Reunion '15

Colorado Springs, CO  - 7-10 SEPTEMBER 2015

USS PICKING (DD-685) 27th REUNION 7-10 SEP 2015


We took a bus to Manitou Springs, a town just west of Colorado Springs. We disembarked at the Cog Railway train station. Fortunately we were on the first train of the day.


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 disippated 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.

The train travels at 8 MPH and has an engineer to drive and a conductor/guide to pass on information along the way. The cars are comfortable wuth 2 wooden seats on one side of the aisle and three on the oher.  The windows are large for viewing the spectacular vistas. The guide was a young lady with a very clear and, fortunately for we old tars whose hearing was attenuated by ship noises such as 5"/38 gunfire, loud. She had a beautiful singing voice as she sang a few pieces during the trip.

This 3 hour and 10 minute trip spans over 8.9 miles of track. The steepest grade is about 25%. The first third of the trip is along Ruxton Creek in Englemann Canyon. Here the steep track follows a cascading stream through dense stands of Englemann spruce, Colorado blue spruce, and Ponderosa pine trees. There are boulder fields on both sides of the train; conductors like to point out the various "faces" and shapes which, with a bit of imagination, can be seen in the giant boulders.

Right near the Minnehaha switch, where the down bound trains pass the up bound trains on many trips, is Minnehaha Falls. The guide pointed out that these falls are higher than Niagara Falls, "higher" is the key word, meaning elevation.

Right below the old settlement of Ruxton Park, the train passes through what is known as "Hell's Gate." Don't worry, it's not as ominous as it sounds, it's just a natural gateway in the mountains.

After a few more minutes, the train passes through Deer Park, where passengers sometimes catch a glimpse of mule deer grazing. Then we pass over the Four Mile Siding and get our first glimpse of Pikes Peak! At the halfway point of the journey, you will pass by Mountain View, another siding. At about the 5-mile point, the grade steepens again and we begin climbing in earnest.

Here on "The Big Hill," Mount Almagre dominates the views.

Many of the trees in this area are bristlecone pine, some of the oldest living things on earth! It is estimated that some bristlecone pines on Pikes Peak are over 2000 years old. For more information on these amazing trees, check out this website: www.sonic.net/bristlecone.

Once we climb above timberline, the views become more expansive. Timberline is the area where trees stop growing. They cannot get enough moisture because, just under the surface, there is permafrost where the ground remains frozen year-round. What does grow is known as Alpine tundra: a mixture of mosses, grasses, and wildflowers, which have all adapted to the extremely short growing season.

Here passengers frequently see yellow-bellied marmots and Bighorn sheep. The yellow-bellied marmot is the most populous animal on Pikes Peak. Playful creatures, the marmots like to sun themselves on rocks in the summer and hibernate in the winter. They are noted for their piercing whistle, which alerts others of danger, and gives rise to the name "whistling marmots" or "whistle pig." Pikes Peak is also home to one of the largest herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in Colorado.

The last 3 miles of the trip are all above timberline. To the east stretch the Great Plains out beyond the border of Colorado and Kansas. To the south, the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Range stretches south to New Mexico. On the western horizon, just slightly to the southwest, lies the Collegiate Range.

To the southwest, as the base of Pikes Peak, sit the old mining towns of Cripple Creek and Victor. Once upon the summit, if the weather is clear (and there is not much Denver smog), you can see the skyscrapers of downtown Denver.

You are allowed 30 to 40 minutes on the top of Pikes Peak. Most people begin to feel the effects of high altitude (slight nausea, headache) after about 30 minutes.

None of our group was adversely affected by the thin air. One older fellow who rode his Harley to the top collapsed and was given first aid by trained EMT personnel who work at the Summit House.

Summit House sign

Panorama looking North

Panorama looking Southeast (with Cog RY tracks at left)

Panorama looking Northeast

Panorama looking Northwest

On the ascent (left - looking to rear at Minnehaha switch)

On the ascent



Descent (left - unknown Picking mate leaving his office)