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COBWEB CORNERS: When the Incline was a railway

By Mel McFarland

Dec. 9, 2018
       Of the thousands who climb the Manitou Incline, how many know it was once the track bed for a strange railroad?
       Even before the Incline legally opened to the public in 2013, it was a challenge to go around the no-trespassing signs. Those who worked in the parking lot for the Pikes Peak Cog Railway were often entertained by those who started up the 45 percent path. The Manitou Fire Department still has to rescue people who really should not try it!
       Seventy years ago, the Mt. Manitou Incline railway was celebrating its 40-year anniversary! The honored guest was Claude McKesson, who had been one of the first people up it. He entertained the officials of the El Pomar Foundation, the owner of the Incline, with stories of the first day. One "classic" was how no one dared ride in the first car up, even though a huge crowd had gathered. Once the officials and a few brave souls made it up, and down, other riders stepped forward.
       The railway to the top of Mt. Manitou had been built in 1907 to haul pipe for a water line for Colorado Springs. The cars for the general public were built in Denver, using parts from those original "freight" cars.
       The trip cost $1 on the 4th of July, 1908. The cars were open-air, and it did not take long to discover they needed a roof when it rained or hailed. But it was several years before retractable canvas tops were put on top.
       Over the years, the original cars were replaced. In the final years, the cars were aluminum, and roofs were put on when it rained.
       The attraction saw visitors from all over, including a group of state governors who were visiting at a convention. Early on, the idea of taking pictures of each car load was started. Just below the top of the line a stand was built, and a photographer would get a picture of the car just before it got to the top. Each trip had a number, and the pictures would be made available at the station at the bottom. Many of these photos were made into post cards, to be sent home to family.
       During World War II, the riders were often soldiers from Camp Carson. After the war, riders still thronged to the mountain. Some had come to ride to the top of Pikes Peak on the Cog Railway, but could not get a seat, and went up Mt. Manitou instead. It helped that both railways had the same owners and shared a parking lot.
       By the 1960s the Incline's ridership was starting to decline, and by the 1970s there were times when the railway crew was alone in the car. The line finally closed in 1990. A rainstorm destroyed the spot where the two cars passed, and that was the end.
       The route sat unused until the track was finally taken out, leaving the railroad ties. It was not discovered by hikers or runners right away, and now! If only they'd been there to ride those last trains.

(Opinion: Cobweb Corners)

       Editor's note: Local historian Mel McFarland has been writing his Cobweb Corners column in the Westside Pioneer since 2004. To see past columns, go to the Pioneer's Archives. Either look for desired articles under the Cobweb Corners category for any year, or search by keywords in the Find box.

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