do all winter?!" In reality, the winters are actually busier than the summers. Although we only run one trip a day in the winter, versus up to 12 in mid-summer, our mechanics are up to their elbows in grease, diesel fuel, and train parts. We defer all major maintenance on the trains until things slow down. In the mid-summer, we have our hands full running eight daily departures of up to twelve trains total to the top of the Peak. But when things begin to slow down, the real dirty work begins and dirty is no joke!

In addition to the rigorous routine maintenance every unit receives, we do various other jobs in the winter, like changing cog wheels.

The steel tires on a cog railway wear very slowly, but the cog wheels do not. The tires, or wheels, bear the weight of the railcars and center the units so the cog wheels properly mesh with the rack rail. We measure the wear on all units every year, and when the wear is too great, they wheels must be either rotated or changed. As they only wear on the downhill side of the teeth, and the rack rail wears only on the uphill side, the wheels and rack rail can be turned after a certain amount of wear has occurred.

Turning or changing wheels and rails is a long and time-consuming process involving draining all fluids; detaching fuel, electric, and air lines; disconnecting the drive shafts; and lowering the cog assembly out of the train. Then the tires must be removed and the cog wheels two per axle are pulled off and are either changed or rotated. A well-trained and experienced crew of four can replace or turn a cog wheel and drop it back in its associated axle in one week. This means that a small railcar takes two weeks and a large railcar takes one month to complete.

Here are some older projects we have worked on:

A major project was the conversion of Unit 25 (a 214 passenger unit) to a Voith transmission/braking system. This project cost close to $1 million. A Swiss engineer from Stadler-Bussnang AG, by the name of Mr. G, oversaw the project with help from Voith of Germany. Mr. G, as well as Stadler, has been instrumental in keeping the Railway current with the state-of-affairs in the world of rack railways.

Recently, we converted Unit 24 to a Voith transmission/retarder. Originally, all our twin-unit, 214-passenger railcars were outfitted with a transmission from Twin Disc of Racine, Wisconsin and a retarder, or brake, from Voith of Germany. Unfortunately, those original Voith retarders are now obsolete. We first made this conversion to the newer braking system on Units 18 and 19, in 1996-97 and 1997-97, respectively. This is an extremely costly process: the transmissions alone are about $125,000 each. The process runs from October through May and involves a great deal of time and effort by our team of mechanics and engineers.

Here is the middle of a twin-unit train. Note the bellows which connect the two cars. First, we must remove the bellows and disconnect the electronic cabling, which enables a single engineer to operate each railcar. It is sitting on four large air jacks as well as a series of ties. The bogie (wheel/axle/truck/gearbox assembly) for the uphill portion has been rolled forward and the rear bogie is being worked on. In the picture below, you can see the cog wheels being turned. The pony axle is mostly hidden towards the rear. This axle does not have any cog wheels and is only for stability and weight distribution. One tire and the ratchet brake hub, springs, and assembly have already been removed. A mechanic is preparing to remove the ratchet brake from the axle. In the foreground are the tire, the gearbox, and then the two cog wheels. The steel rods to the left are inserted into the ratchet brake which is mounted directly on the axle.

This cog work above is not something that is part of the new Voith transmission installation; it just so happens that the cog wheels need to be turned after a certain amount of wear. The wheel can only be turned once, after the other side wears down it must be replaced. In the photo above, machinist L.W. is profiling a tire: taking the groove out so there is a slight downward angle. The tires on ordinary railroads provide more motive power, but on cog trains they simply carry the load. After thousands of trips, our tires develop wear and need to be profiled, as do tires on mainline locomotives.

Back to the Voith conversion, the underside of the train needs quite a bit of modification in order to accommodate the new transmissions. Here, a wall has been cut open to enable the Voith transmission to fit. Incidentally, the transmission is directly mounted to a Cummins diesel engine.

I hope that this has given you an idea of why our "off-season" is so busy for our full time employees. Other "projects" for this time of year include: removing, rewinding, and replacing the generators and traction motors in one of the 80-passenger railcars; working on the worn-out axle of an older GE unit that is now primarily used primarily for work duties; and, of course we do a large amount of preventative maintenance which must also be completed in November through April when we are running fewer trains.

Snow Plows

In the early days of the Railway, snow was a huge problem. On Pikes Peak, most of the snow falls in spring and the Railway cannot fully open until the line is cleared. Snow removal used to be a lengthy and exhausting task involving little more than muscle power. A steam engine would ram a flat car outfitted with a wedge on its nose into the massive banks of snow that had been loosened by charges of dynamite. The section crew would then shovel as much additional snow as possible onto the flat car which would then back down to the nearest available opening. The "gandy dancers" would shovel off the snow, and the whole process would begin again.

Drifts of up to 15 feet are normal from timberline to Windy Point, and the job of snow removal can be slow and time consuming. For many years, the line was not fully open until June. Even today, it is not uncommon to have an overnight storm completely cover the deep cuts below Windy Point with a new blanket of snow.

In 1953, rotary snowplow No. 21 was constructed in the Railway shops in an attempt to help open the line earlier in the year. This early plow, however, met with only limited success. The unit was plagued by mechanical difficulties, such as the chain drive snapping, and was subject to easy dislodgment from the rack rail. Most of the time, the old wedge plow, powered by diesel locomotive No. 9 or No. 11, would be responsible for the lion's share of the work in opening the line.

In 1968, General Manager Martin Frick initiated the installation of a hydraulic bed and point on the wedge plow. However, these improvements all proved to be unable to cope with the common spring snow storms.

The spring of 1973 was one of the worst springs in the Railway's history. Snowstorm after snowstorm pummeled Pikes Peak, and the line was only open for two days in May. Even on days with sunshine, high winds above timberline would blow huge snowdrifts into the cuts overnight. The next morning, workers would arrive back at timberline, only to find the previous day's gains wiped out.

Railway management decided that a new, modern plow was needed. The next winter was spent constructing No. 22, the current snowplow used at the Railway. This massive unit, powered by a 500 horse-power, 12-cylinder Cummins diesel engine, enables the Railway to open after most storms and stay open through the snowstorms of April, May, and into early June.

Our Trip

First our train pulled into the station before it went back to the shed to prepare for the first trip of the day.

This is the first time in three trips here that I noticed the rock on the ridge.

Two more cars came down but reversed to the shed.

125 years of the Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway this year.

Our train came into the station and our group boarded.

While we were waiting for our 8:00 AM departure. Next our bench partners showed up.

I could not believe it. What were the odds that someone I worked with at Heninger Elementry School on Santa Ana would be sitting across from me on the Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway. This is Mr. and Mrs. Navarro and their daughter Sofie. Mr. Navarro is a 5th Grade teacher I worked with and his kids. He is an excellent teacher and a joy to work with. We got caught up on things as the trip began.

At 8:00 AM our train left the base station at Manitou Springs.

The train immediately started climbing the grade.

While most of the named rocks are on the right side of the train, the ones of the left are just as interesting.

Still climbing the grade.

Minnehaha Falls.

We proceeded up Ruxton Canyon.

We ran through the Pikes Peak National Forest.

The train ran up the grade.

More interesting rock formations.

Up the grade we go!

An old cabin.

The grade gets steeper as we get higher up on the mountain.

Sofie slept most of the way up Pikes Peak.

Next the train reached Halfway House.

Interesting rocks.

Colorado Springs Municipal Plant No. 3.

A worker for the Colorado Springs Municipal Plant No. 3.

This rock looks like a face.

You can see the ridges above the trees.

The trees are on many different angles on this mountain.

The view through the car in front of us climbing the grade.

The Mountain View station.

Here we dropped off four hikers at this station stop.

The train passed one of the sidings on the mountains.

The grade gets steeper as we get higher.

Rock formations below the grade.

The train climbed the Big Hill.

The view looking down from the Big Hill.

There is a lake far below our train.

We are nearing the tree line.

You can see tree line on this mountain.

Those rocks are now far below.

The train has reached tree line, the point where trees end on a mountain and then the rocks take over.

Trees on a lower mountain.

Looking back at the Big Hill.

Various views abound from this Cog Railway train.

The car ahead climbing the mountain.

The parts for the cog railway.

The yellow-bellied marmot is the most visible creature that can be seen on Pikes Peak.

We left Windy Point and headed up the grade towards the summit of Pikes Peak


Beautiful views abound as we climb higher on the mountain.

That first car climbs the grade in front of us and we will follow it up the grade.

These views are breath taking.

This is the one spot on the Pikes Peak Cog Railway that you can see views from both sides of the train looking out or down if the passengers choose.

We will clinb up this grade.

The views are always impressive looking behind us.

Looking down towards Victor and that gold mine we saw on the Cripple Creek.

The grade that our train will climb.

Another lake is far below us on this trip.

The views are stunning as we near the summit of Pikes Peak.

The Pikes Peak Toll Road climbs the mountain from the east side to the north side then up the west side to this location.

You can see the top of the grade as our train has reached the summit of Pikes Peak at an elevation of 14,110 feet. This is the highest elevation that I will be on this whole trip.

The car at the end of the track with a great view ahead of it.

The view of the train from below. Next the views from the Summit of Pikes Peak.

Click here for Part 2 of this story!