COBWEB CORNERS: The building of the cog road
By Mel McFarland
Starting in 1889, 800 men and more than 100 mules and horses began working on the cog road to the summit of Pikes Peak. Building up Englemann Canyon with its giant boulders and the narrow, winding Ruxton Creek was the most direct route possible. Work started just below the entrance to the government trail up the canyon at the Iron Spring. It took three years, mainly working in just the warmer months, with crews working all along the line at the same time.
The cog is from a design by Roman Abt, a Swiss engineer. There were no wooden bridges, only substantial stone and steel, and all four are still in use. The track is of standard gauge, but the real traction is the Abt-designed rack rail in the center, two rows, offset to have the train's cog wheel always down in a tooth. The stress is on the rack rail. It is anchored on every other tie, which is then firmly braced into the rock base under the track.
For the steam locomotive, the cog wheels were under its heaviest point. The power to the track was strictly through the cog wheels. Two tanks on the side of the engine provided water for the boiler, but water stations along the line were used to replenish the water used along the way. Enough coal for the entire trip was carried on the engine.
As the engine pushes its train up the mountain, instead of pulling it, the train has no pilot, or cow catcher, merely a roller. The locomotives were initially designed to push up to three passenger cars. The cars had no couplers, but rollers in contact with those on the engine and next car. In the end it was discovered the train could only safely push one car at a time. The cars could not take the stress! When attempted in a test, the car in the center suffered damage to its frame, and the test was never done again.
The first tickets to ride the cog were $5 for the round trip, and this remained the price pretty much into the Depression. In the 1930s, a gasoline-powered train was built and a larger diesel was designed. World War II delayed building more. Since the 1960s, Swiss trains have been used.