My Train Recollections: Mike Harrison – Best Train Trip Ever – Part 3

“Still in Colorado Springs, Tuesday morning, 5/31/05 we met early and took off in Bob’s rental car, Pike’s Peak or bust. Zeb Pike spotted the mountain on an expedition ~ 1814 and tried a couple of times to climb it but never got to the top. Locals probably felt sorry for him and named it after him in consolation. These days they hold several foot races up the side of the mountain and the world record holder made it in just 2 hrs. Now there’s a dirt road to the top and several hiking trails, but there is also the Pike’s Peak cog railway. We took the train naturally, in the lead car of a 2-car consist, every seat taken. 14,100 ft to the top (from sea level) but we started at the original Manitou Springs station at about 6000 ft. The ride up takes an hour at about 10 miles/hr, so we were all pretty impressed with that world record holding runner. Scenery on a clear day would be phenomenal, but our weather was partial overcast, with partially phenomenal views. (Clear to the west, clouds to the east) I took some pictures from the top, but the perspective is missing. You have to be there and see what inspired “America the Beautiful” yourself. One other thing – it is cold at 14,100 ft, even in late May. Smart people had bundled up, even though they looked a little odd in the 80 degree warmth in Manitou. One fool was freezing in shorts and tee shirt, though I’ll deny it if asked. 

After the ride back down to Manitou Springs we loaded up on Cog RR souvenirs and found a gourmet Chicago-style hotdog stand for lunch and an obligatory case of heartburn. I ate a normal chili/slaw dog and for dessert a “Chicago-style” hotdog which is a hot dog with a tomato, onion and a pepper each sliced in half and all somehow packed on a normal sized bun. Filling. Just a few miles north was the Garden of the Gods, a CO Springs public park with an excellent visitors’ center. Loaded up on more souvenirs before we drove through and took some pictures of each other and the spectacular rock formations. They are all over the place in this part of CO, but these were Park-protected and pretty well preserved except for natural erosion and the ignoramuses that ignored the prolific “DO NOT CLIMB” signs. The view of Pike’s Peak from the Garden is awesome, though not so much the other way around. The Garden was well advertised by the Denver and Rio Grande and Santa Fe RRs, and is still high on the list of CO tourist attractions with good reason.

From the Garden we drove just a few more miles north to the Flying W ranch, actually a 100-acre outdoor restaurant with a bunch of western-style shops and amusements. In addition to the locale and western motif, their claim to fame was that they could serve 1000 people dinner in < 15 minutes. There were probably 600-700 there that evening, but Bob had reserved a stage-front table for dinner and the show, a very good quartet of cowboy musicians. The secret to the fast service was that you went through their chow lines with your platter held out and they plopped your serving on it for you, Army mess-hall style. No hold ups trying to spot the biggest piece of meat or best potato. We had ham, chicken, potatos, baked applesauce, beans, cowboy-coffee or lemonade (reserved for sissies), all you could eat either until it was gone or the show started. The three of us stopped one bite short of gluttony. Except for my brother. And his brother. [June 2012 update – the Flying W was totally destroyed by wild fires. USAFA also brushed.]

Wednesday, 6/1, we were car-less as Bob had to work that morning. So, Dad and I ate the complimentary motel breakfast and walked 3 blocks to the American Numismatic Society/Museum. We toured until Bob was finished and met us back at Econo Lodge. The money museum was exhibiting what must be the finest privately held (Harry Bass Jr.) antique gold/silver coin collection in the world. Many of the coins were one of a kind, most were examples of 2-12 of a kind known to exist, and this collection had all or most of those! It was chilling to read that only three US 1877 $5 gold Seated Liberties with double-struck obverses were ever minted, and you are looking at all three together! The curator said she knew the value of the collection (which filled a 30 x 30 ft room) but for security reasons would not disclose it. But she did say the number would require “at least eight figures.” More than I make in a week. The basement had an exhibit of Treasury Department mint and engraving/printing blunders through the years. In the souvenir shop, you could buy $1000 for $2.95, but the $1000 came in a little glass vial and was chopped into micro-confetti.

We checked out of the Econo Lodge when Bob came and got us on the road back to Denver. Tried to find James Dobson’s Focus on the Family headquarters for lunch at Whit’s End, but we got lost and missed it, ended up taking a really straight and sparsely-traveled back road to Denver until we hit Littleton. Then for the next 20 miles it was pretty much Interstate 25 gridlock into downtown Denver. We had planned to go through the US Mint, but all tours for the day had been booked long before we showed up, and they no longer let you go through on your own. They don’t even let you stop your car long enough to ask if a tour is available. If you stop in front of the Mint, a Jack Bauer wannabee leaps out of his little guard kiosk and screams, “Move your car–NOW!!!” They were kind enough to let us spend money in the gift shop outside where I got some fresh Denver-minted Minnesota quarters and a few Scaggies. Found a Chinese place for lunch, then Bob dropped us at the hotel, Comfort Inn Downtown and returned to CO Springs. Hated to see him go. He’s a generous host and a good brother. We wandered around the hotel and found it connected by a skyway to the Brown Palace across the street. I knew it had been built as a turn-of-the-century (20th) luxury hotel by the Unsinkable Molly Brown, until the girl I was impressing with my knowledge of history explained it was built by some other rich guy named Brown (no relation) as an office building, and had been fairly recently renovated as a Luxury Hotel. But she was only the Brown Palace Concierge, so what did she know? Besides, what my version lacked in veracity it made up with flair. We took the free city-center tandem bus about a mile to Denver Union Station, looked around, picked up some Amtrak collectibles (baggage tickets) and came back, deciding to get a cab in the morning rather than walk or try to bus with the luggage.

Thursday morning 6/2/05, 6 am, we partook of a huge complimentary buffet breakfast at the hotel and caught a cab to the station. We were a little early, which turned out to be a great thing because I’d no sooner checked our bags than 100’s of people descended on the place to do the same. Conductors there checked each ticket and photo ID before you left the station to board. We walked down a ramp through the tunnel under the tracks to the California Zephyr gate, then up a ramp and onto the concourse for our train 5. We found our car, boarded immediately, and got settled in the roomette about 7:45 am. Purely out of curiosity I asked our attendant if the Diner was still serving breakfast. Oh yes, until 0830. However, since we’d both had a big breakfast already, we went to the diner just for coffee. And maybe some juice. What the heck, maybe an omelet, bacon and toast. And a small fruit cup. Since we’d already eaten. (Yes, of course a Denver omelet.)

We pulled out of Union Station on the advertised, 0805, and quickly started climbing the eastern slope of the Rockies, known locally as the Front Range, on our way to Sacramento, CA via the Rocky Mountains, (Moffatt Tunnel Route), seven separate Colorado River Canyons (including Glen and Ruby), Soldier Summit, the Lucien Cut-off over the Great Salt Lake, Great Basin, and the original Transcontinental Railroad route over the Sierra Nevada Range. Weather was crystal-clear beautiful. The observation car stayed SRO for the most scenic 30 hours of travel anywhere in the world.

Next – thru the Rockies, Ruby Canyon, Helper, Soldier, Provo, SLC, Reno, and Donner Pass. 

(Question – what kind of wine goes good with people?)”

Rock on Trains © 2023, Tom Rock + T.D.R. Productions. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Tom Rock is strictly prohibited.

Delaware & Hudson Steam Feature for June 2023

Featured Delaware & Hudson steam subjects this month include various locations in Pennsylvania and New York:

All photos courtesy of

Rock on Trains © 2023, Tom Rock + T.D.R. Productions. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Tom Rock is strictly prohibited.

“Southern Double Header: 4501 & 630”

Video courtesy of The Ringgold Railfan via YouTube.

Rock on Trains © 2023, Tom Rock + T.D.R. Productions. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Tom Rock is strictly prohibited.