Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Cog Road and no rest for the mattress man



Zalmon Gilbert Simmons boasted on occasion that he would live for forever. Impossible, of course, but how many more successful businesses would he have been able to string together if he did?
Founder of the Northwestern Wire Mattress Co. (eventually producing Simmons Beautyrest), Director of Western Union Co. (and several other telegraph companies), President of Kenosha, Rockford and Rock Island Rail Road, Wisconsin cheese box manufacturer, President of First National Bank of Kenosha, Mayor of Kenosha, and Wisconsin assemblyman.
But in this neck of the woods, he was known for the truly amazing feat of organizing a railroad ascending to top of Pikes Peak.
“Legend has it that Simmons’ first trip to the summit of Pikes Peak was athwart a mule named Balaam,” according to a historic paper by Frank R. Hollenbeck for the Denver Westerner’s Round Up published in April of 1962. “Upon his return to Manitou, silk hat askew, white beard and coattails flying, Simmons is supposed to have declared, ‘I’m going to ride up that beautiful mountain in the greatest comfort science can provide,’ or words to that effect.”
Simmons embraced a plan by one-time Manitou Mayor John Hulbert that was concocted in Hulbert’s Agate Hill home.
“Simmons called Hulbert in and announced his intention of building a railroad to the top of Pikes Peak. The Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway Co. was incorporated under the laws of Colorado November 14, 1888. Named to the board were John Hulbert, David H. Moffat, R.R. Cable, Jerome B. Wheeler, and Henry Watson. Hulbert became president. Moffat, at that time was president of the Denver and Rio Grande, while Cable headed the Rock Island, and Wheeler, the Colorado Midland. Nowhere in the articles did Simmon’s name appear,” wrote Hollenback.
Signed by Hulbert and William Bell, of Manitou, among others, Simmons name was not shown anywhere in the articles but after Simmon’s death in 1910, the Rocky Mountain News reported he owned 96% of the Cog Road bonds and 98% of the stock.
“Simmons and company employed the best engineering brains for his project. One engineer for his work on the Brooklyn bridge. Another, William Hildebrand, came from Switzerland as Roman Abt’s representative, and supervised tracklaying. Col. Roswell E. Briggs was chief engineer of the Denver and Rio Grande as well as the Cog Road; T.F. Richardson was his assistant. B. Lantry & Sons of Strong City (Kansas), Santa Fe and Colorado Midland builder, was the contractor,” Hollenback said.
“Simmon’s acumen was nowhere better displayed than in an anecdote from the planning days of the Cog Road. The two engineers just mentioned were concerned about the feasibility of anchoring the track on a 25% grade without a superficial support. Simmons believed the rails could very simply be fastened into the solid granite. He held to the idea that ‘the natural stone would anchor the road for 1,000 years.’”
The engineers refused to go along with the idea. One of them quit outright and the other would only remain on the condition that a waiver relieving him of any responsibility if the anchoring scheme failed was signed. The same fastenings have held the track in the Pikes Peak Granite since 1890 without slippage.
The Cog Road was completed to the top of Pikes Peak and opened for traffic in 1891.
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