On vacation with his family from Illinois, Pete Coggeshall could not have known he was photographing a soon-to-fade icon in Colorado Springs.
Little did he know that day in June 1980 that the Mount Manitou Incline Railway had entered its final decade after being born at the turn of the century. Not until Coggeshall and his wife, Sandy, later retired and moved to the Springs did they learn that the tourist attraction had closed.
“We were somewhat disappointed,” Coggeshall said, “but not surprised.”
Editor’s Note: The Manitou Incline Railway operated from 1907 until 1990, when rock slides and wash outs made it too expensive to maintain.
He noticed some wear and tear on the tracks — the same observation that led to the Pikes Peak Cog Railway’s closure 38 summers later. While a plan is in place to run trains up America’s Mountain again, Mount Manitou’s cars boarded their last passengers in 1989, as local historian Eric Swab writes in his book, “From Utility to Attraction: the History of the Manitou Incline.”
Now all we have are the photos. Such as those from Coggeshall.
He recently shared them with The Gazette for fanatics around the city to enjoy.
The Incline survives, of course, as a super popular, lung-busting, mile-long trail of ties gaining 2,000 feet of elevation. And while ice invades, keeping the burn-seeking crowds away, what better time than now to revisit the Incline’s former life?
Come with Coggeshall for the tour, starting in the parking lot that is now home to the T-shirt- and coffee-stocked Incline Base Camp. As cars loaded here, the scene had the appearance of some Disney ride — attractive indeed for the vacationing Coggeshalls.
A 1910 brochure printed in Swab’s book called the Incline “the longest and greatest railway of its kind in the world.” Postcards showed tourists wearing “the Incline Smile.”
But by the end of the 1980s, owners recorded declining ridership. The fare was raised from $5 to $6, but that reportedly wasn’t enough.
“My memory was, there were four or five people other than us,” Coggeshall recalled from his ride, in a car that fit 30.
Daughter Nancy, 10, and John, 7, shared their seat, with mom and dad taking another.
“You’re going very quickly up a very steep grade,” Coggeshall said. “That was the thing that impressed me the most, was how steep it was and how fast it was climbing.”
In the early days, operators said it took 16 minutes each way. “It got us up there in I would say 20 minutes, 20 or 25 minutes,” Coggeshall said.
He remembered a concession stand waiting at the top. Various outfits took root there throughout the railway’s history, most notably the burro line that was believed to be Fred Barr’s, the man behind Barr Trail, the path up Pikes Peak. By 1908, Swab writes, burros were taking tourists from the Incline to 14,000 feet for $3 round trip.
Atop Mount Manitou, the Coggeshall kids enjoyed the chipmunks.
“They enjoyed the trip,” their dad said, “but see, I’m a train mechanical engineer, and so for me, it was not only the trip, but how it happened.”
Today, Coggeshall sees the mountainside scar and still sees the railway and the cables — not the uniform steps made for hikers. Come to think of it, he hasn’t had a conversation with anyone who shares the memory.
“I’ve never met anybody else who acknowledged riding it,” he said. “But then again, it’s not something I talk about day to day.”
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