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Pikes Peak Railway USAF Cadet Chapel

Adventurers in the Rockies

Chapter Twenty-three

Pikes Peak Cog Railway,

 U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel,

2016 NRHS Convention Banquet

July 22, 2016



Robin Bowers

Text and Photos by Author

The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent

Comments are appreciated


    It was early in the morning when I met Elizabeth and Chris in the motel parking lot. We left at 5:45 AM to get out of Denver before the traffic started. Later we made a stop at MacDonald's for breakfast. From there we continued south on I-25 to Manitou Springs and Pike Peak Cog Railway.


Castle Rock next to I-25 on our way to Manitou Springs.



Manitou and Pikes Railway 0-4-0T cog 2 on display at Manitou Springs.


From there we drove to the station, parked the car, picked up our tickets and went down to the platform to watch the action and wait to board the train.


Cars waiting to start their day after overnight in the barn.


Parking is tight here on this mountain road.

Looking down at the station and platform.

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 dissipated 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.


The parade is starting.


Our car today


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


This is whats make us go.
    The center rack rail wears out as does any gear. The seven-foot sections are unbolted and flipped end for end since all the wear is on the uphill side of each tooth. The rack rails wear faster on the steepest grades. Wooden ties are replaced and they deteriorate at different rates depending on elevation, drainage and shade from sunlight. Though there are some modern mechanized aids, crews still face difficult manual labor especially when working at high altitude. The running rails, the outside rails, see little wear since they merely balance the trains. Much of the running rail is the original rail installed in 1890. It will not last forever and will eventually be replaced as well.


    After we boarded our car and sat on our assigned bench, a family of dad, mom and daughter sat across from us. Looking at our new bench mates, Chris became flabbergasted. Sitting across from us was Mr. and Mrs Navarro and their daughter Sofie. Mr Navarro is a 5th Grade teacher at the school Chris works at, Heninger Elementary School in Santa Ana. Chris and Mr. Navarro caught up on things and we all did "what are the chances" chat.


We left at scheduled departure time of 8:00 AM from the station and immediately started climbing the grade.


Minnehaha Falls.


Pikes Peak National Forest with Englemann spruce trees.


An old cabin.


Colorado Springs Municipal Plant No.3.

The stone structure houses the oldest operating power plant west of the Mississippi River. The train stopped here to let a
worker off. They have to ride the train to get to work. 




Hikers that we dropped off here.
The structure is half of an old steam coach and is a shelter for track crews as well as hikers who cross over to the Barr Trail from here.


Siding at Mountain View.





Reaching the tree line on the mountain.



  Earlier train in front of us climbing to Pikes Peak .



Water storage for Colorado Springs.


The road to the top of Pike's Peak. My family drove up this road in 1963 on their way west to California.



Once at the summit, we left the train and I walked around the top for 360 degree view of Colorado.



The only thing that you can raise here are rocks.




Author at top of Pikes Peak.



More water reservoirs.


End of road parking at the top.





Articulated rail car No. 25 with its unique twin head lights.


Frozen to Death
The frozen bodies of a couple were discovered near the summit by a train engineer on Aug 22, 1911. They had been advised the previous day to delay their ascent along the track until a storm passed. A letter was found on the bodies and said "I hope you are having the time of your life in Colorado and do not freeze to death on Pikes Peak."


    After walking around the summit I then went inside the Summit House for the rest room and a snack of donuts. After that I met up with Chris and Elizabeth in front of the sign for some picture tacking. Finishing that, it was almost time to board for the trip back down the mountain.


Proof that I was here.

Elizabeth and Chris at Pikes Peak Summit.


Colorado Springs.









This car is following us down the peak.



The Windy Point passing siding.








After passing Windy Point, we continued our return down to the base station at Manitou Springs and here we said goodbye to the Navarro family. I really enjoyed my second trip on a cog railway. The first trip was at Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. We left Manitou Springs and headed east on US 24 but made a stop.


    The Colorado Midland Railroad roundhouse still stands in Colorado Springs but has a much different use today than what it had been built for in the beginning. Next we stopped by the Colorado Springs & Interurban Railway to get the ride we did not get last Saturday. Once there we met the same gentleman who had been there on Saturday and he agreed to give us the ride we did not get when we had visited their project before.



SEPTA PCC 2129 would give us a ride today. We were given two rides on the length of their track on this former Rock Island Railroad.


Two happy transit riders.


    After our two trips, we thanked our operator and flagman before we left for the Air Force Academy and the Cadet Chapel. I have wanted to visit the academy since it was first built and see the Cadet Chapel. Also as an USAF veteran that was my second reason to stop here while we were in Colorado Springs. We found the correct exit off of I-25 and arrived at the North Gate where Chris  showed his ID as the driver for us to gain admittance. We then followed the signs to the Chapel visitors parking lot. From there is was a short walk on the grounds to the Cadet Chapel.



The academy's Honor Court.





Parade ground with classrooms and dormitories


Altar end of the chapel.





Choir loft end of chapel where we walked up the steps to enter the main chapel.



Inside the Protestant Chapel with seating for 1,200.



Choir loft with 120 seats.








From the main chapel upstairs, I went downstairs to visit the other chapels.


My first stop was the Catholic chapel.





The Catholic Chapel with seating for 500.


Choir loft with 80 seats.



Next door to the Catholic Chapel were the Jewish and Buddha Chapels.


The Buddha Chapel with seating for 20 worshipers.




The Jewish Chapel with seating for 100 worshipers.




Cadets marching back from lunch.



These clouds will bring rain.


Lunch time and the cadets are lined up at the chow hall.




Steps down lead to the Catholic, Jewish and Buddha Chapels.

After leaving the chapel it started pour down rain so we raced back to the car. We left the Air Force Academy and drove via Palmer Lake before going around a traffic jam in Larkspur before we returned to our motels.


     I walked back to my room at the Super 8 to get ready for tonight's banquet next door at the Holiday Inn. When the three of us were ready we walked over to the Holiday Inn, convention headquarters.

The 2016 Denver Convention NRHS Banquet.


John Goodman welcomed us all to the 2016 Denver Convention NRHS Banquet.


My smiling table mate, Elizabeth.

And me with my half of the table anticipating my salmon dinner.

    Carl Jensen then talked about the two NRHS Rail Camps and then baskets were passed around to collect our donations for this program. We all gave $1,407.50 then someone wrote a check for the same amount bringing the total to $2,815 for the evening.

    NRHS President Al Weber then introduced our guest speaker, Union Pacific Railroad's Edgar E. Dickens who would tell us all about the complete rebuilding of the Union Pacific 844 through a power point presentation.


Union Pacific Railroad's Edgar E. Dickens.

His power point presentation was very informative and afterwards he answered some questions from the audience. After the banquet was over Elizabeth, Chris and I walked back to our motel rooms and called it a day.

some photos courtesy of Chris G.

Thanks for reading.

Next: Leadville trip to Climax

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