The intrepidity of thought that conceived, and the daring that achieved, a railroad - the construction of which defied the inexorability of Nature itself.
I stood on the Short Line's Land of the Skies,
God's Pelion and Ossa on each Hand.I saw from out the rocks a railway rise
As from the stroke of an enchanter's wand.
If a theme of mighty human achievement and incomparable beauty is all that is needed to inspire and give to the world another epic equal to that of "Childe Harold," the serpentine trail of rails across the impossible hills from Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek, known as the Colorado Springs & Cripple Creek District Railway, is waiting the pen of some nameless Byron, the production of whose genius founded on the love of man's triumph over nature will startle the world and excite the admiration of generations yet unborn.
There is a Hindu legend of Hanuman, the strong man, carrying upon his great shoulders a long range of mountains from the highlands of India and throwing them into the wide sea, thus dividing that body of water and bestowing an incalculable blessing upon posterity.
To this day the story is believed by all orthodox Hindus, for they point not only to the great mountains now in the sea, but they can show you the gap in the Himalayas where the superhuman Hanuman picked up his burden.
It may be that some day, after the corrosions of time have leveled the mountain fastnesses and sent over them the upraised seas that there will live among those who come after us a legend of the triumph of the strong men of Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek, who were able to carry hundreds of tons of precious freight over canons and craigs into the heart of the most impossible mountain range known to history, which then shall be mythology.
If, as the learned men tell us, that all mythology is founded upon truth, which at the time was not appreciated or understood, then this great achievement will some day become a piece of mythology and a favorite theme of story and song.
When the strong men - strong intellectually and strong in their faith in Cripple Creek - planned this Short Line and gave of their wealth the millions that was incurred in its construction, they built more for the future than the present.
Their act will encourage men the world over to undertake what the fogies term the impossible. "There are no mountains that reach up to the skies; there is nothing insurmountable by men," were the words with which Hannibal conjured his brave Carthagienians to follow him over the Alps into the fertile valley of the Po.
This is what Irving Howbert and his associates said to the world when they undertook, in 1899, to construct a line to Cripple Creek through the mountains and by the shortest route from Colorado Springs thither.
Doubts even of the most conservative sort these men had not, but faith like unto the mustard seed had they all, and they showed it by their works. The fruits of their work are already a hundred-fold, and the good that they have done has been so large and so helpful that already millions of men and women have received a share, and still it is giving forth in abundance.
The story of the rise of this, the most remarkable piece of railroad construction in the world, reads like a romance. Indeed, a thrilling tale of its beginnings and completion from the time that the mine owners of Cripple Creek and Colorado Springs first proposed it until the first train of cars wound their way, serpent-like, over the tops of the peaks and across almost fathomless depths into the great gold camp, could be written that would be far more entertaining than any fiction in existence, for truth is stranger and more surprising than allegory or romance.
Aside from the commercial benefit that the state and the entire West have enjoyed because of the existence of the Short Line, it at once bounded into fame as the chief scenic attraction of the United States.
The knowledge that it was possible to go to the greatest gold camp on earth directly over the wildest part of the mountains, and at that, on cars and over a roadbed as good as any anywhere in the East, or anywhere else for that matter, spread over the nation and indeed throughout the civilized world.
This knowledge brought thousands of tourists to the state, and the experience they enjoyed in taking the trip impressed them so deeply that it furnished the principal topic of conversation for months afterwards.
Several attempts have been made to describe the trip over the Short Line to Cripple Creek, but it is like painting the sunset - an absurd impossibility. It has to he seen to be appreciated.
All the writer can do is to give an outline of some of the views to be had, but the gorgeous spectacles and panoramas which nature spreads out before the admiring beholder beggars description.
A thoughtful Boston man stood upon the rear of one of the Short Line's elegant passenger trains and took in the rapidly changing scenes, as the train seemed to leap from mountain to mountain, with open-mouthed wonder. Finally someone attempted to speak to him and he raised his hand deprecatingly and whispered:
"Sh-sh-sh; this is no time to talk."
When he finished the journey he said that he could not. recall when he was seized with such a feeling of awe-inspiring admiration except when once out upon a Colorado prairie he witnessed, about dusk, a remarkable electrical storm.
"I felt like I was in the presence of an angry deity then, and I confess that I was somewhat frightened: but this time He seemed to be in majestic repose and I enjoyed Him more."
This is the nearest to a description of the sensations that one entertains when reviewing the grandeur of the ride that has yet been given, but words did not do it. Even the photograph can not do it justice, and the writer has never yet seen a picture of the wild, rugged mountains that gave him any adequate idea of their amazing reality.
In constructing this railroad, not only was the ingenuity of the most skillful engineers taxed to its fullest capacity, but indomitable pluck and energy were required to surmount the difficulties encountered.
The very inexorability of nature herself was mastered in a way that excelled the achievements of those who constructed the pyramids and the great wall of China.
A labyrinth of fathomless chasms and unspeakable canons were to be spanned, and peaks that pierced the blue dome of heaven scaled, but it was done, and done quickly, for the line was opened for business April 8, 1901, a little more than one year after the beginning.
The result is a marvel of railroad building which excites the admiration of the engineering world.
While the wonders of its construction, as it pursues its intricate way around and through the towering cliffs and across the alarming abysses, inspire the traveler with awe, the wild and rugged beauty of the scenery, with its kaleidoscopic changes, thrill him with rapture. No other line in the world presents so much grandeur.
The climb begins to start at the very beginning at the Springs, for as the ascent to be attained is nearly a mile there must be no idling and no hesitancy. As it gradually rises above the bluffs and follows the side of the mountain, on the north is a fine view of West Colorado Springs and Colorado City, with Colorado Springs to the east, and the undulating hills and plains beyond stretch away to the horizon as a panorama.
The face of the mountain is followed, and the engine and train climb higher and higher, until the north wall of Cheyenne mountain, almost at its very top, is reached.
Here another most magnificent view is presented. Broadmoor with its crescent lake lies in the foreground, Colorado Springs lies farther to the north, and the rolling plains here and there, dotted with lakes, fade away like a mirage spring untouched and untasted.
This spot is appropriately named "Point Sublime" and is 7,200 feet above the flight of sea gulls.
Here the line turns into the mountains and threads its way like a gigantic serpent along the sides of the great canons and around and through the endless succession of cliffs that give the passenger a start when he looks down into them.
The scenes here present an ever-changing panorama of nature's matchless handiwork, finally reaching a height of more than 10,000 feet, for the train is going skyward at an astonishing rate.
Until the top of the mountain is reached, a distance of more than twenty miles, the passenger is accorded a sublime view of the plains, with Colorado Springs and its surroundings in the foreground.
This unparalleled view is had as the train rounds the point or climbs along the side of each mountain, which is no longer a barrier but a means now of ascent pleasant and delightful.
The summit is soon reached and the road runs through beautiful mountain parks nestling in the bosom of the great peaks.
Here are the homes of the wild animals and mountain sheep and deer may be seen looking on in astonishment at the engine, the train and its load of human freight. These are the only creatures in the hills that have not prospered by the advent thither of the iron horse, and they still resent it.
At this point Pueblo is plainly seen to the south, forty-five miles away. Further on in the journey to the gold fields there is a magnificent view of the Sangre de Christo range, which the early Spanish fathers named "the blood of Christ" because of the perpetual crimson tint which the sunlight gives to the snowy crown.
Farther to the south there is a clear view of the Spanish peaks in New Mexico. A more inspiring spectacle than the sight of these great ranges with their everlasting deposit of millions of tons of snow is difficult to imagine.
There are many other points of interest and attractive scenes along the Short Line, but perhaps the most interesting object is the marvelous St. Peter's dome.
The passenger is already two miles above the level of the sea, but towering away above him is this majestic dome of rock ribbed earth - a huge mass of granite that stands like a dutiful sentinel of the ages.
The ascent of St. Peter's is a marvel of engineering skill indeed. When the traveler sees the mighty pile above him he cannot believe that the mechanical serpent will undertake such a task, but it has accomplished so much already he is willing to trust it.
Seated in one of the magnificent observation cars of the Short Line, he is to be given a treat which, if he is a man of appreciation, is worth as much to him as the price of the road. As the train glides smoothly along and grandeur succeeds to new grandeurs, and rapture to rapture in ever-changing but never-ending charm, the dizzy height is attained with apparently so much ease and so quickly that he is scarcely aware that a few moments before he was straining his eyes trying to see the point in the altitude where he is now sitting cozily in wondering admiration.
St. Peter's dome is one of the popular picnic resorts of the Short Line. Its forest of pine and spruce and its luxuriant verdure make it an ideal spot for a day's outing.
The ascent is continued for a few miles and Duffield is reached, eighteen miles from Colorado Springs. This is the last view of Colorado Springs and the plains, and as the last is reserved for the best, it may be so considered when to the fact that we are so far and so high above the lowland and the moor enchantment is added.
Three miles beyond is the summit. 10,000 feet high, and the highest point reached by the road until it reaches Cripple Creek district.
Just beyond the summit of the range is Rosemont, indeed a rose in the mountain wilderness, a natural park surrounded and guarded by towering mountain peaks.
Down the western slope the train glides over mountain torrents, over creeks, through forests winding and twisting with as many as four tracks, one below the other, visible at one time.
The intrepidity of the thought which conceived and the daring which achieved a broad-gauge, finely built railroad through such mountains and over such ledges almost shakes the credulity of even those who have traversed it.
The privilege of a good view of Cathedral park is given at Clyde, a little beyond. Here rocks torn by the tempests of a thousand winters rear their massive heads aloft in such shape as to suggest the outlines of a cathedral of the ancient world with its tiara of towers.
Now the train is entering the famed gold camp that has added millions of dollars to the world's wealth and which is destined to add another billion.
The famous Bull hill in the distance looms up to divert attention from ethereal to sordid things. Close by stands Altman, which is conceded to be the highest incorporated town beneath the Pearly City, for it is more than 12,000 feet above sea level.
As Cameron, the first town touched in the district, is reached, the Victor and the Isabella properties, two of the big mines of Bull hill, are in view. At Cameron the lines of the road diverge.
One branch leads to the right, crossing over Hoosier pass at an altitude of 10,360 feet. Nearing Cripple Creek, the train passes close to the Hoosier, Moon-Anchor, Anchoria-Leland and Gold King mines. Here is another view of the Sangre de Christo.
In the valley at our feet is the famous Cripple Creek, but for which, and her wonderfully rich mines, we know that such a task as the construction of this road would never have been undertaken.
This city of gold lies a thousand feet in the valley below us, and we must descend to reach it. After climbing so high, we do not object to going down a while to see how it feels, for even then we will no longer be "under the weather."
The other branch of the main line turns to the left at Cameron and passes through Pinnacle park, and the flourishing mining towns of Independence and Goldfield, over Victor pass, and has its terminus in Victor.
Here are the Portland, the Independence, Gold Coin, Strong and other famous mines. Between the cities of Cripple Creek and Victor two electric lines of railway, owned by this company, are operated in connection with the steam lines.
These lines run to all of the towns not reached by the main lines. One is known as the Low Line, and passes through Anaconda, Beaqua, Elkton, Eclipse and other points. On the route are the Elkton, Anaconda, Doctor-Jack Pot, Mary McKinney and Work mines.
The other route is the "High Line," and scales the mountain through Portland and Midway.
The scenic features of the Short Line, while the most entrancing to tourists and sightseers, is but auxiliary to the chief purpose of the owners, which was, in the main, to reach the mineral output of the Cripple Creek district, and thereby carry ore to and from the smelters at a freight charge that would enable the mine owners and lessees to ship at a profit.
It also aims to transport, and does transport into that populous district the immense quantities of supplies required, and the necessary coal to the mines.
The passenger traffic, outside of the tourists, is heavy, because the Short Line carries tens of thousands of people who are interested in the mines and other business of the district hither and thither.
It is now possible for a man to leave Denver in the morning and go to Cripple Creek and spend several hours there and get back the same night, which is a boon to many a business man.
The road has been constructed with the greatest care, and the consummate skill of the ablest engineers.
A wide roadbed, standard gauge track, laid with 75-pound steel rails throughout, heavy ties, and solidly ballasted with disintegrated granite, insure perfect safety. In the opinion of engineers there is not a better built road in the country.
The equipment is the best obtainable. The locomotives are monsters, weighing 190,000 pounds, and of great hauling capacity.
The passenger cars are of the modern standard, finely upholstered in plush, splendidly illuminated and attractively finished. The observation cars, which will be attached to all trains, are a novelty in the West, and will prove an attractive feature of the road.
An impressive fact connected with the completion of this road is, that it was built by Colorado Springs men with Cripple Creek gold.
To the indomitable will and untiring energy of the Hon. Irving Howbert is the credit for the achievement mainly due. The capital was furnished principally by a half dozen men, who have stood back of the enterprise and contributed their money to the amount of three millions of dollars to push it to a successful conclusion.
Colorado Springs and the Cripple Creek district owe more to these men under their magnificent leadership, than can now be realized. It means incalculable benefit now, but will mean even more in the future.
The construction of this remarkable railroad was under the direct supervision of A. C. Ridgway, general manager, to whose untiring energy and great skill, supported by the projectors, with unlimited capital, is due one of the most wonderful and perfect pieces of railroad construction the world has ever seen.
Since the completion of the Short Line, Mr. Ridgway has become general manager of the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific, the new road to be built from Denver to Salt Lake.
The officers and directors of the road are as follows: President, Irving Howbert; vice-president, William Lennox; treasurer, Frank M. Woods; directors, Irving Howbert, William Lennox, Frank M. Woods, James F. Burns, Frank G. Peck, C. M. McNeill, H. G. Lunt, E. A. Colburn and John G. Shields.
Men of exceptional ability have been secured for the practical management of the road. They are all men of wide experience, who were of great value in establishing the new line on a successful and popular basis.
They are: F. C. Smith, superintendent; Samuel J. Henry, traffic manager; F. E. Draper, auditor and secretary; A. Sutton, assistant treasurer; T. L. Waggener, chief engineer.