Train engines hissed as a crowd of passengers clamored around the platform of the Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway, eager to board.
Train conductors scanned tickets and passengers filed into the sleek red train cars that sat at the station depot.
"I think my favorite part of this trip is how iconic it is," said Natalie Bauta, one of the conductors.
For the first time since 2017, passengers from the general public rode up the 9-mile track from the Manitou Springs depot to the top of Pikes Peak Thursday.
For the past 3 1/2 years, the Cog Railway underwent a $100 million make-over, from new rails and steel ties to revamped old train cars and acquiring new train cars.
The Cog Railway is owned by The Broadmoor hotel, the internationally known resort on Colorado Springs’ southwest side, which launched the attraction’s makeover in October 2017 with the initial intent of performing a few months of maintenance on the trains and rails. But during the maintenance period, it became apparent that a massive renovation would be more cost-effective in the long run.
"It's been a lot of hard work," conductor Andy Read said.
Read has worked for the railway for over nine years. He came to the job with a background in car mechanics. Since then, he has become a jack of all trades for the railway, with some of his latest work geared towards revamping the train cars.
"In fact the axles themselves, it was me and two other gentlemen and it took us about 11 months," Read said. "We had to rebuild 18 of them from scratch."
Read also helped install the train's engines and remodel the interior and body of the train cars.
"It really feels good to see this," Read said.
During Thursday's inaugural ride, Read helped train two new conductors and an engineer.
Dave Hertel spent the past two months learning how to drive the train.
"To be driving the first train up, I'm loving it," Hertel said. "I love trains, I love the Rockies, and I love history."
The railway is chock-full of history.
In June 1891 the railway claimed the title of the highest rack railway in the world. Today it is the longest and highest cog railroad in the world.
Pikes Peak inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write "America the Beautiful," and the mountain was named after Gen. Zebulon Pike, who spotted the mountain but never fully conquered its summit.
As the train snaked through Pikes Peak's forests of pines and aspens, passengers from around the country snapped photos of jagged rocks, snowy outlooks and an alpine lake.
"The views, look, you couldn't ask for a more beautiful day," said Tony Hessling, a passenger visiting from Cincinnati, Ohio. "Colorado is phenomenal."
For passenger Meg Garrett, a retiree from Washington, D.C., the trip celebrated her first flight across the country since COVID started, and riding the train was an "awesome" ending for her visit out West.
"Perfect weather, great people, how fortuitous," Garrett said.
As the train reached the peak of the summit construction workers bustled around to finish the last touches of the Pikes Peak Summit House.
The railroad will celebrate its 130th anniversary in June with a ribbon cutting ceremony at the summit house June 30.
The Broadmoor hotel is owned by the Denver-based Anschutz Corp., whose Clarity Media Group owns The Gazette.