“Phyllis Smith’s book is a lively, easy-to-read treatment of mountain weather, corps projects, and sprightly myths borne of boredom and vivid imaginations.”
Douglas R. McKay, Essays and Monographs in Colorado History
“Phyllis Smith has provided the reader with an interesting narrative about life at the station…Smith liberally peppered her study with quotations…which on the whole provide an interesting glimpse of this unique slice of American life.”
B. Gene Ramsey, The Western Historical Quarterly
At 14,110 feet, the weather station atop Pikes Peak, Colorado, was the highest in the world in 1873. Young men trained by the Signal Corps took turns living year-round on the isolated mountain, where they endured loneliness, primitive living conditions, lack of financial support and appreciation, and deteriorating health. Most did so with dedication and good humor. Some suffered frostbitten hands, feet and ears when they became lost on the snowy mountain trail; others were jolted by lightning strikes. One man eventually died; another, evidently unsuited to the solitary life, went mad.
Although weather records had been kept by private individuals and some universities since the early 1800s both here and abroad, a full U.S. weather reporting service had to await development and expansion of the electric telegraph. Both farmers and coastal shippers pressed the U.S. Congress to establish a weather prediction facility. By 1870 a network of such stations was in place. By late summer of 1873, workmen had finished the crude two-room station at the top of Pikes Peak. A telegraph line snaked through brush, trees, and boulders to the lofty summit.
When daily logs and research records were completed, some of the Pikes Peak weather men amused themselves by writing tall tales, expanding on their already unusual adventures. Americans loved their stories and seldom disavowed the truth of sea monsters in Pikes Peak lakes, plagues of mountain rats, and mysterious volcanic eruptions. Their problems with governmental bureaucracy were at once humorous and sad. With fortitude and imagination these early meteorologists laid the groundwork for today’s sophisticated science of data-gathering satellites and computer models.
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