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Tramway becoming the wheel deal

An 85-foot crane lowered the 65,000-pound motor room and bull wheel into place on the Glenwood Caverns tramway Tuesday afternoon, bringing Chuck Peterson’s dream one step closer to reality.

Peterson, an engineer who owns the tramway with Steve and Jeanne Beckley, said he has helped design trams before, but never seen a bull wheel put into place, let alone a bull wheel on his own tram.

“So this is pretty exciting,” Peterson said, in between tromping through the muddy construction site, shooting pictures of Tuesday’s main event, conferring with construction supervisors, and talking with friends who came out to watch.



Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, located on Iron Mountain north of the Hotel Colorado, is scheduled to open Saturday, March 28, said spokesperson Irene Rasmussen.

Tuesday’s installation of the motor room and bull wheel puts the tramway only a few steps from its state acceptance test, scheduled for March 4.



Peterson said eight cabins will be attached to the tramway cable, and each holds up to six people.

The cabins will be placed in four groups of two cabins each. When one cabin group reaches the unloading platform at the tramway’s top, the last cabin group will simultaneously arrive at the loading platform at the bottom. The middle two groups will be going in opposite directions, and creep passed each other in the middle.

The tram’s top speed is 1,000 feet per minute, Peterson said, but it will slow to a crawl when cabins reach the top and bottom.

“People will have 45 seconds to get on and off, and that’s a lot of time,” Peterson said. “It only takes 10 to 12 seconds to get on or off.”

Unlike a tram with detachable cabins, like the high-speed Silver Queen Gondola in Aspen, the 4,300-foot Glenwood Caverns tram is a fixed grip lift. That means the cabins stay attached to the cable all the time.

The Glenwood tram is able to reach speeds as high as the Silver Queen Gondola, then slow to allow loading and unloading, due to its automated computer control system.

“This is the most sophisticated fixed grip lift in the world,” Peterson said.

The motor room and bull wheel were manufactured as a modular unit by Leitner-Poma in Grand Junction. The tram cable, 42 millimeters thick, wraps around the bull wheel, which turns to push the cabins up the mountainside.

The bull wheel, 15 feet in diameter, sits below a 400-horsepower, direct current electric motor that powers the tram. A 425-horsepower diesel engine is positioned next to the electric motor as a backup power source. A control panel sits at one end of the 32-foot-long motor room.

The motor room that was installed Tuesday was a metal frame and platform for the motors and bull wheel. Later this week, the room will be enclosed with Plexiglas. When the tram is operational, it will be staffed by two employees: one to sell tickets and another to operate the tram, Peterson said.

“The operator will check out the motor room in the morning, then two or three times a day,” Peterson said.

It took the Webb Crane Company, and nine workers, only 15 minutes or so to position the motor room and bull wheel on the tram carriage frame Tuesday. After the crane workers detached the cables from the motor room, the lanky Peterson loped off toward the first lift tower to explain the next big tram construction step.

He grabbed the tram “rope,” and explained it is woven with six strands of metal cable, each with 35 wires.

On Feb. 3, R.J. Knight, from Missouri, will arrive to splice the tramway cable together. “He’s the most highly skilled splicer in the industry,” Peterson said. “When he’s finished, it will be difficult to see where the ends come together.”

Another big event comes Feb. 10, when the first two cabins are set on the cable.

As tramway construction concludes at the Glenwood Caverns base operation on Two Rivers Plaza Road, construction on the 9,400-square-foot visitors center and restaurant is wrapping up on top of Iron Mountain.

Glenwood Caverns is closed for the off season, but when the tramway motor fires up and the cabins start running up and down the west side of Iron Mountain in late March, there will be no off season. The Caverns will be open year-round except Christmas Day and Thanksgiving, and the tram will run from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends.

The Caverns were operated as a tourist attraction from 1895 until 1917, then were closed to the general public until the Beckleys reopened them in 1999.

Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext. 534

lburton@postindependent.com


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