COBWEB CORNERS: Tourists and the automobile

By Mel McFarland

       Way back in the 1890s, residents here learned to see tourists. They would come to this area by train. Ute Pass, Manitou, even Colorado City saw an influx of visitors each summer.
       About the start of World War I, the automobile was making its mark in the West. Wagon roads had been upgraded, and there was interest in different types of paving. Between 1900 and 1910, the Colorado Legislature started funding road improvement projects. The people in rural communities wanted better roads into towns. Cross-country tours were being promoted, even by places like Colorado Springs. Between 1910 and 1915, traffic increased on even the rural roads. The federal government was pressed to fund coast-to-coast road projects.
       In 1902 the first car made it up Pike's Peak, running up the railroad's tracks. In 1913 the first car made it up what we know recognize as the highway. Spencer Penrose bought the road and turned it into a well known route. There was even a new road race initiated on the mountain's improved wagon road which helped bring people here, just to drive their cars up the road.
       After the war, there was a great surge of visitors on the roads. The passenger railroads saw fewer trips as the number of tourists in cars increased. Except for the Great Depression and World War II, this increase has not stopped! Growing up, I remember the smaller motels had contracted with tour services and you could get a tour right at your motel to just about anywhere in the region you wanted to go. The larger motels had their own tour cars. Places like the Broadmoor and the Antlers had fleets of brand-new, polished cars, while the motels' cars might be several years old. As late as the '60s, a few 1950s Cadillacs were still taking the tourists for daily tours.
       I wonder with the gas prices if the tour cars might come back? I suspect a few of the motel owners might consider contracting to Gray Line, but probably want no part of it. It did provide a few local college boys a place to work. It is hard to imagine, but I clearly remember long lines of very important-looking limos rumbling up Colorado Avenue every summer morning, each one carrying a half dozen or so tourists.