Say hello, to Number 16 !
The rebuilding of the old carriage road into the Pikes Peak Highway started in May of 1914. Snow was still covering the upper sections and the surveying was done by snowshoe and skis. The mountain was not going to make the task easy. Tons of blasting was needed and the altitude made the job of keeping workers challenging . 1915 saw the road completed up to the Glen Cove area. The remainder of the route was completed to the Summit just before the first race in August of 1916. The final road on the top circled the official government altitude marker.
The White Motor Truck Company supplied many trucks for the construction . In May of 1916 the Pikes Peak Auto Highway Company took deliver of their 16th White truck. Number 16 was the new 5-ton Road Builder model. With its broad steel wheels, to help smooth the road, and the ability to combine, hauling, dumping , spreading and rolling material it become the first true “King of the Mountain”. This truck was by far the most photographed construction vehicle of the entire construction period.
Race day even saw number 16 making final touches to the road as buses of race fans were being taken to the summit . No one knows what happened to this massive 5-ton Road Builder truck from the White Truck Company , but thanks to the many folks who took the time to capture it in photographs , it wont be forgotten.
Next time you are at the parking lot at Devils Playground, just take a moment and think about , Number 16, the first true “King of the Mountain”
Where to begin ? The Ute and Plains Indians ? Zebulon Montgomery Pike ? The US Army ? It’s complicated, but let’s start in the late 1800’s .
The US Army Signal Corps built a Signal Service slash Weather Station at the Summit in 1873 A rough road was needed to get the supplies to the top. Not much more then a burro trail snaking its way up the 14,110 feet of altitude . Over the years it was upgraded to a rough horse carriage road. By 1899 the road was improved enough and was then privately owned and turned into a Toll Road for the tourist. The route itself started outside the town of Cascade Colorado and from the city limit to the top is about 20 miles.
Below is the early Signal and Weather Station.
The Summit was becoming a huge tourist destination and was known world wide . The amount of time needed to make the ascent by horse -drawn carriage and the trip back down was one of the limiting factors allowing many folks from seeing the glorious views from Pikes Peak The first big change at Pikes Peak was just around the corner.
Pikes Peak Cog Railway built up the side of the mountain began taking its first passengers to the Summit in 1891. Great news for people wanting to see the view faster, all the while staying out of the mountain’s inclement weather. The new steam powered Swedish built Locomotive engines, pulled some nice and comfortable passenger cars. The bad news was the carriage road to the top was left to deteriorate as paying customers on the old road diminished.
Below is the new Summit House in 1901
Many of the first automotive and motorcycle attempts followed along the old carriage road during it’s worst overall conditions. During the years from 1901-1914. Boulders, landslides, and washouts got more difficult and frequent as the altitude increased. The road became so difficult, that many early summit seekers would end up driving down the Cog Railroad line on the way back. Things had to change.
Eugene Sunderlin to the rescue, …….. (What ? You never heard of him?). That is a name you do not hear very often when it comes to the famous Pikes Peak Highway. Eugene was the dreamer who figured the old carriage road needed to be widened and improved for automobile traffic. He was the one who secured the estimates on the cost of construction and the 20 year permit from the government for the use of the Pike Peak National Forest reserve . Securing enough money was the problem . Now comes the part of the story that most people know of, about the Pikes Peak Highway. Spencer Penrose , the Cooper King along with several others came up with the financing for the construction company and the ultimate success of completing the road. The original estimate to widen and improve the carriage road into a automotive road to the top was $50,000. The actual cost were estimated at over $200,000 in the local newspaper The Gazette Telegraph in August of 1916.
Check back in later on this blog and we can get more into the actual making of the road. thanks for staying with me !
1915 (Unknown date) Floyd Clymer was a major character in the early automobile and motorcycle industry .The Berthoud Colorado resident opened a motorcycle shop in Greeley Colorado in 1914, that also sold Excelsior motorcycles .
Some time in 1915 he took a passenger up , the then being built Pikes Peak Highway. Becoming the first to tandem climb to the Summit on a motorcycle. The bike was of course an Excelsior a 1915 61 Twin with a 3 speed . The last half mile of the road was still under construction and they had to ride the last part of the trip, on the Cog railway tracks to the top. The passenger is still unknown as well as the date of the trip.
To find out more about Floyd Clymer and his amazing accomplishments, check out the link below.
In the mid teens, most motorcycles came with just one seat and the tandem seat was an optional accessory. Perhaps Floyd was using an tandem seat like this, from Fentress-Newton.
Or perhaps one from the Stoll Manufacturing Company of Denver, who made aftermarket motorcycle parts.
With Floyd being a motorcycle dealer and racer plus having contacts with Harley-Davidson, things were looking good for motorcycle racing on Pikes Peak.
In 1916 Floyd would come back to win the first Pikes Peak Hill Climb race on another Excelsior 61 motorcycle in the Professional Class.
1915 Sept 19th Three brothers Jerome, Louis and Joseph Unser aged 16, 19, 18 made the trip up Pikes Peak on Indian motorcycles. Jerome and Joseph was on the Indian with the sidecar. Louis was on the single and waited for his brothers at the end of construction, short of the Summit. They had to carry the sidecar rig the rest of the way to the summit. The first time for a sidecar at the Summit of Pikes Peak. The time of the trip from Cascade at the foot of Pikes Peak to the Summit was 2hr 15 minutes.
The entire Unser family would go on to set records for years to come at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb race. Pikes Peak would be nicknamed “Unser Mountain”. It all started with an Indian motorcycle with a side car. Take some time to check out the family website for their museum:
1913 July 18th W.W. Brown and J.S. Bradley made history climbing to the summit in his Buick BearCat automobile. This event is covered at many sites on the web. The best being:
This article is from the Colorado Springs Gazette July 19th 1913
William purchased the Buick, at a fire sale for $100 and stripped it down to save weight (1400 lbs). It was a 1910 Model 10 Buick “Bear Cat” racer which had a 92 inch wheelbase and a 165 cu. in. 4 cylinder engine that developed 22½ horsepower, The tires were wrapped in hemp rope to help keep the rocks from cutting into the rubber. An interesting detail while climbing the steps of the Cog Railway platform , he tore off the top step and damaged his flywheel and crankcase doing so., but not enough damage to keep his BearCat from driving back down using the Cog Railway road. The trip going up took 3 hours and 22 minutes . Brown’s BearCat was a nice little race car winning 15 of 18 races and 3 second place finishes. Dirt tracks were booming and the hot rod age was dawning in the early teens.
Newspapers reported that W.W. Brown believed Mr. Penrose decided to build a road up the Peak after his car performed so well going up the old carriage trail.
W.W. Brown would come back years later to run in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb and also he built a car for the Indy 500.
1909 The Glidden Tour crossed the USA in 1909 . The Tour used a Rapid Motor Company one ton Truck model F-406-B with cargo box to haul the baggage for the tour participants. When the route brought them close to the area, they decided to try an attempt to climb up to the Summit. The truck was driven by James Carry . Several others rode along, beginning on August 1, 1909 and coming back down the following day .
There is a nice video of the truck with a still photograph of the truck at the Summit :
A more in depth description can also be found at :https://history.gmheritagecenter.com/wiki/index.php/A_1909_Rapid_Truck_Climbed_Pike%E2%80%99s_Peak
Rapid Motor Company was bought out by General Motors in 1909 . GMC has a long history with trucks and records on Pikes peak, more to follow
1906 July 26th , three riders took Reading Standard motorcycles to the Summit of Pikes Peak.
The route was on the old carriage road. Wihen the Cog Railroad was built to take tourist to the top of Pikes Peak in 1891 , not many folks traveled the carriage road to the top . Conditions of the trail had deteriorated badly, making this trip that much more of a challenge. (Some say the bikes had to be carried the last few miles) An interesting fact provided by Reading Standard to help demonstrate the toughness and quality of their motorcycles was the weight of the riders. Weights in pounds, G.W. Scheff 160 lbs, Glen Blake 190 lbs, and Francis Davis 200 lbs.
Reading Standard motorcycles were built in Reading Pennsylvania from 1903 through 1922. More then likely, the bikes that made the trip in 1906 were the new Thoroughbred models, using the Side-Valve engines, a first for an American motorcycle company.
Finding early newspaper reporting of the event around the area has been difficult . Most of what is known about the trip to the summit had been sourced from Reading Standard Motorcycles themselves. Future ads for the Reading Standard motorcycles would use the new tag line ” Built and Tested in the Mountains”
1909 R-S advert still showing the tag line
Once again, as with the Locomobile automobile in 1901, Pikes Peak proved to be a successful advertising tool for manufactures brave enough to attempt the climb to the summit. One thing to keep in mind with these early attempts at climbing Pikes Peak , was the trip back down. Many considered the ride down hill more dangerous , challenging and deadly, then going up. Brake technology wasn’t advancing at the same pace as engine development in those early days of motorcycling .
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( Devils Playground is one of the most popular spots on the Pikes Peak Highway to watch the annual hill climb race)
The history of Spencer Penrose building the Pikes Peak Highway is easy enough to find on the web, not going to cover that for now. Let’s start in the beginning:
1900 Ben Walker attempted to drive to the top, ( car type unknown), but only made it to the 11,000 feet mark. At the time it was claimed as the highest altitude any automobile had climbed.
1901 The first successful automobile to climb the Summit was by William Felker and Charles Yont both from Denver Colorado. Driving a steam engine Logomobile Runabout . It was a 3.5 horsepower 2 cylinder steam powered car running a chain drive. Not much was recorded about the trip up the old carriage road. on August 21 1901 . Trip took 24 hours but that time wasn’t recorded until years later. Manufactures were eager to test their machines on the Peak and Locomobile took full advantage of its conquest in newsprint nationwide.
50 years later at the 1951 Pikes Peak Hill Climb race, Sam Arnholz of Wichita Kansas brought his 1901 Locomobile to celebrate the anniversary. Photos were taken at the start line and at the Summit with Phil Hills’ Championship car showing the advancements in automobiles in the last 50 years. Special guest of the day was Mrs Yont, the wife of Charles who made the trip fifty years ago.
Recently on the TV show “Chasing Classic Cars” a Locomobile was featured. Check it out.