Truck driver Mike Ludlow says he doesn’t usually go on “autopilot” when he’s hauling, but Monday’s job required a special focus.

With a 40-ton rail car chained to his 18-wheel trailer, Ludlow rolled down the steep, winding Ruxton Avenue in Manitou Springs.

The 78-passenger car, part of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway since the 1960s, is one of three being donated to Manitou Springs as the railroad prepares for a $100 million reconstruction.

Two of the units were taken Monday from the railroad’s depot at the base of the mountain to an equipment yard in east Colorado Springs to be stored, and a third is to make the trip Tuesday.

“The terrain here is real tight,” said Ludlow, who works for Brighton-based S/D Enterprises, a specialist in hauling railroad equipment and other heavy loads.

“Often we have a lot of room to do this,” he said. “This isn’t going to be that kind of deal.”

More than a dozen people gathered in a parking lot near the depot to watch as a crane, bearing nearly 155,000 pounds of counterweight, hoisted each of the more than 50-foot-long cars onto trailers.

“That’s one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a few years,” said Police Chief Joe Ribeiro, who was there to help coordinate road closures.

People peeked out of storefronts and stopped on the sidewalks on Ruxton and Manitou avenues as Ludlow made his way through the community and onto U.S. 24, with vehicle escorts in front and behind warning of an “OVERSIZED LOAD.”

The cog has been closed since 2017, when officials said it had “run its useful life” and needed to be replaced. It now is scheduled to reopen in May 2021 to again offer visitors a scenic trip from the depot to the summit of Pikes Peak.

As part of the owners’ tax incentive deal with Manitou to help finance the reconstruction, the city had first dibs on the retiring rail cars.

City officials plan to display or use one or two of the units but haven’t decided how or where, said interim City Administrator Leah Ash. Some ideas include converting a car into a cafe or railway museum, but no feasibility studies have been done, Ash said.

Manitou has agreed to give a third car to a suburban Seattle developer working on a 10,000-seat outdoor stadium for downtown Colorado Springs’ Switchbacks minor league soccer team. Weidner Apartment Homes will donate $10,000 to Manitou Springs for the car and use it in the design for the stadium. The car might become a luxury sky box or be part of a food service or ticketing area, said Laura Neumann, a strategic project lead for the developer.

G.E. Johnson Construction Co., the general contractor for the stadium, agreed to store all three cars for free at its facility near Constitution Avenue and Marksheffel Road. But getting the cars there is costing Manitou Springs more than $10,000 in contract work from S/D Enterprises and Duffy Crane & Hauling.

The cars — Nos. 14, 16 and 17 — were among the first Swiss rail cars to be shipped to the U.S. Before their arrival, steam engines and General Electric locomotives dominated the nation’s railways, according to the cog’s management.

George Miller, 80, watched the first rail car depart. He recalled seeing the same cars roll down Manitou Avenue on trailers when they arrived more than 50 years ago.

“Saw em’ come in. Need to see em’ go away,” said Miller, who lives in Manitou.

Others used cameras, cellphones and tablets to capture photos and videos of the spectacle.

“It’s a gas, man,” said Manitou resident Douglass Edmundson. “What a way to spend an afternoon. It’s not every day that you get to see something like this.”

Oklahoma Publishing Co., which owns the cog, and Clarity Media, which owns The Gazette, are both subsidiaries of Denver-based Anschutz Corp.

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