COBWEB CORNERS: El Paso County’s first car

By Mel McFarland

       I recently was reminded of the story I told about trying to get a World War I tank to the top of Pikes Peak. I think it is time to talk about the first car in El Paso County. It arrived over a hundred years ago. No, it was not a Ford, Chevy, Toyota or any other name you might recognize.
       It was July 1899 when the first self-propelled vehicle made its way to the area. It is described as a converted wagon, with heavy solid rubber tires. It was built by E. J. Cabler and Robert Temple, of Denver. It was capable of 15 miles per hour. That may not seem like much, but a good horse team does not do much better. The trip from Denver took two days, partly because of the condition of the roads, and the fact that there were only limited quantities of gasoline available on the way. The men discovered that they had not put in a large enough gas tank. The wagon ran out of gasoline several times, and they had to walk for additional fuel. It was fortunate that the old roads were near the railroads, and that provided rescue possibilities. The route from Denver passed through Littleton, Sedalia, Castle Rock, Larkspur, Palmer Lake, Monument, and many smaller, now-forgotten towns. None of these had a gas station, but a few general stores and blacksmith shops had a gallon or so of that volatile liquid.
       When they finally crested the ridge we know as the Palmer Divide, conditions improved. Even going downhill was a battle. The route came through what is now the Air Force Academy, along Monument Creek into Colorado Springs. One of their ideas was to take their rig to Cripple Creek to demonstrate it as a replacement for the mule teams that were hauling ore from the mines. The whole idea fell into a heap when they tried to go up Ute Pass.
       The men did not give up on their plan, and they continued to work on getting the bugs out of their vehicle. Unfortunately for them, the idea of trucks did not catch on right away. It was the curious bicycle builders who brought the size down to something smaller and lighter, but gasoline and the roads continued to be problems. The rugged Model T Ford could travel those early roads and that's what brought automobiles into common use.
       Incidentally, did you know that Ford actually built Model T's in Denver? The building is still there; it was eventually part of Gates Rubber on South Broadway.