COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Colorado Springs historian Eric Swab had previously dabbled in researching the Pikes Peak Highway. He's not one for dabbling as much as he is for diving.
"So during the pandemic, that's what I did. I researched the highway," he said.
"And it turned out there was a lot of stuff to find out. I had no idea a 19-mile stretch of asphalt would produce so much interesting stuff."
The result is "The Granite Attraction: Stories of the Pikes Peak Highway and Summit." The book follows other definitive accounts Swab has written on Fred Barr, father of the mountain's summiting trail, and the Manitou Incline.
The author calls this his largest endeavor yet — twice the size of his previous page counts, with twice the research.
Jack Glavan, the 26-year manager of the Pikes Peak-America's Mountain enterprise, calls the book a "refreshing look" at the highway's history.
"I was able to imagine the thrill and struggles of those that traveled the initial trails and unpaved highway," Glavan writes in his praise.
The thrills include those from the first cyclists of the carriage road that predated the route known today. Soon after the rugged road opened in 1888, Swab recounts a local watchmaker pedaling up in less than six hours. The man took less than three on the way down.
Read the description from another cyclist, Jack Fulton, in 1895: "It came as near to riding down the side of a building as could be."
Swab looks to a trio in 1910 for setting the motorcycle standard on the mountain. "The last mile was so choked with boulders the riders had to push their machines to the summit," he writes.
Broadmoor owner Spencer Penrose in 1916 funded the completion of a modern highway to meet the boom of automobiles.
"So," Swab said, "here come a bunch of manufacturers and wealthy owners who are wondering, What can I do with this new toy?"
The book lists several early vehicles that attempted the journey, including Stearns, Brush Runabouts and Ramblers. Also chronicled are performance test runs for models from the likes of Chevy, General Motors and Audi. A picture is included of the bizarre, solar panel-powered car that Minnesota college students took to the highway in 1990.
There are pictures from other curious moments, such as from 1919, when a tank dubbed "Little Zeb" in honor of Zebulon Pike rumbled up the mountainside. There were ambitious pushes of wheelbarrows and peanuts. In 1985, a piano was pushed to the top. A decade later, Palmer High School students dribbled basketballs and kicked soccer balls up the highway.
Those were far from the only publicity stunts on the peak. Swab offers a chapter about get-rich schemes. In one problematic effort, square-foot slices of granite were advertised for $1 a piece. Deeds were printed proclaiming "Pikes Peak Landowner."
The second part of "The Granite Attraction" is committed to developments atop the summit, starting with the Army's weather station built in 1873. The research residence at 14,115 feet inspired tall tales that have stood the test of time.
"I couldn't resist including the rat story," Swab said, referring to the one about flesh-eating rodents.
While it's not the only myth mentioned in the book, Swab mostly sticks to hard evidence — records, documents and newspaper accounts.
He retells the lesser-known story of Lanter City, the proposed settlement on the now-famous North Slope that never came to be. Another lesser-known bit regards the feud between Penrose and the Pikes Peak Cog Railway's founder, Zalmon Simmons.
"To prevent automobile tourists from enjoying the views to the east and the conveniences of the Cog Summit House, Simmons erected a fence," Swab writes. "In retaliation, Penrose built a new summit house for the convenience of his highway customers."
Swab hopes the book generates interest with the new Pikes Peak Summit Complex debuting this summer.
"I bet even somebody steeped in this history will learn something new," he said.
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