From horse cars to high-tech highways, transportation has changed rapidly
The old Cherrelyn Horse Car has been restored and given a place of honor in the civic center of my hometown of Englewood. I am a few years too young to have seen it in action, but I grew up hearing lots of stories about it.
Surface transportation in cities developed slowly. Before buses, there was the streetcar. And before the streetcar, there was the horse car. The horses that pulled the cars were not selected for speed, but for stamina, and travelers had a very leisurely ride. The horse car tracks in Denver eventually ran along south Broadway to Hampden in Englewood, where they stopped.
But there were a lot of houses being built in the Cherrelyn area, which was a mile south of the end of the line and uphill all the way. Some ingenious soul had a bright idea and built a very special horse car. It could seat 12 passengers and a horse. Well, the horse had to stand up. They built a special platform for it on the end of the car.
Meanwhile they laid another mile of track, and had the Cherrelyn Rapid Transit System. The Cherrelyn Horse Car began operating in 1883. The horse pulled the car up the hill, climbed aboard and rode back down to wait for the next trip. Unlike the San Francisco cable cars, this car didn’t have to be turned around. They just had to move the horse. The fare was initially a nickel. The car ran until 1910, when electric streetcars replaced it. I’m not sure what happened to the horse.
Most of the history of transportation in the world took place in the 20th century. More advances have been made in the past 100 years than in all previous recorded history. It is a little scary — no it’s very scary — to realize that we have gone from a horse car to space travel in just a little more than my lifetime. It is probably as hard for the astronaut to imagine riding in the Cherrelyn Horse Car as it would be for a passenger in that car to imagine walking on the moon.
On a somewhat lesser scale than space travel, but still in the realm of the amazing, there is Glenwood Canyon. I drove through the canyon recently while all these transportation thoughts were kicking around in my mind. My friend the philosopher has finally gotten me hooked on science fiction, and those soaring, swooping ribbons of concrete made me think I had squeezed through a wormhole onto a far distant planet.
It was not like that when I first saw it. Back in the ‘20s, we used to make the trip between Denver and Glenwood Springs quite regularly. My parents loved the vapor caves and the pool and the Colorado Hotel as much as people do today. Getting there, however, was more of an adventure.
The river was the same, the mountains were the same, but the road was not. Two lanes meant just that — two lanes. I’m not even sure the road was graveled, but I suspect that somebody is going to tell me. It didn’t matter much anyway, since none of the cars traveling it was in that much of a hurry. That suited my flatlander mother just fine, although if you did fall off the road, you didn’t have very far to fall. The journey from Denver to Glenwood Springs was a full day’s trip in the old Hudson.
When I first heard of the plan to put a four-lane highway through the canyon I was horrified. How could anyone possibly consider spoiling one of the beauty spots of Colorado? But they didn’t spoil it.
The trip from Denver to Glenwood Springs now takes three hours or less, instead of a full day. The route of the old Cherrelyn Horse Car can be covered in a minute or so. I’m not always sure what we’re going to do when we get to where we’re going in such a hurry, but it does make things interesting.
I wonder what transportation miracles will take place in my grandkids’ lifetimes.